Monday, October 31, 2022

Watch For It!


Awww Mondays at
Comedy Plus


Arachtober: My Salties

Bronze Jumping Spider (Eris militaris)
Barton, Vermont, 2021

This photo above was my last and best photo of a saltie, or a jumping spider. While the genus and species have been verified, the sex has not, but I have been told by arachnologists that I trust that this is probably a pregnant female, which is why it is so chubby.

This entire post was to be about why we love to find and photograph salties, but then I realized that I had to explain their name before I could explain why. Coincidentally, the explanation of the name brings together a couple of themes that I have been discussing in this Arachtober series. This quotation is from Biodiversity Explorer: The Web of Life in Southern Africa. I used their definition because it is clear and engaging and true. I added the emphasis.

Family: Salticidae (jumping spiders)

Commonly called Jumping spiders, the Salticidae are also affectionately referred to as  Charlies, Herbies or Salties. They are very common around the home and their anthropomorphic nature endears them to most people. The family name is derived from the Latin "salto" which means to dance with pantomimic gestures (See mating behaviour below). This is the largest spider family and includes more than 5000 species worldwide. There are 46 genera in South Africa. These spiders are harmless to man although there have been complaints where this comical, engaging animal has been accused of nasty bites.
Note: there are 315 known species in North America.

When we attribute human behaviors to animals, it is anthropomorphizing. These spiders have huge eyes, great expressions, and wave their "arms" about a lot. Go to YouTube for the funniest videos of Peacock spiders. You will laugh out loud. The comment about spiders biting is very common, as we have seen. But I have to admit, if you see these tiny little spiders simply from looking down at them, they look tough and furry; like a biting spider might. They are so fast and wiry that you begin to wonder. But you can stop wondering now.

But back to nature photography …

These salties are usually very difficult to see. They are extremely small and very fast, so even if you do see one, it will probably be gone before you can get your camera to your face. But if you happen to get a few shots off, you are in for the most wonderful shots. 

Rutland, Vermont, 2007

Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax)
Rutland, Vermont, 2007

In 2007, I was in Rutland, Vermont, for something that I can't even remember now. But I remember seeing this tiny black spider. I remember the weather, the location, where the sun was, and the emotion. I was just beginning to photograph arthropods back then and had a lousy point and shoot digital. And this shot? It was been seen more than any of my other photos on Flickr: 16,843 views. Unbelievable for such a lousy shot. I had no idea what it was, so I just called it a "black hairy jumping spider with 4 eyes and green fangs." It was actually a thrill. But it wasn't until 2010 that I saw another. 

Tan Jumping Spider
(Platycryptus undatus)
New Hampshire, 2010

I loved getting this face into the computer of this (perhaps) Tan Jumping Spider. I laughed when I saw it. I vowed to find more and began to read about them. But I didn't find anymore until 2011. By then, I knew why they were called salties. I found some magnificent photographers of them on blogs, and Facebook photographers had started saltie groups that I followed.

Marbled Purple Jumping Spider (Phidippus purpuratus)
with fly prey
Barton, Vermont, 2011

I remember the Barton shot above so well. I saw small movement and crept slowly to it and saw the saltie walking backwards dragging its prey to a sheltered spot, which was underneath whatever object it was on (I forget what it was). I managed to get an entire series of shots of the action. But I could sense, through its body movements, that the spider was quite upset at my presence. It wouldn't run away and abandon its prey, though. I never managed to shoot its face and that was a huge disappointment. 

Zebra Jumping Spider (Salticus scenicus)
Morgan and Orleans, Vermont, 2016

2016 was my Zebra Spider year. I saw them everywhere. I never shot any faces, though. They are the largest saltie species I have seen and so distinctive that even I can identify them in the field. But they also seem to be the fastest. What a shame.

The final saltie I have so far gotten is the photo at the very top. I was on a normal bug hunt, looking closely at leaves on brush, and there she was. She stayed still just long enough to get a good focus of her face! It was thrilling. She did finally go to the bottom of the leaf and disappeared when I tried to gently lift it for more shots. 

Perhaps because they are so difficult for me to photograph, or perhaps because they are so charismatic, salties are one of the top goals of photography for me. I hope to find more. 

Here is the Peacock Spider dance for your enjoyment. I enjoyed the Arachtober series this year and already have plans for next year.

 🕷🕸 Happy Halloween! 🕸🕷


Sunday, October 30, 2022

Arachtober: Goldenrod Crab Spiders

Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) and
Mining Bee (Genus Andrena)

You'll find these beautiful spiders across the US and southern Canada. If you haven't seen any, you are missing something of beauty. They can actually change their color from yellow to white and back. However, it takes an entire month to do that, and in Vermont summer is gone in a month. Almost. They may or may not have the red stripes. They also may be green or have pink. There is another flower crab spider that is so similar to this species that I try my best to photograph the eyes. The placement of the eyes is the determining field mark for me.

Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) and
Mining Bee (Genus Andrena)

These spiders don't make a web. They are hunter spiders, so they jump at prey when it comes close. They do have draglines, though, which you may see in these photographs if you look at them in the large format by clicking. The goldenrod crab spins silk to hold her eggs. She will then fold a leaf around the eggs (which is one reason why I gave that entomologist such a hard time about the identification of the candy-striped spider with all the webbing). Funny thing, though: I've never found eggs. I have to look harder. This is a female spider in the photos because the males are brown and are very small. Mother spider stays with her eggs until they hatch. Then she dies. But she may live for at least two years, which I find heartening amongst all of the short lives of other insects.

Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) and
Mining Bee (Genus Andrena)

There are so many different flower crab spiders; from this large goldenrod crab on black-eyed susan, to tiny little green or white ones on fleabane or oxeye daisies. It seems that the smaller they are, the quicker they run, so tread quietly and don't cast a shadow on them if you want to see them. All of them will go under the flower petal that they are hunting on if they are aware of you. The goldenrod crab will eat anything that moves: even another goldenrod crab spider! Unfortunately, it had caught this miner bee. It was not the nicest thing to watch, but it is what life is.

Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) and
Mining Bee (Genus Andrena)

The reason why researchers are trying to learn if candy-striped spiders are impacting pollinators in North America is for this very reason. Before them, there was a healthy balance of spiders and pollinators. With the candy-striped spider, it is possible that the balance could skew towards the spider. We need to know what is going on. Your observations will help researchers find an answer. 

Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) and
Mining Bee (Genus Andrena)



Sunday Blues


My son-in-law, Nate Michaud, playing at Seymour Lake Lodge in Morgan. I have such a talented family.  💖  He's married to my Amelia.


Saturday, October 29, 2022

Escher Cats

Escher with my colors

Betsy finally came to bed last night! It's been at least two weeks since her adoption. She didn't stay in bed, however. As soon as I moved, she left. It will take time, but she will stay in the future. She loved the scratches she received and was rolling about and purring. You can see Nell in the back on her biscuit blanket. Lucy was at the top of the bed in her usual spot but out of sight of the camera. 

I chose the Escher treatment for the photo because he is an artist and mathematician that I use nearly every year to illustrate tessellations to classes. His work, both artistically and mathematically, is very famous. The treatment of the photo definitely is not Escher, but it is very pleasing (to me).

My jigsaw puzzle last week only took me one hour to finish! I'm proud. Maybe it was luck; maybe I'm improving. This puzzle will be the real test of my skills.
Caturday Art at
Athena Cat Goddess


Arachtober: Barn Spiders

Barn Orbweaver (Araneus cavaticus)

This post is for Brian of Brian's Home and others (there are many of you), who may not be able to read it because of a fear of spiders. A fear of spiders is natural; it may be genetically coded into humans, along with fears of fire, drowning, and other things that threatened early humans. But I have to tell my story of my own fear of spiders and how it worked out.

One summer a few decades ago, I was bit by a mosquito on my inner wrist during a stargazing event in a huge field. It quickly became infected. The infection was bizarre: the skin turned pure black and bubbly and the black area grew and grew. The itching was tremendous. The first doctor said it was poison ivy, which I knew it wasn't, and treatments did not work. So I was sent to a specialist, who said it was a spider bite, which I knew it wasn't. It had to be debrided (the dead skin pulled off with forceps, leaving a huge raw area on my arm). It took many weeks, but eventually the infection was vanquished.  I still have a very large, ugly scar on my arm.

Barn Orbweaver (Araneus cavaticus)

Even though I knew I had not had a spider bite, I developed a phobia of spiders. The infection, I have since learned, was most likely MSRA, a bad staph infection, which is often confused with spider bites. Spider bites are extremely rare (they want nothing to do with humans), especially here in the north. Vermont has no native spiders that bite people. You can read The Global Spread of Misinformation about Spiders for information about spider bite reporting.

I moved into my Vermont farmhouse. Barn spiders are prolific here. They are huge and hairy and everyone's nightmare of spiders. They would dangle down in the garage and barn and once one hit me on the head! They love to live under the gutters outside around the entire house. I couldn't kill them, which I wanted to do despite knowing how valuable they are, because they were too big and juicy.

Barn Orbweaver (Araneus cavaticus)

But I had a camera and tried to get as close as possible to them for photographs. Once, I did, an entire new world opened up for me, and my fascination with arthropods began. In fact, the fascination has only grown to the point that even though I know so little, people ask me what bug they saw, I have been published, and I have even won awards. 

Now I watch my step around spiders. Barn spiders never show up inside the house, so there is no stress about that. I still have a slight fear of them, no more panic, but it doesn't overwhelm me like it did. Unless they land in my head; then I go nuts. 

Barn Orbweaver (Araneus cavaticus)

Charlotte, of Charlotte's Web, is a barn spider. Charlotte's last name, Cavatica, is a variation of the species name cavaticus. Her middle name is Aranea; which is a variation of Araneae, the order in which barn spiders are.  I urge you to read, or listen, to this beautiful post from the University of Houston program Engines of Our Ingenuity about Charlotte. E. B. White, one of our most valuable American authors and scholars, either knowingly or unknowingly, used a well-known strategy to protect animals: anthropomorphization. He gave Charlotte human traits so that we sympathize with her and care about her.

Barn spiders are orb weavers: they eat their web every day and rebuild another one every night. They live in wooden buildings and in rafters (thus they are called barn spiders). They are nocturnal. Barn spiders are a North American spider and are most prevalent in New England and Canada.

This post will not resolve anyone's fear of spiders. Hopefully, it will give a bit more knowledge so that we capture and then release any spiders in our homes or cars. It happened with my kids at school, who even taught their families how to interact with spiders. I have two more species of spiders for Arachtober. They are not as scary as this one. One is beautiful and one is cute as a button.

Saturday's Critters at
Viewing Nature with Eileen


Friday, October 28, 2022

Review: Rivals 2! More Frenemies Who Changed the World

Rivals 2! More Frenemies Who Changed the World Rivals 2! More Frenemies Who Changed the World by Scott McCormick
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This sequel to Rivals was disappointing and even, at times, offensive. The sound levels were poor so that at times I could not hear what was being said. The skits performed were too long and too unfunny. There are four episodes in this book:
  • Edison and Tesla
  • Chanel and Schiaparelli
  • Something about chariot racing teams in ancient Rome
  • Ali and Frazier

All would have been dynamite stories. Except they weren't. I'm glad this production was free to me as an Audible subscriber.

View all my reviews


Thursday, October 27, 2022

Skywatch Friday: Stick Season

Stick season is what we call the time from now until … whenever. Some say until snow. Some say all winter. But it has begun in earnest. All I know is that I am grieving the loss of summer. The furnace is ready. The studded tires are on the car. Food and supplies are put in. 

Skywatch Friday


Arachtober: Candy-striped Spiders

Common Candy-striped Spider
(Enoplognatha ovata)

I had never heard of candy-striped spiders before the above shot. I was so determined that it was a flower crab spider that I actually had the nerve to question the entomologist who identified it. But I see the difference now. Even though flower crab spiders come in this color and stripped-ness, they don't fold leaves, they don't have jointed legs (like cellar spiders also have) and they don't have webs. I accepted that this was a lifer spider species for me. I always meant to find another, but I never did and the incident, and the spider, was forgotten.

I began to visit Twitter frequently this past summer. The best entomology posts, photographers, and scientists seem to be there. I was surprised to see this tweeted poster from Dr. Catherine Scott (I can't find the original tweet):


It seems that these spiders are not native to North America. They forage for prey on flowers, which are being pollinated by bees, flies, and wasps. The question is: do the candy-striped spiders impact the pollinator population and if so, is it an adverse impact? The community science project is based on iNaturalist. It tracks the spread of the spider across North America. I immediately made sure that I was a part of the project. My two spiders have been reported.

The project especially wants photos of spiders with prey, which I had submitted. Again, I got no commendation, no certificate, no cash prize, not even a t-shirt. One needs to have a strong implicit reward system in this business.  

The spider comes in the three morphs that are seen in the poster (I have found two). Dr. Bell speaks more of it here in her page "Spider Hunters!" within her blog SpiderBytes, which is also in my sidebar.

The best place to see magnificent photos of the spiders is on Twitter.

School has been very stressful these past two weeks (abnormally so), and I haven't been able to visit blogs or keep up with my Arachtober goals. My Arachtober may slip into November. I do plan on a special post for Halloween of my proudest spider photo.

Common Candy-striped Spider
(Enoplognatha ovata)
with flower fly prey

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Wordless Wednesday: A Fly

Eastern Calligrapher (Toxomerus geminatus)

Wordless Wednesday at
Comedy Plus


Jody's Cats Update

Cat #1 is a chrysalis today.
It was a caterpillar at 7:30 AM
So new that I missed it by maybe one hour!
You can easily see its silken harness.

Cat #2 is doing fine.


Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Jody's Cats J'd Up

Black swallowtail caterpillars at Jody's
at the top and right assuming J position

I got a text from Jody on Sunday morning that her latest black swallowtail caterpillars had J'd up. That is the position they assume when they are ready to become a chrysalis. This brood will be overwintering. She already has some overwintering, so she asked if I wanted them. Sure, I said! I picked them up after church.

The sticks in the plastic container, above, are for them to make a chrysalis in the proper position for eclosing. They spin a silk thread that harnesses them to the stick. They must be upright. But these decided to be a chrysalis on the enclosure itself. Just great, I thought. Now I have to be extra careful with the enclosure. 

I checked them today (they are in the cold garage for the winter), but something is not right. One is a chrysalis but the other is doing nothing.

This one looks okay so far.
You can see the tattered shed skin on
the very bottom of the chrysalis.

This one could be parasitized.
The two need to be separated.

There are many parasitizing wasps and flies out late in the season, so one or both of these could have been parasitized. I want to separate them, but since they are attached to the enclosure itself, it would require me to cut up the enclosure. It's Jody's, not mine. So I'll think of another way to quarantine them.

Here's hoping for the best! Unruly children can be a pill.


Monday, October 24, 2022

Dorie Greenspan vs. King Arthur

"My" apple cake
I asked Amy to level the top and she said
"It's fine."

You can find recipe links at the bottom of the post.

One of my favorite things to do is to virtually bake with my kids. They are in Vermont, Washington, DC, and Connecticut. Sometimes we simply just bake whatever we want, but sometimes we bake the same recipe. We turn on our phones and show techniques and equipment to each other (yes, just like the baking shows). We holler instructions, question each other's sanity ("You did what??"), and laugh. This new family tradition began during lockdown.

Yesterday, we did a Dorie Greenspan recipe, Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake. I had shared a King Arthur Apple Cake recipe with the group. We all agreed we were going to bake it. But Andrew, in DC, is our professional-grade baker, who is so serious that he specially insures his kitchen. He found the derivative recipe from which King Arthur (KAF) based their recipe. We read, we compared and debated and decided to do Greenspan's original recipe first. 

Again, "my" apple cake

There were quite a few reasons for the decision. KAF uses two flours, 2 extracts, and a crushed nut bottom. It also used fewer apples. KAF was actually a more complicated recipe, which is odd. I suspect they are going through another phase to gain more readers and market. Greenspan got her recipe from a French woman. Andrew said it was authentic, the way the French bake: no spices, just the pure apple taste coming through. I mocked that, because Greenspan uses 4 apples, each a different variety. I doubt the French had a choice of apples back in the day. I cook with Cortland and Macintosh and that's that. But when I think about it, even though the French probably used what was at hand, we are privileged to have all these apple varieties now that can enhance flavor. 

Because of my arthritis, I can barely cook anymore. Amelia was here and I had the Cortlands, so she made two cakes: mine and one for her house (I did prep the pans, though). Andrew had 2 Granny Smith, 2 Gala, and an extra Gala from a Tarte Tatin he made last weekend, giving him 5 instead of 4 apples. I have farm eggs, but somehow I had gotten medium-sized eggs, so Amelia and I decided we had to toss in one or two extra to make sure the cake was custardy enough. Amelia, good little American that she is, was going to add cinnamon and cloves to the cake, but I threatened her life. The entire point of this bake was to taste apple, not spices, like the old French did. After she divided the batter between the two springform pans, we realized we were short 2 apples (that's what happens when you are all talking at once on a video call), so she cut up another one, tossed the chunks in each pan and stirred it all up. She refused to do a fourth. Andrew ran down to the corner to get the best vanilla extract money can buy (you can do that in DC, I guess). We used the vanilla I make from John's old applejack made from our apple orchard.

We had all agreed not to use rum at all.

Andrew's apple cake
He meticulously leveled the cake top

Final Opinions
(Anna was out shopping in Connecticut but was in on the call)

This cake is divine. I never want another cake in my life. I never want to taste cinnamon again except in my pumpkin and squash pies and breads. I will play with different varieties of apples even though the Cortlands were perfect. I'm not going to even try the KAF version.
I'm going to use cinnamon next time.
I think if you make this with pears and the rum brandy ice cream I make (which tastes like egg nog) it would be a good Christmas dessert. I'll garnish it with some candied nuts.


Sunday, October 23, 2022

Phone Art

Sophie Michaud, on Red Bubble, designed my new iPhone case. I love it. I know these are not ants in the art, but somehow the design makes you think ants. Sophie is my step-granddaughter, the girl who released the Monarch with chipped blue nail polish when she was 8 years old. She's in college now. Wow.  

The design on the phone case also reminds me of her Monarch release day. It will always be one of my most special photos.

Each of her designs can be reproduced on over 25 products like mugs, wall hangings, phone cases, and shirts. I am just a grandmother here, not an Associate.  ;-)

Photo Sunday at
Noah Clark


New Old Toys

Nell peeks out of the tunnel.

I dragged out Nell's old tunnel that she disdained two years ago. Wouldn't touch it at all. But now? She's a different kitty and went bonkers for it. Every night after supper, she tries to get Betsy to play with her. From growls to play invitations! That's good—but Betsy?

Betsy is too tired.

Lucy said "No, thank you" to selfies this week. She was too busy supervising tunnel playtime.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Watercolor Betsy

This soft watercolor belies Betsy's personality. She looks soft and cuddly, but is as stubborn as a bear. 

Betsy disappeared on me yesterday. She didn't pop up for scratches when I came home from school. Concerned, I called and I searched in all the places I could search that could possibly be dangerous (did I close her in the dryer? the freezer? the cupboard?) and I handed out a very early supper and I found nothing. So I panicked. But finally, she POOF appeared and strolled over to me for her scratches three hours late! As I scratched and cuddled her, and as she purred, I spoke to her about scaring me and that disappearing was not allowed. Betsy was completely unimpressed. She had obviously been mousing in the cellar. I should have remembered that Nell does this often, especially this time of year when the mice move in through the granite boulder foundation. I shouldn't have panicked. 
My 180-piece puzzle from last weekend took me two hours to solve. This is 120 pieces, but the colors are gray and muted. I hope I finish it!

Have a wonderful weekend!


Fly Translation

An unknown fly bathing on a leaf.
Perhaps a Flesh Fly (Sarcophagidae)

This is the power of rapid burst on cameras: get a focus, hold your breath, and hold down that shutter button. You get a series of many shots. This helps with insects that move fast. If you are lucky, you can get good shots now and then. I was very lucky, indeed, to get these. This series spoke to me. 

🤣 YMCA 🤣

Saturday's Critters at
Viewing Nature with Eileen