May 02, 2007

Spider collecting trip

Posted by: Rod Crawford

Burke spider curator (and author of Spider Myths!) Rod Crawford takes us along on a recent spider collecting trip…

So far this year, every time I had a chance for a spider collecting trip, it rained. But bad luck doesn't last forever. The atmosphere finally became cooperative in mid-April and local natura
list Laurel Ramseyer (recently arrived from Michigan via Massachusetts) wanted to find out what spider collecting was like. Our first joint site was Stone Quarry Canyon south of Ellensburg, a secluded place that I'd found using the great online map and photo resources now available. A washout in the dirt road forced us to walk, not a bad thing with meadowlarks singing and diverse wildflowers in bloom. Starting down the canyon, we were greeted by wolf spiders racing around in the just-turning-green early spring meadows.

The little tree clump (isolated among miles of sagebrush) that I'd found on aerial photos turned out to be Douglas maple, a nice surprise; I'd expected more common trees like cottonwood or pine. At least three rare spider species were among those sifted from the leaf litter. Laurel helped out by looking for spiders under rocks (she says she turned over every rock on two hillsides) while I finished the sifting and worked at sweeping grass and herbs and beating spiders from gooseberry, rabbit brush, and sagebrush.

Laurel spotted the best spider of the day, Misumenops importunus (one of the flower crab spiders) lying in wait for pollinators among the flowers on a gooseberry bush. It was the first record of the species from eastern Washington! Laurel was most impressed by a large male jumping spider, Phidippus johnsonii, with a bright red abdomen, but he could see her coming and refused to be collected. I later found one in a retreat under a board at dusk.

The only humans we saw all day were two young ladies ascending the canyon on muleback an
d horseback. The natural flora and fauna of the canyon (the latter including many bees, bee flies, and beetles) all contributed to a most satisfying day. And our collections (including three species brought back alive for rearing) filled in yet another of the many blanks on the Washington spider distribution maps.

Of course, immersion in nature means encounters with not only herbivores and predators, but also parasites - cattle ticks were more common than some people would have found quite comfortable. But the true naturalist can't let such small things detract from fullest enjoyment of the first spring field trip!

More photos and other details on this trip can be seen on this album page from the Spider Collector's Journal site.
- Rod

Photos, from top to bottom:
Stone Quarry, photo by R. Crawford
Phidippus johnsonii, male, photo by R. Crawford
Misumeops lepidus on a balsamroot flower, ready to embrace a bee, photo by L. Ramseyer