Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wolf spiders

Rare are the occasions that I intentionally camp in degraded, unburned woodlands in the Ozark Highlands. At the beginning of my birthday month, however, I found myself camping on gravel bars and streambanks of the upper Gasconade, Niangua, Current and other rivers surrounded on both sides of each river by crummy woods in rather desperate need of fire. Each night of riverbank camping I gathered kindling for my long-lived fires of punky sycamore and was treated to the bright glowing eyes of wolf spiders, more species than I could count, hunkering down in the thick layer of leaves. (Spider populations, by the way, totally out of context, increasing to unnatural levels due to a lack of fire.)

Strap on a headlamp and head into the millions of acres of unburned woodlands in the Ozark Highlands and you'll see them, too, little green and yellow lights staring at you out of the leaf litter, compound eyes on the many species of spiders, all immobilized by the brilliant light of your headlamp. Glow worms are out too, actually, flat little segmented larvae of fireflies pulsing light as they, too, hunker down in the leaf litter.

I don't really understand the fear of spiders. Some of Missouri's finest ecologists are quite frightened by these little creatures who really aren't out to kill or maim ecologists. I don't keep house very well at all because I'm never home, so I allow cellar, tunnel and wolf spiders spiders to have their way in my corners and basement; they keep my rogue walking fruit flies (cultured for my dart frogs, not that I live in squalor...) in check. I help tarantulas across the road each October, gently allowing them to crawl up my arm while I walk them across to the next glade. I've had several tarantulas try, in vain, to spin webs around my forearms, an act which I've taken as high praise for my gentle handling.

But as all of you, my three readers [not counting my baby sister], know, I'm not an entomologist--though I tangentially know Ted, the most astute entomologist, rabid cyclist, and all around cool guy in the Midwest. If the pictures I post tonight are not of spiders, I think he'll tell me (very gently and with a giggle).

While gravel bar camping during the initial stages of my birthday month, I ran across a rather large wolf spider of the genus Hogna (pictured, right). Admittedly, I have never seen a wolf spider so large. Using the headlamp, several other wolf spider species availed themselves to me over the course of the week, none of them wanting to attack me or bite me (of course). One made off with a sliver of yellow onion that I had cut up for beans and rice, comparatively a small spider rushing off the table with a huge chunk of onion. Wolf spiders, though they can grow rather large, are pretty harmless. The worst bite by one of these spiders resembles a bee sting: no necrotic tissue (like a brown recluse bite can cause), no huge black widow welts left behind. They're really a quite harmless, highly diverse group of spiders, really charming and furry. See for yourself--pull out your headlamp from your caving gear and check out your local -likely unburned- woods. Look closely for the glistening of compound spider eyes!


whiteoak said...

Stopped in a bookstore in Columbia recently, flipped open Gary Snyder's "Turtle Island," (written when he was an early adapter of re-inhabitation,)to a page with a "poem" about fire, describing how the natives burned up in the hollows to keep the oak and pine healthy over a vigorous ground flora, and then there was suppression, but still restoration was possible... this book came after after Snyder's 50's-60's pieces about being a logger in Oregon, and after Kerouac's 50's work recounting his time as a fire lookout in the North Cascades.... anyway, Snyder's piece brought home how the drier interior spaces of the west coast, sometimes really not far inland, with their oak over grass, share much with the Ozarks.

Anonymous said...

Charming! Yes, I believe Hogna is the genus of the little critter in photos 2 and 3 - a diverse group with a couple dozen species in the U.S. Your first photo seems to represent Rabidosa rabida - the "rabid wolf spider." Why do we insist on giving these fascinatingly harmless little creatures such dastardly names?

Allison Vaughn said...

Ted, I need a good spider book. The Hogna was really quite large. And why on earth would anyone call the first wolf spider such a monstrous name? They're everywhere in my yard. I'm glad I was able to tell they were spiders and not flies. I feel so accomplished! (BTW, did you hear Lance Armstrong called the governor about funding the Tour in the future?)