Posts Tagged Argiope aurantia

Recently Sighted Fauna and Flora

Northern Cricket Frog?

In the last two weeks, a new species of frog has been hanging out on the edge of our little front yard water feature. Yesterday, two were sitting on opposite sides of the pond. Both are about three inches long, and this zoomed-in photo I took makes me think they are Northern Cricket Frogs.

This species is common in my wetland, but I’ve never seen them sitting on the edge of my little front pond before this year. I think perhaps they were born in the pond and recently emerged. They’re probably waiting for a rain event to disperse to less exposed areas. I was surprised by the lumpy texture on such petite amphibians.

A couple of new butterfly species have flitted through in the last couple of weeks. They didn’t stay long in one place, so my pictures are not optimal. But I think I have identified them correctly.

Monarch butterfly

I almost walked into this Monarch butterfly as it was sipping from my row of lantanas. Of course, it flew away before I could take its picture. It then briefly landed on the Chinese Abelia, which is where I managed to snap a very quick shot before it dashed off. I haven’t seen one since then. My Swamp Milkweed didn’t fare well this year. The July heat wave and drought made it surrender without blooming. I’m hoping to add at least one more species of milkweed to another area — a species that’s more heat- and drought-tolerant.

Another brief visitor to the vegetable garden was this battered specimen:

Great Spangled Fritillary?

A few of this species have visited my yard off and on throughout the summer. This one stopped to sip from a bean flower just long enough for me to snap its photo. I think it’s a Great Spangled Fritillary, but I confess the fritillaries look very much alike to me. I’m mostly basing my guess on my location.

The most interesting recent faunal encounter was a love story, well, perhaps more of a lust story. I spotted a male Writing Spider dancing at the edge of a female’s web. I saw him there two days in a row before he vanished. My research tells me that if he successfully courted the female, he either died soon after or was devoured by his lover.

The male is always much smaller. He’s the spider in the upper right corner of this photo.

The plants have been busy too. Most are finalizing fruit production. The native spicebushes (Lindera benzoin) set an unusually large number of gorgeous red berries this year. I think the fruit-loving birds will be pleased when they notice, if they haven’t already.

The berries in this shot are on a 12′ x 6′ shrub full of crimson-berry-laden branches.

As is always the case, the branches of my Two-winged Silverbell (Halesia diptera) are adorned by zillions of the large “two-winged” fruits from which its common name arises. When they are fully ripe, they turn brown, and soon after, squirrels devour every fruit.

When the squirrels tire of dining on acorns, they turn to the fruits of Two-winged Silverbell.

Flowers still abound also. I’ve come to expect Jewelweed’s (Impatiens capensis) arrival in late summer/early fall. Sure enough, it’s popping up in abundance right on schedule. Especially dense thickets line our side of the creek. In deep drought years, the water-rich stems of this wildflower are irresistible to thirsty deer. This year, we either have fewer deer, or they’re not as thirsty, because the Jewelweed is blooming enthusiastically from one end of the floodplain to the other.

The plants in this patch were about an inch shorter than me.

One recent bout of flowering was a surprise. My two white-blooming Florida Anise-trees (Illicium floridanum ‘Alba’) reside beneath dense shade that protects them from western and southern sunshine. I think that location, combined with off-and-on measurable rainfall for most of August, triggered a second round of blooming in these evergreen shrubs. Interestingly, I planted one of their red-blooming cousins (Halley’s Comet) in the same location, but it did not rebloom.

Sometimes when you see a second round of blooms from a shrub in the fall, its spring blooms are less impressive, because the plant spent much of its energy on autumn flowers. It will be interesting to observe how many flowers my albas produce next spring. For now, we are enjoying the unexpected bonus of glowing white star-like flowers against deep green leaves.

August blooms of Illicium floridanum ‘Alba’

As I observe my landscape transitioning from summer to fall, my prayers go out to the folks enduring a visit from what was Hurricane Isaac until quite recently. Hurricane Fran was the beast folks in my region still talk about; forests still show clear signs of the damage caused by her winds and water. Mother Nature is indeed capricious, simultaneously bestowing unexpected flowers and unforeseen chaos in different parts of our country.

Here’s hoping Isaac is the last hurricane to make landfall in the United States this year.

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Writing the Season

Argiope aurantia (front view)

In my previous post, I described a few changes in the local wildlife that serve as markers for the transition from Summer to Fall. I neglected to mention one of my favorite declarers of impending Autumn: Argiope aurantia, commonly called the Writing Spider or the Black and Yellow Garden Spider.

I began to notice some smaller specimens setting up shop among my tomato plants about a month ago. But this is the first sizable spider I’ve seen. She is probably not quite full grown, but she’s getting there. She erected her web among the tall blooming stalks of Cardinal  Flowers that share space with Pitcher Plants in pots immersed in my front garden water feature.

It’s a perfect spot for a hungry spider. Unwary local pollinators drawn to the ruby throats of the Cardinal Flowers make easy prey for the quick reflexes of this predator. She is building up her reserves before creating her egg sac, which will protect hordes of tiny spiderlings until spring sunshine calls them forth.

I know this is a female because of her appearance, and the fact that males roam about in search of females; they don’t build webs. When they find a potential mate, they court her by plucking the strings of her web, sending vibrations through the gossamer threads that entice her toward him. After mating, the male usually dies, and the females eat their bodies. Unlike their Black Widow Spider sisters or female Praying Mantises, Writing Spider females do not actively kill their lovers; they merely don’t let a good meal go to waste.

Writing Spiders are so named for the squiggly zigzag of silk in the center of the web (a stabilimentum, technically speaking). Scientists have several theories about the purpose of this structure. Some think it attracts prey. Others think it makes the web more visible to those who might unintentionally walk through it.  I know in my yard when I approach a Writing Spider’s web I haven’t seen, my first clue is usually when the occupant begins strongly vibrating the web, and the first thing I notice is usually that zigzagging bit of silk in the center. But just because it prevents me from walking through the web doesn’t mean that’s what her “writing” is there for.

Maybe the scientists haven’t yet stumbled upon the real reason for the Writing Spider’s silken signal. Perhaps she is conveying a message from Autumn, letting us know that the time for summer frolicking is nearly done. Leaf raking, pumpkin carving, and turkey stuffing will accompany crisper air, bluer skies, and the bedding down of flora and fauna for another winter’s sleep.

Argiope aurantia (back view)

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