Spinner of Golden Threads

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Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, St. Petersburg, Florida July 2020

Measuring over three inches long, I couldn’t help but notice this attractive, female Golden Silk Orb-weaver (Trichonephila clavipes). The genus name describes this spider quite well; in Ancient Greek nephila means “fond of spinning”.

She builds and maintains a web that stretches for about a yard, anchored between trees up to ten feet away. Not only is that impressive but as the common name mentions, some of the threads are yellow in color (hard to photograph but you can see a few in the photo below).

I included the photo below even though it is relatively poor quality for a few reasons. One, it shows the diminutive male hanging out behind her (far away from her mouth). Two, she was in the process of wrapping up a meal. And third, part of her food cache is visible behind her back legs. There was really a lot going on in that shot, I do wish it had come out better!

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Sawgrass Lake Park, St. Petersburg, Florida August 2020

Trail Treats

While walking the back loop at Sawgrass Lake Park a couple weeks ago something bright and shiny caught my eye. I’m not sure why these toys were placed along the path but it was fun finding them. Kind of like an Easter egg hunt.

If those toys remained overnight, I imagine the resident raccoons would have had a field day with them! Now that I think about it, that’s a video I’d love to see…

Pretty Petiole

I viewed this colorful insect with a wary eye since red and black tend to be warning signs in nature. Turns out that Common Thread-waisted Wasps (Ammophila procera) are relatively harmless as the adults mainly feed on nectar. Vocab word of the day: petiole is the narrow waist in between the abdomen and thorax.

Unlike the male, the female has an ovipositor, which is used for egg-laying (and stinging, when necessary). She does all her parenting upfront: paralyzing a caterpillar, dragging it into a sandy burrow, inserting a single egg, and sealing the burrow, before flying away.

When the larva hatches, it consumes the (immobile but still alive) caterpillar from the inside out. Makes me glad I’m not a caterpillar!

Joule’s “Last Glimpse”

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Green Flash, Treasure Island, Florida – Photo by Robert McCoy

The first part of last month I finally saw my first green flash. As an avid sunset watcher I have been on the lookout for this optical phenomenon for years. So you can imagine how excited I was to actually see one. My only lament was that I didn’t get a photo of it.

Thankfully, my fellow jetty bum, Robert, caught a shot of it which he graciously agreed to let me share with you. Though there are different instances when these can be witnessed, all of them are the result of the refraction of light through the earth’s atmosphere (which acts like a prism).

The flattened oval in the photo above is known as an interior-mirage flash which occurs when the surface is warmer than the air above it (usually at sea level). In 1869, James Prescott Joules (a physicist) described it thusly; “at the moment of the departure of the sun below the horizon, the last glimpse is coloured bluish green.”

Black Beauty

This carpenter bee’s large size caught my attention as she* whizzed by my head on the way to a flower. If I was an entomologist, I would be able to tell you which of the two species of Xylocopa (that reside in Florida) it was, but it’s a bit tricky to discern the difference.

One would have to determine the distance between the eyes, the number of antenna segments, types of submarginal cells in wings, and abdomen and thorax color and pubescence. Fascinating details, I’m sure but I was too enthralled with her colorful, diaphanous wings and the way they resembled a stained glass window. Just stunning!

*I am fairly certain this was a female since the males tend to sport a bit of yellow on their thorax.

Bottoms Up!

Though the brunt of the storm was 300 miles away, Hurricane Laura churned up the water along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Scattered along my beach are brown clumps mixed with shells. Though they look like rocks, the brown lumps are actually soft and squishy tunicates.

Affectionately called Sea Squirts, tunicates are colonial bottom dwellers that attach to hard surfaces (including abandoned shells). The wave action also tossed up a bunch of sea urchins (and by now you should know how I feel about them).

We’ve received a sneak peek at life from the benthic level of the sublittoral zone. Since they were deposited above the normal high tideline we will get to enjoy the delightful aroma as they decay in the sand.