In Nature, One Thing Always Leads To Another…

Clouds that look like they are aching to release their rain have rolled in, but earlier today the sun was shining brightly and I knew the odds of finding the largest salticid in this area was very good. I know who I can expect to find in this area depending on the conditions, so I quickly checked in on a small greenhouse that is home to at least 6 individuals, mostly sub-adult to adult females and a few earlier instars.

Even when it is very cold outside, the air inside tends to be warm and extremely inviting. On chilly days when I have been too lazy to put a sweater or jacket on, I like to pop inside, to heat up before I make a break back for the house. While absorbing the delicious heat like a basking reptile, I’ve often noticed the long term inhabitants looking back at me from behind disused items like an old watering can or peeking over the empty spaces within the plastic, grated shelving.  The creatures spying on me were always black and red, decorated with metallic, shimmering green-blue bits, hairy, and very curious.

Looking more closely, one could observe their pedipalps bouncing up and down rapidly in alarm and excitement.  Often times, when I lean in to meet their gaze, they duck back quickly, seemingly horrified that my giant figure would approach so suddenly. They are Phidippus johnsoni.

On sunny days like today had been, I almost always find at least one female. Today was not one of those days. After searching in the usual places, none could be seen. The intense burst of sunlight was brief – not long enough to go out crawling around for. These spiders build themselves little silken retreats. These are tubes with two open ends and the fact they have two open ends aside, they look a bit like a tiny white sleeping bag a person might use. Perhaps, on cool days the time is better spent staying inside this retreat, particularly if one is well fed. On hot days, they become nearly hyperactive, as if powered by sunlight. I feel that I operate similarly!

A bit disappointed to find myself alone, I left empty handed. My despair did not last long! On a picnic table just ahead of me, I noticed a big black blob doing circles in place. It wasn’t a wasp or a fly. The blob was actually a male Phidippus johnsoni, the first one I’ve seen this spring.

I later set about trying to photograph him, but his behavior was completely evasive. Instead of crawling upwards, like so many jumpers are prone to doing near robotically, he kept scrambling down towards the earth. Sometimes he would skip the crawling strategy and instead attach silken anchors to a leaf he was on. He does this with his silk extruding organs, the spinnerets (the whole biochemical/mechanical process behind this is incredible!) and bungee jumps off of it, dangling freely on his silken line before latching onto something, in this case, clambering on to the dirt.

Silken anchor in place, drag lines now pulled from the anchor from spinnerets in anticipation of a bungee styled jump.

Silken anchor in place, drag lines now pulled from the anchor from spinnerets in anticipation of a bungee styled jump. This shot was taken after the next one, which is why he is covered in pollen.

He jumped down onto a flower at one point and was then dusted in purple pollen. I wonder if they actively consume the pollen while grooming…

Male, now covered in purple pollen. Gah!

Male, now covered in purple pollen. Gah!

I didn’t mind how messy he looked,  I was mostly hoping to get a portrait of him but he would not face me! Like a compass, he oriented himself away from me every time. Thoroughly vexed, I placed him on a plant to give myself a little break. In doing so, I’d spooked up something bright green from below.

I bent down to get a better look and realized it was the young Pseudacris regilla, a Pacific Tree Frog i’d seen in the garden previously, while weeding. We had this big project to plant wildlfower seeds in the yard and weeding was a part of the process. I’d found out who was living where, by accident. Discouraged by my salticid struggles, I thought my odds of getting a photo of him were better, so I shifted my focus to the young frog.

Unfortunately, this guy was just as skittish as the spider, hopping several feet away from me, back and forth. Eventually he hopped inside of a curled leaf and I managed to photograph him there.

Sitting still, but now covered with dirt. Ahh!

Sitting still, but now covered with dirt. Ahh!

I was testing out a new flash diffuser, which has provided some pretty neat results – it is nice not to have the ring of the ring flash showing up in large eyes such as those belonging to frogs and newts and in the future, snakes. I don’t mind it for smaller subjects with scarcely there eyes, like most spiders (Salticids, lycosids and many ctenids excluded!)

I got one more photo before I encouraged him back to where I’d first seen him.

A bit of growing left for this guy!

A bit of growing left for this guy!

Some weeks ago during the night, James was out looking for worms to feed our pet Bombina orientalis (Firebelly Toads). He does this dutifully and with great enthusiasm, something which totally melts my heart and makes me love him all the more.

While searching, he had also found us a large female frog, which I was eager to shoot on-white ‘Meet Your Neighbours‘ style. I’m an unofficial member of the project, having been invited to participate some time ago. I am hoping to acquire imagery of the creatures we see in Panama and Ecuador and even here, in our own backyard. I’m still becoming familiar with the on-white process. I prefer shooting animals in their natural environment, but I certainly understand the need to document them in this format. Given the superficial ‘simplicity’ of it, you’d think this was easy to get right! In fact, it is fairly tricky, requiring a lot of tinkering for certain subjects. I have great respect for the judgements of contributing photographers and the skills involved in getting a good result. I’m going to devote some time to this during the volunteer trip to Panama!

Anyhow, I put together this little composite for a start. It wasn’t perfect, but I’ll get it right soon.

The Big Lady in all her amphibian glamour.

The Big Lady in all her amphibian glamour.

As a kid, I’d only seen these frogs sporadically. I even kept one for a pet for several years. With cats roaming the yards and in greater populations, hearing them and especially seeing them had become increasingly rare. I’ve moved to the Olympic Peninsula recently and am now treated to observations of these guys fairly frequently.

On rainy nights the calls of males are incredibly fervent, resounding from streams, ponds and waterways near and far. They are breeding now, as it is early spring and apparently mature quickly, reproducing at about a year old.

These frogs come in a variety of colors, most commonly green, tan, a mix of both with white bellies and black blotching. Some even turn up with some blues and purples, although I’ve personally only seen individuals with small amounts of this. They can actually change their colors, too, although slowly, to better match their immediate environments.

Also, I hadn’t known this until today, but since 2007 this species is actually the official Washington State amphibian.


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