July 2012

Wolf in the woods!

by ollie on July 16, 2012

Six of the eight eyes of a Wolf spider.

It has been a busy summer here at the woods, but no matter how busy I am, I make sure that I pay regular visits to my sit spot. The sit-spot routine is a powerful tool in many ways, and in a future blog I will cover in more detail exactly what the sit-spot is, what to look for when deciding on where to sit, and how to get the most out of your time spent at that place. For now I want to share one of my sit-spot stories, which happened just last week.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, whenever I am outdoors, whether it be in a city or woodland a lot of my attention is drawn to the world of the birds, in particular looking for patterns and clues in bird language and behaviour and using this to have a better understanding of what is going on around me. My love of birds brings me a happiness, curiosity, and excitement far beyond that of any other interest I have had in my life, but I do have to be careful to not get so focused on what the birds are doing that I begin to have a blind spot for the many other elements of the natural world.

So I was at my sit-spot recently and realised that I was tuning into the bird language around me, but not paying as much attention to some of the other things that were occurring. It was around 12:20pm, and there was a north westerly breeze. The sky was quite cloudy, but with clear patches allowing some of the suns heat to penetrate. As I began the few feet walk to my spot, I began to look at the plants around me and although I could identify some of them, I took note of the many plants that I knew nothing about. How had they changed since the last time I was here, who feeds on them, are they edible to humans, what part do they play in the tapestry of life? These were just some of the questions that I pondered on.  I looked in wonder at the different shapes and colours that I could see before me and recognised the important part they play in the ecology of the woodland, and how easily I can over look anything that is not a bird!

While doing this I was still paying attention to the birds in the area, but now my awareness had expanded to include the weather and the vegetation on the ground around me. I made it to my spot and as I went to place my stool on the ground I saw countless spiders run for cover. They were amongst the grass and other plants, and it felt as if they had been out to soak up the warmth, but disturbed by my approach they scattered and hid. So I placed my stool, sat down, kept watch and eventually they began to re-emerge. They were quite small, and brown in colour, but what was most interesting to me was what appeared to be a perfectly round abdomen. However with a closer look I could see that actually it looked more like an egg sac being carried around under its abdomen. I then looked out into the woods to take in what was occurring in the larger area around me, but did not forget about these interesting arachnids that I had encountered.

(Pardosa lugubris) A female carrying an egg sac

So, I got home and did a little research on these spiders and would like to share some of my findings. They have no common name, but are a type of Wolf Spider and go by the Latin title of Pardosa lugubris. Wolf spiders have excellent eyesight, and are agile hunters. Its no surprise that they have such good eyesight when you take into account the fact that they have have eight eyes in total. As you can see in the photo, they have a bottom row of four small eyes, above these there are two very large eyes and above those two medium sized eyes.

It turns out that what I first though was a part of the body was in fact an egg sac, which the female carries around with her. It  is attached to the spinnerets at the end of the abdomen, and on the spiders at my spot the sac is a paler colour than the body and makes the females very easy to spot. The female has to hold her abdomen in a raised position to keep the sac from dragging on the ground, but despite this is still capable of hunting. As I have observed recently, the females seem to like bathing in the sun ( if there is any! ), and this helps speed up the development of the spiderling’s, and apparently unique to wolf spiders, when the spiderling’s leave the egg sac they will climb up onto her abdomen and travel with her. You can see an example of this in the photo below.

(Pardosa lugubris) A female with youngsters on her back.

When the egg sac is being carried it is obvious to identify a female, but it is also possible to tell the male and female apart due to a slight difference in colouring. The female is a dark brown colour, and the front section of the body, the cephalothorax, has a lighter brown stripe running along it from the front of the body towards the abdomen, whereas the male has a much darker colouring with a grey to white coloured stripe. To see some amazing close up photos of them follow this link: http://www.eurospiders.com/Pardosa_lugubris.htm

This is only a glimpse into the life of this very interesting arachnid, and I look forward to paying more attention to them and their behaviour and therefore getting to know them better. I am left with a deep gratitude for having come across them, as they have reminded me of a very important lesson. To not get so caught up in the larger, and what sometimes seem more interesting or exciting creatures, that I forget to acknowledge that the smaller, not so obvious things are just as fascinating, and have an equal part to play. Just having done this small amount of research into them has inspired my curiosity, and has led me to pay more attention to the other kinds of arachnids, insects and bugs that inhabit my sit spot area and begin to understand the part they play in the ecology of our woodland.

So now our attention has been drawn to some of the things we pass by each day without even noticing, I invite you to share your observations and stories of the smaller creatures that live in your garden, park or sit spot. In particular I am interested to know where these spiders can be found, what kind of environments do they inhabit. Can they survive in a city? Do they live in your garden, or do they need to live in woodland? Either way, I encourage you to look sooner than later because once they lose the egg sac and the young spiderlings move on, they are supposed to be very easy to confuse with nursery web spiders who rear their young in a very different manner, but I will leave you to investigate that for yourselves.

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