Small is beautiful. And those who stoop to conquer the common prejudice for charismatic spinal fauna will find that few creatures exemplify this dictum better than the dragonflies. These gleaming dancers on crystalline wings of stained glass patrol ponds and marshes on both hemispheres and Sissy Williams catches the rare joy of a mosquito hawk on the dry side of town in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
And when the birds are lying low, Corey of 10,000 Birds finds that a field glassing guide comes in handy, at least most of the time, for the identification of Odonates that dash and dazzle with black saddles and scarlet backs. Here be dragons that feast over water, one might say.
Away from the safety of the outdoors, GrrlScientist turns inward to the domestic denizens we love to hate. She reviews “A Field Guide to Household Bugs: It’s a Jungle in Here” by Joshua Abarbanel and Jeff Swimmer. This slim paperback offers a safari tour of the hordes of arthropodal freeloaders that lurk in larders, tunnel through tables, feast on your beds and sip corpuscles of manblood. With alluring micrographs of the villainous line-up plus helpful suggestions on nuking these homeland terrors, GrrlScientist offers a hearty recommendation for the book to anyone unfortunate enough to not live in cleanroom conditions.
I somehow doubt though the book offers a ready remedy for the kind of encounter Summer Fey Foovay enjoyed with a visitor of many legs (of the kind depicted on the right) one fine autumn night.
On the other hand, spiders are invaders of the hearth that deserve more welcome than worry. Susannah Anderson is clearly enamoured by the lush brood of American house spiderlings that greeted her in recent months. She records with midwifery earnestness the post-coital bliss of her resident webmistress and the travails of her (the spider, not Susannah) string of hapless suitors.
Diving into the deep end of arachnid amour, Kevin A. Zelnio takes torrid delight in a recent account of mutual Myrmarachnid desire worthy of unpulped Mills & Boon classics. Before that, he explores the uncanny analogues in morphology that ant-mimicking spiders have evolved to ape the armies of mandibled queens. The weaver ants he cites are surely an optimal species to mimic, for they are bad news for just about every other crawler in their tree-lined territory.
Sissy returns with a robust attempt at blasting away the negative spin that plaques her friendly neighbourhood spiders who sweat the night shift to weave webs of recycled silk.
A large bulk of spider species build no web though, and Duncan Fraser finds one such prowler in the wilds of Gippsland. The ample lady he unveiled from her woody hide seemed to cling with gravid indignation, her octet of eyes threatening to unleash a spawn that will leap from his walls and into his darkest dreams.
Related to spiders but often mistaken for them (Pholcids, which are true spiders, also bear the moniker, adding to the confusion), harvestman are waistless, leggy hunters who lack spinnerets and venom, employing instead stink glands for defence. Arachnid systematicist Christopher Taylor discusses a newish paper on cyphophthalmids, a group of mite-like harvestmen thought to lie at the base of the Opilionid family bush. New light is shed on the Pettalids, who are now revealed to be eye-bearing, if often lens-less creatures, and whose southern distribution and demonstrated monophyly add points in favour of biogeographers with a Gondwanan bent.
Sundry spineless wonders arrived from all quarters for this month’s celebration of jointed legs. From Upper Michigan, Tim Eisele ponders the dog days of hothoused cicadas who seem to escape avian attention by creating a comfort zone of din. They sound like just many teenagers I encounter…
Invasion chronicler Jennifer Forman Orth receives a free lesson on the bees minus the birds on her rain barrel turned make-out mattress for a pair of bumblebees. For the lady in question, it’s clearly a case of ‘wham bam, thank you Sam’…
A more chaste discovery is made by Sissy who finds a clymene moth in crusading garb. And Susannah Anderson returns to trace the identity of a grubby guest in her garden. One mystery is solved but another remains, yielding no answers.
Backyard browsers also plague botanist-cum-birder YC Wee in Singapore, who finds a batch of mistletoe lovers who munch with the impunity of bad taste.
One final landbound look: Karen of Rurality takes a steady cam hand to her Ironweed and posts a palette that crawls with living colours to the dying days of summer.
Marine entries are not in season this month, and even the very first submission I received on (semi) aquatic creatures suffers from an intrusion of terrestrial bodies. But that doesn’t excuse the fine tale that Evolgen shares on land-based brachyurans who find themselves turned into microcrabitats for vinegar flies. No apparent harm is done to the hosts, who receive the sanitary services of live toothpicks in return for their uric excretions.
We end with a tribute to less than fragile deities by Jennifer Forman Orth, in her post on a porcelain crab infestation on Georgia’s oyster beds. In this world of exoskeletons, carapaces and finely veined wings, there is alas no room for a chorda to one lonely outpost of rigid cords in an animal kingdom whose strength still rests in spinelessness.