Thursday, August 14, 2008

Midnight survey

I was grumbling to Laurie, a couple of days ago, that there are hardly any bugs this year. Except for a plague of tiny biting black flies, he reminded me.

Something is definitely odd, though. Last summer, the evergreens across my lawn were festooned with hundreds of big cross spider webs. (Both the spiders and the webs were big.) This year, I've found fewer than a dozen, all tiny.

Last year, I had to put out crushed eggshells to stop the slugs. This year, the eggshell container is still full.

Last year, I was monitoring Fat Momma and Chica, my American house spiders, chronicling their doings and matings. This year, the final batch of eggs hatched in March, and a couple of tiny males set up their webs. And that was it. No females, no matings, no babies. And no photos.

Last year, my visitors included big brown moths, crane flies, assorted caterpillars, leafhoppers, lemon-yellow lauxaniid flies, bald-faced hornets and granddaddy harvestmen. This year, a moth or two, a pair of crane flies, no caterpillars, a few tiny harvestmen. The only flies so far are those biting black flies. And a few mosquitoes. (I could do without those.)

I am wondering whether that is a normal variation, or whether it is because of the changes in our weather patterns.

Almost a year ago, in September, I went out with a flashlight to see a big cross spider that built his web on our bicycles every night, and found the patio crawling with life. I've looked out at night this year, and rarely saw any more than a few pillbugs.

I decided to do a thorough search; I went out Tuesday night and last night with the lamp on an extension cord, and peered into every corner. With some success.

There were slugs. Several kinds of slugs.

Doesn't it look awfully snake-ish, coiled up? It does to me.

A light-coloured slug, eating something dried and red. Maybe an old earthworm.

A dark-brown slug, climbing the wall with a harvestman for company.

And a couple of kinds of pill bugs:

The ones that make pills.

And the ones that don't.

I thought this one was a pillbug until I saw the photo. Now I don't know what it is.

Besides these, I found an earwig or two, two snails, a tiny leafhopper on the rhododendron, and a couple of earthworms out for an evening stroll. No moths, no caterpillars.

There were a few spiders: the tiny cross spider whose web I broke, and a miniature cream-coloured one that never stopped running.

Fuzzy photo; the spider wasn't co-operative.

And -- and this made me happy! -- a female American house spider, possibly one of Fat Momma's brood. She was setting up shop at the crook of an old boat smokestack that I've had hanging around, and tying her web to the beak of a wooden shorebird beside it. Not a safe location, but I'll try not to disturb it.

There are a few small males in the vicinity; she should have plenty of suitors. I'll keep an eye on her, hoping for photo ops.

I also found several of these beetles. Out there in the semi-dark, they just showed up as brown blobs, so I brought this one inside to have his picture taken.

This is the same as the one that Chica caught last year. He's lucky I brought him in; when I went out in the morning, the new spider* had one of his relatives:

Beetle taco.

So there's life out there. But not nearly as varied or as numerous as last year. I hope it bounces back next year.

One last photo: a pile of stones I will be flipping the 7th of September. With a slug on the turtle.

*I'll have to find her a name. It's awkward to be always writing "the new American house spider".


  1. Hey, thanks for the sidebar link to Rock-Flipping Day. But since I switched the posts from a series back to a category, I'm afraid the link is dead. It should be

  2. Every pill bug makes pills, the ones that does not, are called sow bugs.


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