Thursday, December 29, 2011

Three questions and four lousy photos

I love unanswered questions; the search for answers leads down so many interesting paths. Hoppy, my so-far unidentified spider, is proving to be a good source of intriging mysteries.

She hadn't been moving much for a few days, and there were no more fruit flies in her cage. I decided to do a bit of cleaning for her, and see if her cousin was still there. (Maybe she wasn't moving because she's been digesting a good-sized relative.)

So I took off the lid under a good light, and removed her pine branches. She had been sitting on one, but when I looked, she was nowhere to be found. I examined each twig and needle under a lens; she can blend into the surroundings, but her legs always give her away. I couldn't find her.

I cleaned the box, brushed it out, wiped down the sides, turned it upside-down and shook it, brushed again. I even took a paintbrush to tiny crevices around the edge. No Hoppy. I did find two really tiny jumping spiders, on a Douglas fir twig. Hoppy's cousin wasn't anywhere to be seen.

So she was lost. I didn't understand how; I'd been so careful.

May as well put the pine and fir twigs back, with the jumping spiders. I'd find them some food tomorrow.

The greenery was arranged, and the jumpers deposited on top. I was just about to put on the lid (a sheet of plastic wrap), when there was Hoppy, sitting on the rim, in plain sight. Where she had been, I have no idea. (Mystery # 1) I chased her inside, and wrapped the top securely.

Mystery # 2: Besides the spiders, I have added, as food, two carpet beetle larvae, and a dozen or so fruit flies. A few springtails and a red mite came in with fresh pine twigs. Nothing else. So why, when I cleaned out the box, did I find a half-dozen tiny carcasses with fragile, spotted wings? (1b) How did they get in? And (2b) what are they?

Big-eyed skeleton, with spotty wings and the remainder of spider webs.

The head and thorax look complete, but the abdomen is sadly shrunken, sucked dry. 

Pretty patterns, big eyes, humped thorax.

They're about the size of the fruit flies, but seem to have 4 wings. Flies have only 2. The antennae look short and stubby, like those of fruit flies, but they seem to be broken off. Nose to wing-tip, they're just slightly more than 2 1/2 millimeters long, under a tenth of an inch. I've spent a few hours on BugGuide, without finding a match.

Mystery # 3: I just looked up from the computer and saw Hoppy out hunting. She's hungry, I see. And while I watched, a couple of live flying critters ran up the walls and across the top. Where did they come from? I just cleaned that place and examined everything that's in there!

Definitely 4 wings. And long antennae.

So what are these? Wasps, maybe? Were they hiding in the pine bark or buds? What do you think?

The photos are not good, but I'll send them in to BugGuide, anyhow. At least the wing pattern is fairly clear.

UPDATE: Thanks for all the good tips you sent me (in the comments, and via Twitter). These are barklice, probably Ectopsocus californicus, of the order Psocodea. According to Wikipedia, they live in dead leaves on tree branches and leaf litter. On Bugguide, some plants were named: oak, willow, holly. Mine were found on live twigs of pine or Douglas fir, probably the fir.

An excellent pair of photos is here, on BugGuide.

How I love the web! I get to pick the brains of the best of the best!


  1. They look like barklice to me.

  2. Yes, they do! And the size is right; I found one at 3mm, one at 2.5. Now to compare wing vein patterns ...

    Thank you!

  3. Oh, I was curious, too, to know what you had. I was pleased to find out someone provided an answer already, and he's the founder of BugGuide. Very cool, Susannah!

  4. I bring home a lot of critters and plants, and I seem to share my cabin with a lot of spiders, but I don't think I'm ready to cage one and keep it as a pet. Congrats to you for doing that (and providing such a diverse menu for its dining pleasure)

  5. Definitely psocids, order Psocoptera.

  6. I wish I had more knowledge of bugs, but I'm glad so many others do! I enjoyed reading about your little captive food chain. Sounds like a fun experiment!

  7. They look like they might be Ectopsocidae, going by the following features: rectagular pterostigma (fairly straight rear margin), no areola postica (a loop in the veins at the rear margin of the wing), the tarsi look like they would probably be two-segmented.

  8. Thanks, Christopher. That narrows it down quite a lot, and I think I've found a match. Ectopsocus californicus looks right, and BugGuide has photos of a couple found just south of here.

    Some people mentioned the plant they were found on; holly, willow, oak. Mine had to come from either pine or Douglas fir, probably the fir.

    Thanks again!

  9. So much in so little space. - Margy


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