Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Outdoors at Sleepy Creek

Sleepy Creek WMA is one of my favorite places to visit in the fall. It is just a little higher up and fall comes a few days earlier than it does at my house. As I drove into the area I was greeted with a scene full of changing leaves. Most of the flowers were spent and only a few insects were flying. I drove on and stopped to hike a birding trail I had not taken for years. I thought that I might find more interesting mushrooms but no such luck. But I did find this wonderful orb web weaver called, Araneus marmoreus, Marbled Orb Weaver Spider. I saw the web first and traced one of the silk threads to a couple of folded leaves in the upper right corner. Opening it up a tad I discovered this beautiful spider. The adult spiders build hide-a-ways like this one but the immature make retreats of silk only. Marbled spiders are polymorphic, meaning it has many color variations. This one is bright yellow but some are pale tan or pale yellow.

The habit of the Marbled Orb Weaver Spider is to hide and keep one foot on a “signal” line to the main web. When a flying insect is caught, it races out and grabs the victim. I took that photo using a flash and I think it scared her and she dashed out and ran to the center of the web and just hung there without moving. I hated flushing her but I was glad she was out in the open and I could get a better look.

Leaving her in peace I drove down to the lake and found this Eastern Box turtle in the road. My second one this week! The pattern on the back reminded me a little of the spider.

I love to take photos of critters faces to catch their expressions and anthropomorphize a little. Doesn’t it look like it was eating ice cream with chocolate dripping down the front of its chin? Well, maybe not. Anyway I picked it up and moved it off the road and we both went on our way.

The lake was beautiful as you can see.

There were lots of Odonata (Dragonflies) flying around, adding to the fall colors and activity of the day. Autumn Meadowhawk, Sympetrum vicinum, is in the family Libellulidae and very common this time of year, as the name suggests. The females lay their eggs by dipping the tips of their abdomens on the surface of the water. There were lots of males around defending their territory.

As I was taking this photo of a male I noticed some movement in the background and investigated. What I saw was a Walking Stick just lumbering along. They are really not very graceful as they walk. I believe this one is a Northern Walking Stick, Diapheromera femorata in the family Phasmidae. The ancient Greek phasma means apparition or phantom and refers to the resemblance to sticks or leaves. They are certainly the masters of disappearing before your eyes. They feed at night on the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs such as oaks and hazelnuts. This one is heading down the trunk of this small tree.

After finding that walking stick, because of its movement, I now had a search image in my mind so when I walked by a bush, a few feet down the trail I noticed this.

Had I not seen the first one I doubt I would have seen these. And even as I looked at them it was hard to distinguish the female. She is missing one of her front legs and it looks just like part of a twig. It is amazing how she blends in, her head is at the top and she is much longer than the male. The antenna is almost at the top edge of the photo. Her eye is almost in the middle of the photo where the top leaf is attached to the stem. The male is about 3 inches and the female below is 3 ¾ inches.

And look at the end where all the mating is going on. He is using the claspers to hang onto her. They can stay like this for hours and days. I thought seeing the spider was thrilling but this really made my day. The female drops her eggs singly onto the ground where they overwinter in the leaf litter and hatch in the spring. The eggs resemble tiny seeds that have a structure called an operculum at one end that pops open like a lid when the nymph is ready to emerge. Wouldn’t that be cool to see?

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Cindy said...

Your photography is stunning! My father was from Huntington, so I spent a lot of time in WV when I was younger. What a beautiful state! Thanks for sharing.

fjÀllripan said...

I really enjoyed your post with great photos. I would love to see a turtle out in the nature!

Riet said...

Your fall photo's are absolutely beautiful. What a beautiful country

Karen said...

Fantastic captures. Isn't that spider just gorgeous!

Rambling Woods said...

What a wonderful walk. I had an eastern box turtle as a pet when I was a kid...His name was Max..