This isn’t a very good photo, but I am very excited to have finally found a pseudoscorpion, thirty or more years after I first read about them. Pseudoscorpions are arachnids, like spiders and true scorpions, and they are found in a wide variety of habitats worldwide–including at least one species that likes to inhabit old books, where it feeds on booklice. They are part of the complex world of tiny animals that fills every garden but is largely unseen, even by the most observant gardeners.
The largest pseudoscorpion species is only about a centimeter long, and most of the 3000+ species are only a few millimeters long. Unlike true scorpions, they lack a tail with venomous stinger, and instead they have venom glands connected to their pincers. But don’t fear; the venom is only a cause for concern if you are a tiny creature like a mite or a springtail that the pseudoscorpion might like to eat.
I found this pseudoscorpion while I was hammering wooden plugs inoculated with shiitake mycelia into some fresh oak logs to expand my mushroom garden. I suddenly noticed a tiny creature scurrying across the bark near my mallet. At first glance, I wondered if it might be a newly hatched tick, but its movement didn’t seem quite right. As soon as I looked a little more closely, I knew exactly what it must be. Unfortunately, it is right at the edge of my camera’s focusing ability, but I’m glad to have some sort of permanent record even if it is a but blurry. Maybe I should get one of those little macro lenses for my iphone, in case I find another one in the next thirty years.
Six on Saturday today is another garden project. This one adds wildlife habitat to your garden and provides the opportunity to see animals that are usually hidden from view.
1. Cover boards
A cover board is exactly what it sounds like: a wooden board or piece of sheet metal that is placed on the ground to provide habitat for small animals. They’re often used by herpetologists to attract reptiles and amphibians, but they also attract insects, spiders, and small mammals.
This past spring, the kids and I placed three cover boards–two wooden boards and one piece of corrugated metal siding–in likely spots around our property. Over the summer and autumn, we have checked the boards once every two weeks, which we think is a decent compromise between checking so often that animals are frightened away, and checking so infrequently that we miss things.
If you live in a place with venomous snakes, it’s a good idea to use a rake or snake hook to lift cover boards. Pull the board towards you, so that you will have the upright board between you and any disturbed snakes. If you find a small animal, take a few pictures and then carefully lower the cover board again. Gently move the little creature to one side first, and let it crawl back underneath after you have lowered the board. You don’t want to find its squashed corpse the next time you lift the board Wait a reasonable amount of time and then repeat. That’s all there is to it
The rest of my photos today are animals that we found under the boards.
The first time we looked under the boards, we found a pair of eastern narrowmouth toads. These guys spend most of their lives hidden, and I have only seen a handful in the past twenty years. I previously posted about this species here.
This week we traveled to see family in Houston. While there, we visited two places that may be of interest to readers of this blog: Brazos Bend State Park and Mercer Botanic Garden.
Brazos Bend State Park is a 4897-acre park on the banks of the Brazos River in rural Fort Bend County, about 45 miles from downtown Houston. It contains prairie, bottomland forest, and various wetlands, and it is one of my favorite places to visit in the Houston area because of its varied wildlife.
The primary appeal of Brazos Bend–at least for our family–is the large population of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis). On a warm summer day, they are everywhere.
In the winter, we sometimes don’t see any, but this week was hot (95 F) and very, very humid–perfect weather for gator viewing. The kids stopped counting at thirty.
The rangers recommend that visitors stay 30 feet away from alligators. That can be difficult when they park themselves beside the trail.
Discretion is the better part of valor, and it is usually best to turn down another trail. Nevertheless, some people get a bit too close:
I prefer to trust in a good zoom lens.
In addition to the alligators, there is a lot of other wildlife in Brazos Bend. On past visits, we have seen armadillos and feral pigs, but this year all of our sightings were in and around the water. We saw three red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) laying eggs and a fourth lumbering across the path, probably on its way to build a nest or returning to the water after finishing. We didn’t bother to count the turtles in the water.
There were also a wide variety of water birds, including:
Just about the only animals we saw that weren’t aquatic or semi-aquatic were the golden silk spiders (Nephila clavipes) that had spun their webs along (or across) the trail in wooded areas.
We also saw some of the same animals a little closer to home. One morning, I strolled down to the spillway near my parents’ house, where the neighborhood lake drains into Oyster Creek. A handsome family of black-bellied whistling ducks was sheltering on top of the spillway.
Mama duck was keeping all of the ducklings tucked under her wings, probably because several herons were skulking nearby, ostensibly fishing but probably keeping an eye open for stray ducklings.
The herons flew away, complaining loudly, when eldest offspring and I walked down to see what we could see in the creek, and as soon as they were gone, mama duck let the babies out.
That’s probably enough photographs for one post. I’ll save Mercer Botanic Garden for another day.
This spider was keeping a very close eye (or six) on me as I moved around the lantana bush in which she had woven her nest. I believe she is a green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans), although she has more extensive red markings on her cephalothorax than most individuals of that species illustrated on the web (Ha! web).
Female green lynx spiders bravely defend their egg sacs and are capable of spraying venom at targets up to 20 cm away (Fink, L.S., 1984, Journal of Arachnology12:373. PDF).
In the upper left corner of the photo below, you can see the reddish abdomens of recently hatched spiderlings, so the mother’s work is almost done.
A few minutes ago, I went outside to take some trash to the garbage bin. I was wearing a headlamp, so the leaf litter under the trees appeared to be liberally sprinkled with tiny jewels. I often notice these beautiful little sparkles of light when I am out after dark. They are the eyes of insects and spiders reflecting the light of my headlamp, and they’re not visible if I use a handheld flashlight. I suppose that the light from the flashlight isn’t reflected back at the correct angle.
A few of the sparkles are moths, but the vast majority are wolf spiders, with an occasional fishing spider in the mix. During the day, they hide away in the leaf litter or down in burrows, but at night they sit motionless on the surface, waiting for prey to wander past.
There are many of them. Very many. Some of them are big. And hairy.