I’m a proud papa!

I’ve been eagerly checking on my colony every day for the last week or two, because I was expecting a happy event. Tonight, it happened! The babies hatched out!

I expect you all to follow the the tradition and tell me how beautiful my baby is.

Well? I’m waiting!

There were somewhere upward of 80 babies that emerged today. This meant I had to immediately separate all of them into individual vials, or in many cases, 2 or 3 babies in a vial (I’ll separate them further later). I was just sitting there frantically plucking up spiders with a paintbrush and popping them into new vials, which was busy enough, but then…oops. I dropped the egg sac. I’m a klutz.

What happened next is that swarms of tiny, pin-head sized spiders were scurrying off to escape, usually taking flight on a thread of silk. So for about 20 minutes I was sitting there with a paintbrush in one hand and watchmaker forceps in the other, squinting into the air of the lab, my hands darting out to snag a nearly invisible strand of gossamer silk with a nearly microscopic dot of a baby spider on it.

I know some of them got away (sorry, lab neighbors — they’re tiny and cute, don’t worry) because even as I was putting everything away to go home I kept finding more strands hanging from my microscope, or from my computer, or from me. Who knows? I might have some on me right now.

I’ve got lots of baby spiders stuffed into my incubator now. Tomorrow I’ll give each one a fly, and I’ll start tracking their development and health.

Note the “R”. I’m calling this my Runestone line, because the mother (in the individual vial) and the egg sac were collected at Kensington Runestone park.

Now for a little dread: I’ve got 6 more egg sacs in the lab. I’m gonna need a bigger incubator and more tube racks.

Grass spiders taking over

Today is the day I dread: I have to go into the lab and scrub fly bottles and do some general clean up. Responsibilities, yo. Shininess will ensue.

Also, we went on a mini-adventure last night, waiting until full darkness fell and then prowled around our house with a UV lamp and headlights. Unfortunately, I was disappointed — lots of active spiders, but they were all grass spiders. Grass spiders are all over the place, and they sort of take over every summer, but I just can’t get excited about them.

Check out the outside of your house — I bet you’ve got lots of funnel webs around with these shy guys hiding within them.

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You can’t complain about spiders when ichneumonid wasps exist

There we were, innocently gamboling about Green River Park, looking for cute and charming little spiders, when I glance at a tree and…what is that shiny yellow&black evil-looking machine over there? It was an ichneumonid wasp with its long glistening ovipositor probing under the bark for plump grubs to parasitize with eggs.

Wicked. First one I’ve seen here.

OK, we did see one pretty little Philodromus. Cute. Not terrifying like she expects you to bow down and worship her, puny mortal.

Why did I ever leave the lab?

Today’s adventure in spidering was a trip to SWELL, the Scandia Woods Environmental Learning Lab. It’s a lovely place. I hated it.

There is a lake there. The lake has a thick marshy boundary, and outside that, a path through thick woods leading to a classroom that, in normal times, is used for school children’s field trips. It is lush and damp and overgrown, and you know what that means, boys and girls? In Minnesota? Yes, it means that the actual purpose of this site is to lure in delicate tasty young children so that their blood may feed the Mosquito Gods. If an old guy wanders in, well, all the better — a nice snack.

I had sprayed myself thoroughly with picaridin before we left. For some strange reason, perhaps the possession of arcane foreknowledge, the head of the trail had a mailbox containing a supply of Deep Woods Off. And a hammer. The hammer was a mystery for a short while. As we walked down the trail, the mosquitoes descended upon us. I had hosed myself with so much insect repellant that my skin was layered with a shiny sheen (which is even now drying to a lacey craquelure.) It did me no good. Apparently I was supposed to use the hammer. Part of the problem was that there many spiders, mostly tiny unfortunately, and I was frequently stopping and trying to photograph the things, and that was the signal for a pack of voracious beasts to charge in whining.

Also aggravating: Mary had no problems at all. I guess we know which of us is the succulent, luscious one now! Or was. I’m kind of dessicated after that experience.

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Went looking for Vikings at the Rune Stone Park, only found…


There are lots of things with the “Runestone” moniker attached in my area: Runestone Telecom Association, Runestone Apartments, Runestone Mobile Home Park, etc., etc., and there’s a park called Kensington Rune Stone Park just 40 minutes away from me. I decided to take a trip out there.

That’s a rather nice building to honor a fake carved rock supposedly left by Vikings visiting Minnesota in the 14th century. It’s empty now, probably due mostly to the pandemic, but it’s not clear what they do there — it contains a big empty meeting space, perhaps for lectures about Vikings. The Olaf Ohman farmhouse is there and a big barn and some nicely maintained grassy grounds. The notorious Runestone itself is not there — it has a separate museum of its own in Alexandria, 20 minutes away. It’s all rather embarrassing.

But we didn’t care we were there for spiders. We found a few!

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Looks exactly like my office

I’m still trying to work out the biology of nest building in my spiders — I’ve got some that assemble cunning little nests out of wood shavings, and some that do not. Someday I’ll have to figure out whether this is a different species from P. tepidariorum or not.

Cute, hey? I’ve been looking at spider architecture for a while, and am rather impressed with their work.

I suspect it might be P. tabulata, but I’ve got to do more experiments to be sure. I say more about it on my Patreon page.

I keep telling you, I refuse to get into ants

Nope, no way. They just keep getting in the way of finding spiders.

We took a walk out by our Horticulture Display Gardens, which recently reopened — but with sensible restrictions, like social distancing and masks and arrows designating the directions for walking. It was a little disappointing. Oh, sure, flowers and all that stuff, but our timing was off, because last night the area got pummeled by a brutal storm, there were downed trees and tree branches everywhere, and worst of all, most of the spider webs had been blown away. We found a few examples of spider survivors trying to recover from the catastrophe, like this brave little baby spider who had put together a beautifully formed orb web.

There were a few others around (posted on Instagram), but we’ll probably find more in a few days, once everything has dried out and they have a chance to do some reconstruction.