Category Archives: nature|insects

Great Leaping Wolf Spiders!

Wolf spider (probably Schizocosa mccooki)

I’d just run up the long hill we call “The Beast,” and was running east on a relatively level stretch of gravelly dirt road on Lasky Mesa, when it’s movement caught my eye.

My first thought was “Tarantula!” but this spider was slightly smaller than a tarantula, and running. Tarantulas walk, they (usually) don’t run. This spider ran with a smooth, agile, articulated gait that must be the envy of the Arachnid world. I had never seen a spider like this, and started moving in its direction.

Lurking in the back of my mind was an experience I’d had with a tarantula, also on Lasky Mesa. In an attempt to redirect the tarantula from the margin of a dirt road, I’d blocked its intended path with my foot. This had worked a couple of times before, but this time the big spider briefly paused and  then continued to walk toward my running shoe. My shoe was on top of some dried oak leaves, in the grass on the side of the road. I thought maybe if I rustled the leaves… with lightning speed the tarantula charged my foot, and I jumped the proverbial mile.

Today I was going to have to react quickly if I was going to get a photograph. As I started moving toward this unusual spider, it saw me, and increased its speed. I continued to move in its direction, and it suddenly began a series of bizarre, defensive leaps. In a couple of seconds, the spider did three exaggerated “accordion” leaps, extending vertically to the full length of its impossibly long legs. The motion was somehow reminiscent of the propulsive action of a jellyfish. It was unexpected, and very effective!

After that the spider hunkered down, but seeing how quickly it had moved, I only took photos from a “respectable” distance. I wasn’t real excited about putting my hand a couple of inches from its big fangs.

Saturday, I was running at Ahmanson with Brett, on Lasky Mesa, and shortly after telling him this story, he spotted the wolf spider (probably Schizocosa mccooki) pictured above!

Related post: Tarantula Time

Beautiful and Bizarre – Checkerspot Along the Garapito Trail

Variable checkerspot (Euphydryas chalcedona) on golden yarrow.
Variable checkerspot on golden yarrow.

I found this and several other variable checkerspots (Euphydryas chalcedona) flittering about and feeding on golden yarrow along the Garapito Trail, on a recent run in the Santa Monica Mountains.

A closer look revealed an outlandish creature with black-spotted orange ladybug eyes, a bright orange spiked hairstyle, and a substantial spiraled trunk.

Variable checkerspots (Euphydryas chalcedona)
The “hair spikes” are part of the butterfly’s sophisticated scent sensing system. They are probably used in combination with the antennae to provide a three dimensional olfactory picture of the butterfly’s surroundings. This would help guide the butterfly to food or potential mates.

Butterflies are masters of low speed flight, and exploit several unusual mechanisms to generate aerodynamic lift. They are also opportunistic, and will take advantage of thermals and variations in the windfield to move from one place to another.

Several times when I’ve encountered a butterfly on a run, it has flown along with me for a surprising distance. I know that butterflies can be attracted by color, that’s happened in my bright yellow kayak. But in this case I don’t think it’s color or coincidence. It seems to me the butterfly is surfing the wave of air pushed around me as I run, similar to the way a porpoise surfs the bow wave of boat.

Related posts: Sylvan Hairstreak, Western Tiger Swallowtail

Scorpion Country?

Eagle Springs Fire Road, between the Hub and Trippet Ranch, in Topanga State Park

A couple of weekends ago, I was running up toward the Hub on Fire Road #30 with a couple of runners training for Leona Divide. One of them stopped suddenly, and pointed, “That’s a scorpion!”

It was — about an inch or so in length. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but somehow I just didn’t expect to see a scorpion out in the middle of a fire road, on a run to Trippet Ranch.

The title photo is a view from Eagle Springs Fire Road, between the Hub and Trippet Ranch, in Topanga State Park. Saddle Peak is in the distance.



Scrub Oak Apple Gall

Scrub oak apple gall.

Almost incandescent in the soft light of an overcast sky, the remarkable color of this scrub oak apple gall contrasts sharply with the muted greens, grays and browns of the surrounding chaparral.

The gall forms in response to the larvae of the California gall wasp. The gall protects the developing larvae, as well as providing it a source of food.

On the right side of the gall there appears to be a “sun print” of an oak leaf in the red color, where a nearby leaf may have shielded the surface from sunlight.

From today’s run on the Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains, near Saddle Peak.