The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.

~Mark Van Doren

Melissa was producing a short video on trees as part of her museum educational offerings for teachers when she made a fascinating discovery. While filming the segment, she was encouraging folks to observe trees in their neighborhood and look for interesting things living on them. When she grabbed a hickory leaf and looked at it, she found one of my favorite spiders – a Magnolia Green Jumper (Lyssomanes viridis). We have a lot of these beautiful little jumping spiders in our yard and woods, but this was one even more exciting than usual as it has just molted.

Magnolia Green Jumper and shed 2

Magnolia Green Jumper next to its old shed exoskeleton (click photos to enlarge)

Magnolia Green Jumper shed

Recent shed of a Magnolia Green Jumper

I have posted on these amazing arthropods a couple of times in the past, But here was a spider shed and a freshly molted spider together on the leaf where this magic had just occurred. If you look closely, you can see how the spiders’ cephalothorax (the fused first two body parts) pops open during the molting process and the old legs split open. The spider is then able to pull itself out of its old skin as a larger version of itself. Some spiders hang from a silk thread when they do this, but it looks like this species makes a silk pad to anchor its old body, and then crawls out as a new spider.

Magnolia Green Jumper on leaf

Freshly molted male Magnolia Green Jumper

This one is a male as you can see by the enlarged tips to its pedipalps (those appendages that look like two short legs right in front of its face). Male spiders typically have swollen tips (often described as boxing gloves) that they transfer their sperm to before mating. I guess it is safer to keep your distance during courtship if you are a male spider (especially since you are usually smaller than your ravenous mate). After a couple of shots, I brought the spider inside for a photo shoot in my collapsible white box. I’m still learning the tricks of photographing on white backgrounds, but it does often highlight details you may not otherwise notice.

Magnolia Green Jumper on white background

Magnolia Green Jumper posing inside a white box

One of the issues in a white box is the creatures don’t tend to take direction very well, but this little guy finally settled and looked straight at me for a couple of quick portraits.

Magnolia Green Jumper on white background close up

The impressively large anterior median eyes (those two large eyes on front) of a Magnolia Green Jumper

One of the things I love the most about these spiders is how it is really easy to see the retinas in the large eyes on front move around inside as they spider looks around (the lenses are fixed to the the carapace, but the retinas inside can be moved by tiny muscles). When the eyes become dark, the spider is looking directly at you (I think this guy is looking at my pandemic haircut). After a couple more shots, I took him back outside to patrol the yard in his new duds.



Baby Spiders

Once you begin watching spiders, you haven’t time for much else.

~E.B. White

I have been raising some tulip-tree silk moth larvae at home and at work which has necessitated the periodic collecting of small branches of tulip poplar. Last week, when I cut one and brought it in I noticed one of my favorite spiders sitting on the underside of one of the leaves.

Magnolia Green Jumper female

Magnolia green jumper looking up at the camera (click photos to enlarge)

It was a female magnolia green jumper. I recently did a post about the males of this species when I found a couple on some pawpaw trees at the house. But this was a female (distinguished by the lack of swellings near the tips of her pedipalps) and she was apparently guarding something very precious…

Magnolia green jumper eggs

Eggs of a magnolia green jumper

…a cluster of eggs in a loosely spun silken case on the underside of a tulip poplar leaf. They did not resemble the usual spider egg case, which tends to be enclosed in a globular silken egg sac. These were loosely dispersed beneath a sheet of silk as individual eggs. I checked online just to make sure and found some other images that confirmed these were indeed her eggs. Since I had already cut the branch, I decided to keep them and watch what happened.

Magnolia green jumper seggs hatching close up

Spiderlings just after hatching

Three days after I collected the leaf with the eggs, I noticed a change. There appeared to be spider-like blobs poking off the green eggs. I must admit, I just could not figure out how this worked. Was this thing with leg-like appendages the spider emerging from the egg? The more I looked at it, I decided that the old egg shell is actually the whitish crumpled blob you can see next to each green orb in the photo, and that the roundish green thing is the abdomen of the a new spider.

Magnolia green jumper spiderlings group

Cluster of magnolia green jumper spiderlings

This was confirmed over the next couple of days as I watched the spiderlings unfold their legs (this occurred on day 5 after I collected the eggs and two days after the previous photo was taken).

Magnolia green jumper spiderlings close up

Three days after I first saw the baby spider legs appearing to unfold from the eggs

Magnolia green jumper spiderlings

Magnolia green jumpers three days after hatching

The young spiderlings have continued to develop as I watch them each day, their eyes appearing larger and darker in color, and they seem to be moving more, albeit still inside the silken covering laid down by their mother. Today, I will probably go ahead and clip their leaf to a tulip poplar branch and watch to see when (and how) they manage to leave this protective lair. I imagine, somewhere nearby, their mother is looking on with proud eyes (all 8 of them)…

Magnolia green jumper female close up

Magnolia green jumper female


Hauntingly Beautiful

Tuesday afternoon I was joined by my good friend and mentor, Mary Ann,¬†for a walk at Umstead State Park. It was a great chance to catch up and spend some time doing what we both love to do, woods watching. It was a walk back in time for me in a couple of ways – reminiscing about some of the good times we had at the museum helping people get excited about nature, especially the small things that surround us; and reconnecting with the place that started me on my path as a naturalist/educator. My first job as a naturalist was a summer seasonal job at Umstead in 1981 in between grants in graduate school. At the end of that summer, I had fallen in love with sharing the natural world with people, and, as luck would have it, a permanent position came open. I applied and was accepted as the East District Naturalist for the NC State Park System, and so my incredibly satisfying career began. On this day, we did what folks like us do, slowly walking and looking closely at everything from autumn leaves and tree bark textures to slight movements or patterns that catch a naturalist’s eye. The Inspiration Trail provided us with just that, and a seasonally-themed experience as well – a look at some hauntingly beautiful woodland spiders.

Tan Jumping Spider dorsal view

Tan Jumping Spider on Loblolly Pine trunk (click on photos to enlarge)

Our first spider was hiding in plain sight on the trunk of a large Loblolly Pine. It was a very fuzzy-looking jumping spider. Using The Spiders of the Carolinas field guide by L.L. Gaddy, I identified it as a Flat Jumper, Platycryptus undatus. A visit to the web site revealed that it is more commonly known as the Tan Jumping Spider.

Tan Jumping Spider

Tan Jumping Spider

This is a common species of jumping spider, which, like all of its cousins, builds no web, but instead relies on its’ keen eyesight and speed to capture prey. It favors vertical surfaces such as tree trunks, fences, walls, etc. It is easily observed as it tends to show no fear of humans, and may, in fact, be curious and jump onto a close hand or camera lens for a quick inspection. The bodies of these spiders are somewhat flattened in the vertical direction, which allows them to hide under loose tree bark and in other tight places. The prominent pattern on the dorsal surface of their abdomen is diagnostic of the species (the species name undatus refers to the undulating outline of the pattern). This coloration helps them blend in on mottled surfaces like bark.

Tan Jumping Spider close-up

Tan Jumping Spider close-up

A close look at this female shows the characteristic large pair of eyes in front and the dark single lashes above each of the other eyes. A male will have a reddish-orange stripe under the row of front eyes.

Magnolia Green Jumper on tree trunk

Magnolia Green Jumper on tree trunk

Next was a tiny specimen of one of my favorite jumping spiders, a Magnolia Green Jumper, Lyssomanes viridis. It is easily recognized by its two huge front eyes and the raised “eye mound” on top of the cephalothorax that is orange or yellow and contains the remaining eyes.

Young Nursery Web Spider

Young Nursery Web Spider

A little farther along the trail we came upon a young Nursery Web Spider, Pisaurina mira, posing on a leaf in its characteristic splayed-leg position. Females of this species lay an oval egg sac, pull some leaves over it, and secure the whole thing with some web. She then remains with the egg sac until the young spiderlings hatch and disperse in late autumn.

Marbled Orb Weaver at Umstead

Marbled Orbweaver

The final spider of the hike was the most seasonally appropriate – a beautiful female Marbled Orbweaver, Araneus marmoreus. This large-bodied spider is abundant in autumn and, due to its timing and coloration, is often dubbed the Halloween Spider (it often turns more orange late in the season). Although the abdomen is usually bright yellow or orange, it does occur in many other color variations. This one was out in the middle of its web feeding on a small prey item, but I usually find them hiding in a curled leaf retreat off to the side of their circular web. It is always fun to suddenly reveal them to folks on a nature walk by reaching up and tapping the spider’s hideaway and have it come scurrying out. Now if I could only get them to line the pathway up to the door for Halloween night, I might be able to save some of my chocolate treats…