Readers’ wildlife photos

September 10, 2015 • 8:20 am

It’s that time of year: reader Diana MacPherson is fattening up her Eastern chipmunks and sending some cute photos and captions:

The chipmunks have finally figured out how to open & eat the peanuts. I also just paid $300 more to remove seeds & leaves out of my car again. I feed them, I give them water & this is what they do to me!!

Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) Opening Peanut:

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Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) Opening Peanut Pauses While Nibbling Peanut

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Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) Opening Peanut Pauses While Nibbling Peanut Nibbles Peanut

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Reader Tom Hennessy sent some photos of the orb weaver, a lovely spider:

While visiting the Outer Banks are of North Carolina last week [this was sent in late August], we stopped by the Elizabethan Gardens, primarily for some flower photography.  While there, my wife noticed a large female black and yellow orb weaver spider (Argiope aurantia).  These are striking creatures, and weave a large web with a very noticeable zig zag pattern in the web; I assume it aids stability in the large web.  As the week went on we saw a number of these in the trees and brush along the sound.  I took the photos with my Canon 6D and either a 100 mm macro lens or a 100 to 400 mm zoom lens.

Tom Hennessy OBX 2015 Orb Weaver 05

Now if you’ve seen these, or looked at the photo above, you’re surely asking yourself, “Why do they weave that little squiggle into the web?” The answer, as is so often the case, is that we just don’t know. Tom suggests it stabilizes the web, but Wikipedia says this:

The web of the yellow garden spider is distinctive: a circular shape up to 2 feet (60 cm) in diameter, with a dense zigzag of silk, known as a stabilimentum, in the center. The purpose of the stabilimentum is disputed. It is possible that it acts as camouflage for the spider lurking in the web’s center, but it may also attract insect prey, or even warn birds of the presence of the otherwise difficult-to-see web. Only those spiders that are active during the day construct stabilimenta in their webs.

Tom Hennessy OBX 2015 Orb Weaver 01

Tom Hennessy OBX 2015 Orb Weaver 04

Finally, reader Karen Bartelt sent two photos that, while not technically readers’ wildlife photos, tell a fascinating story—one related to Chicago. Her explanation:

These two photos are from Silver Lake State Park in Michigan.  The wooded shoreline was logged in the 1870’s to rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire.  The ecosystem never recovered, and reverted to massive dunes.  It’s almost 150 years later, and there are still almost no shrubs or trees.  If you go to most of the other parks along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore, you can see what this area looked like originally.
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23 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Those last two pics are striking. Jarred Diamond talked a bit about desertification in Collapse, and had some pics of his own for examples, but these rank right up at the top in terms of making the point.

    1. Although the Silver Lake State Park is still dunes, apparently due to strong westerly winds, I was interested to find out that the sand dune areas of Michigan were where the original studies of ecological succession were done in the 19th century (wikipedia – ecological succession).

      1. I worked planting trees in Northern Wisconsin back in the 80’s- we were close to the South shore of Lake Superior and the landscape was thick sod with stunted, scrubby oak trees (every one of which was festooned with hungry deer ticks- ick!).
        A machine called a, “scarifier” was drawn behind a dozer and its flailing blades would cut, “divots” out of the sod in which to place the seedlings; this made it easy as not only was the spacing all laid out for you, what was underneath was pure sugar sand! Another, “perk” was that they would occasionally run over old logging camp sites (which were invisible), uncovering old license plate, bottles, and antique beer cans which were remarkably well preserved in the dry sand.

  2. Chipmunks are indeed “ungrateful little beasts.” I stopped tossing them the occasional peanut out on the back deck when I realized that this was apparently the secret chipmunk signal to commence digging up my flower pots. Wtf. “I know, she must keep the rest of them in here, under the begonias.”

    Now they have to go back to eating all the bird seed, like they’re supposed to.

    1. Sorry Sastra, but I have to say the chipmunk has to be my favourite animal. I mean it is the only animal that maintains it’s cute baby-like appearance as an adult. I had a friend who had a cottage in northern Ontario where the chippies were so tame you could hand feed them. It was amazing.

    2. This is the second time this summer that I’ve had to clean out my summer car. They also made a nest in my regular car!

      1. I think they stash extra food in various nooks and crannies. Maybe they are using your car not for a nest but for their secret stashes? Maybe if you got a car cover (but they would go underneath).

        1. I had a car cover once while living in Wyoming to try and keep the field mice out. A miserable failure, plus a total pain in the ass to cover/uncover. I think they are only good at keeping the elements out, not the critters.

  3. Orb weavers are the most benign of the spiders yet their long legs terrify me. There are many down the hill of my property and I no longer walk there in the non-winter seasons because I don’t want to run into one (and there is at least one at every turn).

    1. I agree (benign, yet terrifying). One neat hypothesis about why orb weavers decorate their webs is to help large animals (birds, terrified humans like me) to see and avoid the web. The advantage for the spider might be conserving the time and energy needed to rebuild the web. But there are other hypotheses. There’s a good review of them at DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2012.00219.x

      1. I read a study once where the findings indicated that webs with the, “zig-zag” had a far lower incidence of bird damage.

        When I was a kid, we indulged in, “spider-feeding” almost every night on our open breezeway, which the orb spiders seemed to like. We also made, “web paintings” by spraying a piece of dark blue posterboard with adhesive and gently pushing it up against a web. Haven’t seen those mentioned in any kid’s craft book in years.

  4. Ah, the black and yellow orb weaver. I do not see these where I live, and I miss them. Growing up in Iowa I would collect these by the dozen, and let them go in my yard (and in my bedroom). They would build their webs, and i would spend hours tending them with live food. I became very attached to the ones in my room, and I would get very upset when they eventually laid an egg sac and died.

    1. Years ago I first found Orb Weavers near where I worked. I would catch a small grasshopper and toss it into the web and photograph as the spider wrapped up the prey. Because of their size this was easy to do and fascinating to watch.

  5. One of my d*gs is a chewer and a general Canis destructous…he’s 2, so maybe he’ll grow out of it. Anyway, I often tell him: ‘You owe me so much money.’ (Especially, as a puppy and before I really knew his proclivities, he chewed up the interior of my SUV.) Your chipmunk car story reminded me of this and I had to laugh…sorry…you know how it is. 🙂 Great captures and cute photos as usual!

    Those are killer orb weavers; the ones out here in the Northwest are huge and very impressive, but don’t have the bright colors displayed here. They also don’t create the zigzag pattern in the center. Just orbs and more orbs.

    I’m surprised (but probably shouldn’t be) that logging completely turned that area into a wasteland. After 150 years, I would think at least shrubs or grasses could reestablish themselves…go figure. It does have its own stark beauty however.

    1. Haha thanks!

      Someone on my FB killed two chipmunks and they haven’t even done anything other than make a best on top of her engine block. I told her she is mean.

  6. The last two days out in front of the office building where I work there has been an orb weaver. Looks just like the one in the photos here, except for the color scheme. I was actually surprised to see it; I was expecting yellow and black, but it was a brick-red (slightly paler than real bricks, but not quite pastel), with reddish brown stripes.

    The first day I saw it was really striking, as there was this good sized spider, an inch to an inch and a half long, seemingly suspended in empty air. He (or she) was about a foot above a hedge, and about a foot away horizontally from a pole. Eventually I managed to find the correct angle, and was able to view the huge web, anchored to pole and hedge. He wasn’t out in the later afternoon, so I thought maybe the gardener or a bird had gotten him, but he was there again this morning, so he probably just hid in the hedge during the afternoon (it’s been brutally hot here the last few days, and he would have been directly in the afternoon sun). Not quite as striking, as he was only about four inches from the pole this time.

    I tried to take a picture with my iPhone, but it didn’t come out sufficiently detailed to send to be posted here.

    1. Drats. Forgot to mention that today, his right rear leg was missing. Maybe that’s why his web was not as far away from its support as it was yesterday.

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