Among members of the phylum Arthropoda, which includes insects, spiders, and their allies, are quite a few that possess remarkable architectural skills.
The elaborate, large, chambered nests of the bald-faced hornets are familiar to most folks, as are the nests constructed by striped guinea wasps and red wasps. The elongate or sometimes rounded nests made by mud-daubers are commonly seen in protected places around many residences.
A seldom noticed insect architect is the common potter wasp, which constructs a spherical one-chambered mud structure about the size of a large marble, which is attached to a twig or to the underside of a leaf. Through an opening, this small wasp deposits a single egg and places it in the chamber along with one or more caterpillars it has captured and killed. The larva that hatches from the eggs feeds on the caterpillars(s) and undergoes a pupal stage before transforming into an adult.
But more remarkable for their primitive architectural skills than any of the aforementioned are the orb-weaving spiders, the kinds that construct complex, intricately woven, bicycle wheel-shaped webs the size of large dinner plates. I’ve always been a watcher of insects, reptiles, and birds, but only recently have I become a watcher of orb-weaving spiders and their habits.
These spiders reach their peak of abundance during September and October, and this year has been a particularly good one for the orb-weavers. Several have constructed their webs close to the glass doors that open onto my deck, probably because of the numerous small night-flying insects attracted to the light that shows through the glass from the interior of the house.
The webs usually remain intact for several days or until the spiders decided to replace them, at which time they consume the ones destined for replacement. I initially assumed a spider that had eaten its web would relocate, but I was mistaken. The spiders I was watching were satisfied with the locations and would begin constructing new webs at the same places. Having familiarized myself with the intricacies of orb-weaving spiders’ webs, I assumed it would require a day or more for a spider to construct a new web. Again I was wrong. A spider I was watching completed the task within less than three hours! Dear readers, the next time you see a dinner plate-sized web of one of these orb-weavers, examine it closely and I believe you will be just as amazed as I was that such an elaborate structure could have been constructed by a lowly spider in three hours or less.
Speaking of spiders, the discovery of a new species of trapdoor spider in the Grove Hill area of Auburn has received national attention. Dr. Jason Bond, an Auburn University naturalist, described the new species. Its scientific name is Myrmekiaphila tigris and it’s assigned the colloquial name “Auburn Tiger trapdoor spider.” Investigations are underway to determine the distribution and status of the new species.
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I am immensely pleased that the vast majority of voters realized the value of the Forever Wild program, as evinced by 75 percent of those who voted in favor of re-authorizing the program for another 20 years. ALFA initially opposed re-authorizing Forever Wild, but later decided to refrain from taking a stand. It was believed by some that the Alabama Forestry Association was, or would be, against re-authorization, but it ultimately decided to join the supporting organizations.
Only two elected officials representing our area actively opposed re-authorization, Senators Gerald Dial and Tom Whatley. Sen. Dial is believed by some to take his marching orders from ALFA and the Forestry Association. Why Sen. Tom Whatley campaigned against Forever Wild is unclear, unless he was influenced by the Limbaugh wing of the Tea Party, which opposes nearly everything.
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Jacob Weisberg, editor-in-chief of the Slate Group, opined in a commentary that Romney lost the election because the far-right Republicans scared voters into voting for Obama. Romney definitely scared environmentalists, with his pandering to the Koch brothers, oil companies, coal mining companies, and other anti-environmental moguls. Maybe the GOP learned that in national elections, centrist approaches to solving problems are more likely to appeal to voters than are those advocated by right-wing extremists. As the old saying goes, “When the jackass kicks you the first time, it’s his fault, but when he kicks you the second time, it’s your fault.” Now that the GOP has been kicked twice by the jackass, perhaps its leaders will pay more attention to the public’s views and opinions and act accordingly. We’ll see in the coming months if they moderate their positions and move closer to the center.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.