Dune sunflowers, spiders, and moths, oh my!

Dune Sunflower (Helianthus debilis). Boca Raton, FL, July 9, 2012.

Dune sunflower, Helianthus debilis, is a commonly recommended plant for Florida native gardeners. It’s in the daisy family (Asteraceae), and it’s very pretty:

Dune Sunflower (Helianthus debilis). Boca Raton, FL, July 9, 2012.

Yellow rays, purple disc flowers, loads of pollen—very attractive to bees and butterflies.

Halictid bee on Dune Sunflower. Boca Raton, FL, May 26, 2013.

It self-sows and reseeds annually, so once you’ve got it established, you don’t have to do much except remove it from places you don’t want it! It grows best in “dune” environments: sandy areas in full sun, hence the common name.

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New photos: Spiny-backed orbweaver

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Tooling around the house in preparation for Halloween, I found this little lady near the ficus that our neighbor planted to mark the property line:

She’s a spiny-backed orbweaver, Gasteracantha cancriformis. I wrote about this species last year around this time (spiders are most numerous and visible in the fall), but I finally got a couple relatively decent pictures of one and wanted to show the world.

I’ve been trying for some time now to get an image that shows this darn spider’s eyes. I’m beginning to think I’ll have to capture one and pose it, [...]

Your eyes are like little moons… well, sort of.

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I’ve written about Selenops spiders before, but thought I’d give it another go, now that there’s such a cooperative one living in a crack on the landing:

Most spiders build webs, so they rely more on their sense of touch to sense the vibrations of prey that have become stuck in their traps. Other groups of spiders, though, like the jumping spiders (Salticidae) and the wolf spiders (Lycosidae) have excellent vision, because they rely on it not only for safe and effective locomotion but to capture their meals.

As you might guess, web-building spiders have relatively small eyes, [...]

Leetle bitty spiders, Part 5

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Menemerus bivittatus, also known as the Gray Wall Jumper, is a pantropical species of jumping spider that occurs in four of the southern United States: Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and California (here’s an image from Los Angeles that was posted to bugguide a couple of years ago). It’s unclear (to me at least), why it has this disjunct distribution, but it was apparently introduced into Florida from the Old World tropics as far back as 1912. It is associated almost exclusively with human habitations.

Based on a sample size of one (i.e., me), it seems that when a curious backyard naturalist [...]

Leetle bitty spiders, part 4: Hentzia sp.

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One of the more interesting “free-range” groups of spiders is the family Salticidae, the jumping spiders. They have one pair of marvelously large eyes situated prominently up front, which is what provides them the depth perception they need to coordinate their incredible jumping ability. They use this ability to leap from point to point to capture their prey and to get around from one plant to another.

One day as I was out taking my routine census of the wild lime bush in the back yard, I noticed that two adjacent leaflets had been sort of stuck together. Now, whenever [...]

Leetle bitty spiders? Nunh-uh! Argiope species in Florida yards

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I never finished the miniseries I had started last December on spiders found in and around my yard; here is the fourth installment, starring two species of orbweaver that are commonly encountered in gardens both in Florida and elsewhere. They are so common, in fact, that they have common names, unlike the vast majority of spiders: Argiope argentata is known as Silver Garden Orbweaver or Silver Argiope, while A. florida is known as the Florida argiope. Florida has two other Argiope species, A. aurantia and A. trifasciata, but I have yet to encounter them in my Florida back yard, so [...]

Leetle bitty spiders, part 3: Crab spider sp.

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I’m outside every chance I get, trying to investigate how my back yard functions. I check the light conditions at various times of day; I see who is visiting what plant and when (and if possible, why); and every now and then I get a picture that might serve as the basis of an ID, and I try to get it identified. That’s where bugguide.net comes in.

One of the reasons I like to use websites like bugguide.net is they are run by such a passionate crowd. These people love what they do, and it shows. They are amateurs in [...]

Leetle bitty spiders, part 2: Selenops sp.

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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know by now that I love my pool fence. I’ve gotten more good bugs on my pool fence than I have from any other single source on the homestead. But every now and then I have to venture inside the fence for some reason or other, even when, as now, it’s no longer “swimming season” (defined as water temperature at or above 85°F).

Usually these excursions intramuros are to retrieve some object Eric has thrown over the fence and NEEDS to have back in his hot little hands. Now, daddy, now [...]

Leetle bitty spiders, part 1: Allocylosa bifurca

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I’ve seen estimates of spider density (the number of spiders in a given area) that range from 11,000 spiders per acre (in woodlands) to over 1 million (some estimates go as high as 2.5 million) per acre in a grassy field. Now that’s a lot of spiders!

Here at the homestead, I don’t think we have quite so many. Oour 1/4-acre lot has its share, but I suspect that the combined footprint of the swimming pool and the house skew the numbers downward. Nevertheless, they are quite visible lately. The autumn months (even in the “autumn-less” land of Florida), particularly [...]