On Saturday evening, D. and I attended a "spider walk" at Monte Bello Open Space Preserve. October is the time of year when the local tarantula males start wandering around after dusk, looking for mates. The walk, led by 3 arachnophiliac docents, took us into part of the preserve's grassland and oak woodland habitats to look for wandering males in search of mates. The preserve normally closes at dusk, so it was a very special opportunity to stay on after dark and see some of the night life in the park. First off, here's my pics (a paltry few because my camera skills are no good at low-light photography, even with the flash).
A raven poses picturesquely at the entrance to the preserve.
On our way to the oak woodland we pass by a huge walnut tree, remnant of an orchard from an era before the preserve.
At the edge of the grassland we see the web of a bowl and doily spider (Frontinella communis). It is a two-part web, with a bowl-like structure above and a flat sheet web below. The spider hangs underneath the bowl part and bites any insect landing in the web.
The orb web of the cat-faced spider (Araneus sp.) catches the last rays of the setting sun.
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And here are D.'s pics.
The preserve parking lot is awash in late afternoon sun.
Docent Debbie organizes her notes before we set out.
A tiny lizard basks on a log beside the trail.
Trail through the grasslands.
This is likely a tarantula burrow. It is small, very round and lined with silk.
The Canyon Trail takes us into the oak woodlands.
This spider is likely a golden orb weaver (Argiope aurantia).
The thin crescent of new moon sets behind the ridge.
Once it got dark, we saw bats and an owl flying around.
This spider is a banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata). Its web is in the tall grass lining the trail.
The zig-zag part of the web is called the stabilimentum. Orb webs with stabilimenta suffer fewer tears from birds flying through them.
Isn't that spider a beauty?
One of the docents found some kind of dead rodent on the trail, and picked it up with her bare hands. (Don't do this at home.)
A ghostly spider dangles from a strand of silk in the woods.
In the cool, damp oak woodlands we find the forest scorpion (Uroctonus mordax). Under UV light, scorpions glow like beacons in the dark leaf litter (making it relatively easy for docents with such a light to find them).
Here's a spider that might be a Calisoga, or false tarantula, spider. The claws on its feet are difficult to see, so ruling out a bona-fide tarantula is not feasible.
This pic looks peculiar because the red filters on our flashlights (to preserve our night vision in the dark) combining with the flash from the camera make for an unsettling optical effect.
Here's a bona-fide tarantula (Aphonopelma sp.)!
Again, it is not really blood-drenched, it's just an optical effect of the red flashlight filters and the camera flash.
Once we leave the woodlands and emerge into grasslands again, we find a tiny sun spider, or solifugid. It is not a true spider.
All of these arachnids eat insects and other arthropods. They inject a venom to subdue their prey. While the venom is not life-threatening to humans, a tarantula bite can hurt like a bee sting.