Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

July 3, 2011

Now You See it…

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 12:58 pm

In the category of creatures hiding in plain sight, I bring you a few more candidates. Cryptic critters are always fascinating because their “crypticness” (not a real word, but sue me) relies on a combination of coloration and behavior. The best can hide in plain sight; unlike you or I who can hide but only if we envelop ourselves in dead grass or behind something. Unless they are highly toxic, both predatory and prey creatures have to hide for a living. I recently came upon an example of each – accidentally, of course.

Gas stations, as a rule, are always great places to find insects. It makes no difference what the brand or what the price happens to be (however, I do tend to see more insects at lower price gas stations for some reason….hmmmm). They are 24 hour operations with bright lights to attract all manner of nocturnal insect life. One station, near Midland, was the scene of a massive invasion of June Bugs. By June Bugs I mean those caramel brown beetles and not the sometimes-used-name for mayflies. It was early June and there were thousands of them scattered about on the pavement in various states of flatness. Live ones bumbled about in the morning light like hung over party guests while others simply died laying on their backs. The beetles were not hiding, but my first cryptic critter case was at a CITGO Gas station.

Blending in nicely with the gray speckled concrete at the base of the pump island, a large Leopard Moth did his level best to be “at one” with his surroundings. I’m sure it wasn’t his choice to spend the day there but he probably had little real say in the matter. The bright city lights were too much of a lure. These are large white moths and you’d think they’d stand out like sore thumbs against such an artificial backdrop. They certainly aren’t adapted for this environment. The name of this creature stems from the plethora of circular leopard-like spots covering the wings. These – like the feline spots – serve to disrupt the creature’s outline and allow it to blend into any grayish backdrop from old concrete to lichen covered bark.

I opted to take the creature home for some formal portraits since I was highly distracted by the horridly high number appearing on the gas pump window above it. While later setting up his shot I noted another character of this moth. The wings were semi-translucent near the edges (see here). This would be due to a natural thinning of the scales resulting from repeated nights of vigorous flying, but it would serve well to further disrupt his outline. Indeed, when placed on a natural tree bark outline he blended in admirably. A Leopard needn’t change his spots to adapt to all manner of situations.

The other example I want to put before you is a predatory beast – a spider, as a matter of fact. Even though spiders are insect eaters, they are also eaten by larger predators and so must hide. While most secret themselves into silken tubes or folded leaves during the day, the Long-jawed Orb Weaver gets long in order to live through the light time. This spider has extremely long legs (and jaws) and they perch with an equal number of appendages pointing forward and back. Because they align themselves parallel to grass stems and sticks, they blend by behavior.

As you can see in the photo, the Long-jawed Orb Weaver that I encountered was not blended to the grass by color, but because it took on the linear lines of the grass stem. It was invisible. Even on close inspection it was hard to make out how the spider was positioned and what part was where. In the detail photo (below) you can make out the eight black eyes and long abdomen. The critter was pointing down.

Just in case you are wondering, apart from the long-jawed thing, the name of this spider refers to the fact that it is indeed an orb web weaver. They are not related to the typical group of orb weavers (garden spiders, shamrocks, and the like) but still make a type of centrally radiating web. Their webs are simpler than those of the real orb weavers (who, by the way, have to sneak into silk shelters to hide).

So there you have it – a spotted leopard that is hard to spot and a spider who sticks to his line.


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