The Wonderful Banana Spider

Walking on a pier recently in Cedar Key, Florida, my daughter Amy and I spotted a large spider web stretched over the handrails.  A banana spider the size of my hand sat in the middle.  I handed Amy my camera. Not until I transferred the photo to my computer at home did I appreciate the spider’s creation.  Now I’ll think twice before damaging a spider web.

Banana spiders (Nephila) choose locations for their webs where flying insects are likely to get caught. The web is well planned.  First, the spider spins non-sticky silk as a framework.  Then she fills in the gaps with sticky threads to trap her prey. Once a wasp or other insect is caught, the spider quickly wraps it in a silk cocoon. When the package is complete, she takes it to the center of the web where it waits until she’s hungry.  Mostly she catches mosquitoes, flies, wasps, bees, butterflies, moths and grasshoppers.  To watch a banana spider trap a wasp, click this link: Banana spider at work

Parts of the spider’s web may look haphazard, decorated with plant bits and dead insects, but the debris serves a purpose.  When an insect lands in the web, the whole structure vibrates, including the extra bits—letting the banana spider know that dinner is served.  The debris also shields the rest of the web from windblown leaves.  As a bonus, it keeps birds from flying into the web looking for a banana spider to eat.

When an enemy comes near, the spider sets up a vibrating motion in the web to scare the trespasser away.  If that doesn’t work, she uses the web’s pulsating vibration to help her jump to safety.  Or she runs to a single escape strand she’s placed in the web that leads to nearby bushes or grass where she can hide..

Because the spider’s web loses its sticky quality over time, she must repair it often.  Her building materials are sturdy. The silk spun by the banana spider is stronger than Kevlar, a material used to make bulletproof vests.  It has a tensile strength six times that of steel.

Many people think that this large, brightly colored spider is dangerous.  It’s not.  Like most spiders, the banana spider is shy.  People get bitten only if they hold or pinch it.  While the bite hurts, it’s much less severe than a bee sting and the discomfort goes away quickly.  The main symptoms are redness and blistering around the bite, and these are gone in less than 24 hours. However, people with asthma may have an allergic reaction that involves breathing problems.  The bite can also cause muscle cramps.

The banana spider is more a friend than a pest, with her ability to trap and eat biting insects.  The next time you see a banana spider sitting in a large web filled with dead mosquitoes, flies and wasps, you may appreciate what she’s done for you.

Banana spiders are valued by the fishermen along the coasts of the Indian Ocean, who use their webs daily. They shape a banana spider’s web into a ball and throw it in the water, where it unfolds and captures bait fish.

At one time, people hoped to use the spider’s silk to make cloth.  Nothing much came of this, although the American Museum of Natural History has an exhibit of shimmering golden cloth woven from the webs of over one million female banana spiders. The silk was collected and the fabric woven in Madagascar.  The spiders were released after their work was done.

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Got Coyotes?

Got coyotes in your neighborhood?  

Don’t laugh.  Coyotes now live in almost every state in the U.S. Not just in the countryside, either. Many have found their way into cities.  According to a recent wildlife study, Chicago now has over 2000 resident coyotes. These feral dogs, once found only in the West, have slowly migrated east over the last 100 years.

Coyotes have learned that the living is much easier near human settlements.  They sneak into suburban areas late at night to raid dumpsters, tip over garbage bins, and steal seeds from bird feeders. They break into farmers’ chicken coops and leave dead poultry behind. Unfortunately, they also prey on small dogs and cats.  The coyote life is tougher in the wild, where the dogs must spend long hours searching for food.

Coyotes are smart.  Their intelligence is apparent in the strategies they devise for big-game hunting.  Working as a team, each dog has an assigned role in the chase and take-down.  They’ve also developed creative tactics for escaping wolves—their main enemy.  In hilly country, coyotes take advantage of their lighter weight, agility, and skills at darting and dodging. More often than not, the coyote vanishes in the distance, leaving the wolf behind–frustrated and panting. On flat terrain, wolves have the advantage and it takes several coyotes to chase off the enemy (click here).

Coyotes sometimes pair up with badgers to hunt cooperatively.  The coyote, a fast runner, chases a rodent along the ground as the badger watches. When the prey reaches its burrow and dives in, the badger claws away the dirt.  Then dinner is served!

Why aren’t coyotes sighted more often?  These smart canines know that people are hazardous to their health.  They take great pains to stay hidden and save their criminal activity for the middle of the night.  As a result, they’re rarely seen.  People seldom suspect coyotes when trash barrels are tipped over or cats start disappearing in the neighborhood.

Farmers whose chicken coups are raided generally  blame foxes, raccoons, or domestic dogs. In most cases, it doesn’t occur to them that coyotes are the perpetrators. The angry farmer sets traps or sits up all night with a shotgun. Usually, the coyotes are too smart to get caught, but they know the jig is up. So they move on to safer locales.

Paste this link into your browser to see and hear a coyote barking and howling http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SIf6epg9cU&feature=related

Three crows

Three crows patrol the entrance to my neighborhood.  They stay close to each other, pecking in the grass or flying from tree to tree near the street waiting for fresh roadkill.  In flight, they call to each other—two or three brisk “caws” at a time.   They can be heard for blocks. [Crow calling]

Hardly a day passes without a squirrel or two being squashed by cars entering and leaving the neighborhood.  Most of the squirrels panic in the face of an oncoming car.  They dart back and forth indecisively until they escape or are crushed by a wheel. The three crows descend quickly and begin spearing pieces of flesh with their sharp beaks.  Before long, all traces of fur, blood and entrails are gone. Then they return to their vigil.

The crows’ calls energize the silent neighborhood off and on through the day.  It’s hard to believe these cheerful birds are considered harbingers of doom in some cultures.  They were once known to circle bloody fields of battle waiting for the carnage to end so they could feast on corpses.  (Crows appear to enjoy human carrion much as squirrel meat.)

Ravens are not, as some people think, crows. The wingspan of a raven is almost twice that of a crow and the bird weighs four times as much. The call of a crow is simpler and more strident than that of a raven.  The raven’s cry has more range and throatiness. [Raven calling in flight]

Dam Beavers

This is an actual letter sent to a man named Ryan DeVries by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Quality, State of Pennsylvania . Mr. Devries’s response is hilarious, but read the State’s letter first, before you get to his response letter.

SUBJECT: DEQ File No.97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Lycoming County

Dear Mr. DeVries:

It has come to the attention of the Department of Environmental Quality that there has been recent unauthorized activity on the above referenced parcel of property. You have been certified as the legal landowner and/or contractor who did the following unauthorized activity: Construction and maintenance of two wood debris dams across  the outlet stream of Spring Pond.

A permit must be issued prior to the start of this type of activity. A review of the Department’s files shows that no permits have been issued.  Therefore, the Department has determined that this activity is in violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Pennsylvania Compiled Laws, annotated.

The Department has been informed that one or both of the dams partially failed during a recent rain event, causing debris and flooding at downstream locations. We find that dams of this nature are inherently hazardous and cannot be permitted. The Department therefore orders you to cease and desist all activities at this location, and to restore the stream to a free-flow condition by removing all wood and brush forming the dams from the stream channel.

All restoration work shall be completed no later than January 31, 2006. Please notify this office when the restoration has been completed so that a follow-up site inspection may be scheduled by our staff. Failure to comply with this request or any further unauthorized activity on the site may result in this case being referred for elevated enforcement action.

We anticipate and would appreciate your full cooperation in this matter. Please feel free to contact me at this office if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

David L. Price
District Representative and Water Management Division

Here is the actual response sent back by Mr. DeVries:

Re: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Lycoming County

Dear Mr. Price,

Your certified letter dated 12/17/02 has been handed to me for my response. I am the legal landowner but not the Contractor at 2088 Dagget Lane, Trout Run, Pennsylvania.

A couple of beavers are in the (State unauthorized) process of constructing and maintaining two wood “debris” dams across the outlet stream of my Spring Pond. While I did not pay for, authorize, or supervise their dam project, I think they would be highly offended that you call their skillful use of nature’s building materials “debris.”
I would like to challenge your department to emulate their dam project any time an/or any place you choose.  I believe I can safely state there is no way you could ever match their dam skills,  their dam resourcefulness, their dam ingenuity, their dam persistence, their dam determination and/or their dam work ethic.

As to your request, I do not think the beavers are aware that they must first fill out a dam permit prior to the start of this type of dam activity.

My first dam question to you is: (1) Are you trying to discriminate against my Spring Pond Beavers, or (2) Do you require all beavers throughout this State to conform to said dam request?

If you are not discriminating against these particular beavers, through the Freedom of Information Act, I request completed copies of all those other applicable beaver dam permits that have been issued. Perhaps we will see if there really is a dam violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Pennsylvania Compiled Laws, annotated.

I have several concerns. My first concern is, aren’t the beavers entitled to legal representation? The Spring Pond Beavers are financially destitute and are unable to pay for said representation — so the State will have to provide them with a dam lawyer.

The Department’s dam concern that either one or both of the dams failed during a recent rain event, causing flooding, is proof that this is a natural occurrence, which the Department is required to protect. In other words, we should leave the Spring Pond Beavers alone rather than harassing them and calling their dam names.

If you want the stream “restored” to a dam free-flow condition please contact the beavers — but if you are going to arrest them, they obviously did not pay any attention to your dam letter, they being unable to read English.

In my humble opinion, the Spring Pond Beavers have a right to build their unauthorized dams as long as the sky is blue, the grass is green and water flows downstream. They have more dam rights than I do to live and enjoy Spring Pond.

If the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection lives up to its name, it should protect the natural resources (Beavers) and the environment (Beavers’ Dams). So, as far as the beavers and I are concerned, this dam case can be referred for more elevated enforcement action right now. Why wait until 1/31/2006? The Spring Pond Beavers may be under the dam ice then and there will be no way for you or your dam staff to contact/harass them at that time.

In conclusion, I would like to bring to your attention to a real environmental quality and health problem in the area. It is the bears! Bears are actually defecating in our woods. I definitely believe you should be persecuting and prosecuting the defecating bears and leaving the beavers alone. If you are going to investigate the beaver dam, watch your step! The bears are not careful where they dump! Being unable to comply with your dam request, and being unable to contact you on your dam answering machine, I am sending this response to your dam office.

THANK YOU.

RYAN DEVRIES & THE DAM BEAVERS