Archive for November, 2009

Mediterranean autumn

Written by Lucy Brzoska

A Praying Mantis was ensconced in the Sticky Fleabane with a bee in its claws.  It was delicately eating a leg, still sprinkled with fresh pollen, before neatly detaching a wing.  Instead of bright green, like all the mantises I’ve ever seen, this one was a dull khaki colour.  As it chewed, its plump, segmented abdomen pulsed in a rippling movement.  The whole of the body seemed to be concentrated on digesting the bee.

praying-mantis-eats-bee

While watching the Mantis, I could hear the liquid notes of robin song.  The woods and parks fill up with migrating robins in the autumn.  As the season moves on, they seem to disperse, but for a while the whole of Collserola vibrates with robins tic-ticking from every bush.

Bee eaten, the Mantis fastidiously cleaned its weapons.  Suspended between the Sticky Fleabane on one side and gorse on the other, it faced the sky as if lying in a hammock.  When I left, it was still absorbed in polishing its spiky forelegs.

praying-mantis-grooming-after-meal

Inside the woods, it was warm and humid.  After weeks of drought, a typically intense two-day downpour had washed away the summer dust. Seizing the moment, plants were regenerating their leaves. Boar mud-baths were restored. Bark had turned velvety with moss.  Stones at the side of the path were covered in lichen: a mass of goblets if you looked close.

lichen-in-collserola

A fresh crop of puffballs had sprouted in the middle of the path, tender, fragrant and good to eat.  Soon they will age, turn brown and let out a puff of spores.  They’ve been given some great names: the Devil’s Snuffbox and Wolf’s Fart.

common-puffball-lycoperdon-perlatum

Coming down the hill at dusk, the Praying Mantis was still in the same spot, eating the last bee of the day.

Wolf spider in Collserola – Hogna radiata

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Something scurried across the ground in fits and starts: a spider with a bristling brown back.  I approached and found the bristles were a cargo of spiderlings.  Their mother, a Wolf Spider, was moving her brood in broad daylight along a track in Collserola.

wolf-spider-hogna-radiata-and-spiderlings

At first I thought it was a Mediterranean Tarantula (Lycosa tarantula), but the radial pattern on the thorax should have led me to Hogna radiata.  Another difference between the two species is that H. radiata doesn’t build a burrow, instead roaming to hunt its prey and using stones for shelter.

Looking at the tightly-packed brood, it was possible to make out rounded bodies and a tangle of spiky legs.

wolf-spider-hogna-radiata-spiderlings

Wolf spiders are dutiful mothers who carry the egg sac attached to their spinnerets, quite a burden for an active hunter.  The abdomen has to be kept raised so the egg sac doesn’t drag on the ground.  The mother spider will sit in the sun to warm the eggs, and when the time is right, chew open the silk case to free her brood.  She’ll wait until all the spiderlings have climbed on board and are clinging to her bristles.

Maternal care doesn’t go as far as feeding the young (as in other species, like the Mothercare spider).  Wolf spiderlings survive on nutrients stored in their abdomens and usually after a week they moult and scatter.

Wolf spiders are among the largest spiders in Europe.  H. radiata is only slightly smaller than the Mediterranean Tarantula, the female measuring up to 2.5 cm long.  Out in the open, the spider struck me as vulnerable and defenceless.  But the view from the front was quite different.

wolf-spider-hogna-radiata-with-young

The prominent dark eyes – which gleam in the dark if you go searching for it by torch-light – and strong hairy legs – the sprinting spider pounces on its prey like a wolf – warned me I was facing a formidable hunter.

Wolf spiders have far better eyesight than other spiders, and the eyes are arranged in a distinct pattern: a row of four at the bottom, two on top, and two enormous ones in the middle, all visible from the front.  Look at this fantastic close-up.