Spider Mountain

Spider Mountain: Spiders on Dish Western Spotted Orbweaver Neoscona oaxacensis Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Spiders on Dish
Western Spotted Orbweaver
Neoscona oaxacensis
Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Spiders on Mast for UPR Transponder Antenna West (Spider) Mountain, Utah Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, PhotographerSpiders on Mast for UPR Transponder Antenna
Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Spiders on Mast for UPR Transponder Antenna With Microwave Dish for Other Building Occupants West (Spider) Mountain, Utah Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, PhotographerSpiders on Mast for UPR Transponder Antenna With Microwave Dish for Other Building Occupants
Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Spiders on Dish for Other Building Occupants. Note Red Former AT&T (Now 'American Tower') Structure Above. West (Spider) Mountain, Utah Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, PhotographerSpiders on Dish for Other Building Occupants
Note Red Former AT&T (Now ‘American Tower’) Structure Above.
Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Recently, I accompanied Friend Weller, chief radio engineer for Utah Public Radio, on a visit to what local radio engineers affectionately call Spider Mountain. We sought to determine why the Utah County translator would intermittently go off air for minutes to hours. Friend speculated that wasps or spiders were to blame. He explained that this translator receives the signal from Logan via satellite and rebroadcasts it for lower Utah County on 88.7 MHz. It is one of more than 30 translators that re-transmit UPR where mountains block the original signal.

We drove up a gravel road to the top of the dry, desert mountain known locally as West Mountain. This cheatgrass-covered mountain rises nineteen hundred feet from the waters on the south end of Utah Lake. At the base, there are fruit orchards, but climbing higher, we saw few plants rising above the cheatgrass. Near the top, more than 12 structures support antennas that transmit and relay signals across portions of Utah and Juab counties.

As we slowly climbed the gravel road in the UPR pickup, large bodies began to appear, moving on silk threads attached, like guy wires, to anything with height. Mobile spiders guarded each thread. When we passed, they took what appeared to be offensive positions. These spiders’ delicate legs easily span two inches. A unique black and white pattern of diamonds and dots on their back identifies them as western spotted orb weavers. The larger-bodied, grey spiders are females with legs attached to a three-quarter-inch body. The narrower-bodied males measure half an inch. When they move, flashes of red show on the undersides of their legs. These same spiders live along the shores of Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake.

The exterior of the equipment building was covered with spiders, as were the transmitting antennas above and the large receiving satellite dish nearby. We could see the problem. Spiders were blocking the signal to the satellite dish feed horn. Using a broom, we gently relocated them. Many took quick exits, dropping on threads of silk from the horn to the dish below, then running to the edge and rappelling to the ground. Others took more defensive or combative positions, only to be invited off with the broom or a gloved hand. After the eviction, we sprayed around the horn and the dish supports.

On previous trips, we had often wondered what these spiders eat. This time we found small flying insects, akin to those found along the shores of Utah Lake. They are likely carried up the mountain on wind currents. Up-hill winds develop every day as the sun warms the surface of the mountain. This time of year, the spiders don’t lack nourishment.

And how did the spiders get up there? Their progenitors were also likely carried uphill on silk parachutes. Once there, the spiders found the tallest location, strung their lines, and thrived on other unfortunates delivered by the same winds. You see, spiders, like predatory birds, are helpful pest control. For a spider, hanging high above the ground on a mountain top is a great place to be. There, the spiders can catch anything that blows or flies by. No wonder they grow so large and multiply so profusely on top of Spider Mountain.

Visit Wildaboututah.org for images of the spiders hanging from the trees, guy wires, antenna masts and satellite dish. We also have links to common spiders found in Utah.

This is Lyle Bingham, and I’m Wild About Utah, Utah Public Radio and Utah’s spiders.

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Lyle Bingham’s Wild About Utah Postings

Mitton, Jeff, Spiders disperse on strands of silk | Colorado Arts & Sciences Magazine Archive | University of Colorado Boulder

Narimanov, Nijat; Bonte, Dries; Mason, Paul; Mestre, Laia; Entling, Martin H.; Disentangling the roles of electric fields and wind in spider dispersal experiments

Simonneaua, Manon; Courtiala, Cyril; Pétillon, Julien; Phenological and meteorological determinants of spider ballooning in an agricultural landscape – ScienceDirect

Davis, Nicky, Neoscona Tree, Lincoln Beach, Utah Lake, Utah, WildUtah.us, August 23, 2018, https://www.wildutah.us/html/insects_other/h_s_neoscona_tree.html

Davis, Nicky, Western Spotted Orbweaver a.k.a. Zig-Zag Spider-Neoscona oaxacensis Female, WildUtah.us, August 20, 2018, https://www.wildutah.us/html/insects_other/h_s_neoscona_oaxacensis_fe_west_utah_lake_20aug2018.html

Davis, Nicky, Western Spotted Orbweaver a.k.a. Zig-Zag Spider-Neoscona oaxacensis Male, WildUtah.us, August 20, 2018, https://www.wildutah.us/html/insects_other/h_s_neoscona_oaxacensis_m_west_utah_lake_20aug2018.html

Davis, Nicky, Spider at Inlet Park, Jordan River Trail, Saratoga, Utah County – Neoscona oaxacensis, Bugguide, Iowa State University, September 17, 2017, https://bugguide.net/node/view/1446087

Eaton, Eric R, Spider Sunday: Western Spotted Orbweaver, Bug Eric, February 12, 2012, https://bugeric.blogspot.com/2012/02/spider-sunday-western-spotted-orbweaver.html

These spiders were blocking the UPR satellite signal received by the Utah County transponder broadcasting at 88.7 MHz. The spiders were identified as Western Orb Weavers, Neoscona oaxacensis, that are also found along the shores of Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake.
Courtesy and Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

More than one type of spider lives on Spider Mountain. The last time we visited Spider Mountain, we hadn’t traveled far before Friend Weller stopped the truck. A Utah tarantula was walking across the road. Yes, did I tell you the spiders on Spider Mountain are big? This guy easily covered a small dinner plate without extending its legs.
We found out that tarantulas are nocturnal and rarely seen except in August and September, when the males are searching for mates. In Utah, we found most tarantulas are identified as Aphonopelma iodius, because they have a triangular dark patch near their eye turrets. We understand our tarantulas are not to be confused with a similar brown-bodied, black-legged species, Aphonopelma chalcodes, the western desert tarantula that are found in Mexico, Arizona, and southern Utah.
Courtesy and Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Visit ‘Spider Mountain’ on https://wildaboututah.org/

Spiders in Utah, SpiderID.com, https://spiderid.com/locations/united-states/utah/

Face to Face with a Longhorned Beetle

Face to Face with a Longhorned Beetle: White-spotted sawyer Monochamus scutellatus Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
White-spotted sawyer
Monochamus scutellatus
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Longhorn Beetle Crossidius coralinus Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Longhorn Beetle Crossidius coralinus
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

A Childs Sawyer Beetle in Her Naturalist Journal Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer A Childs Sawyer Beetle in Her Naturalist Journal
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Before E. B. White set about crafting Charlotte’s Web in 1949, according to Melissa Sweet’s biography Some Writer, he was “bringing a pail of slops to the barn” that he loved in Maine and thinking about a time not long before when he observed a barn spider spinning her egg sac and depositing her eggs. Weeks later, when he had brought the egg sac in a candy box to New York City, he found hundreds of spiderlings emerging and realized a story emerging as well. Michael Sims, author of The Story of Charlotte’s Web, quotes from a letter White wrote to some schoolchildren: “I didn’t like spiders at first, but then I began watching one of them, and soon saw what a wonderful creature she was and what a skillful weaver. I named her Charlotte.” E. B. White went to Willis J. Gertsch, author of American Spiders and expert at the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Insects and Spiders, to learn. He spent a year studying spiders in order to get the story just right.
Face to Face with a Longhorned Beetle
In northern Utah last week I made a friend who happened to be a white-spotted sawyer beetle named Monochamus scutellatus. My children and I have been fascinated by these insects for years. If you are the most apprehensive and skittish adventurer in your group, chances are that this relatively large forest insect will glide in, land on you, and courageously stay, as if it had something to say. Like E. B. White and the orb weaver Aranea cavatica, this longhorned beetle and I had a face-to-face chat. What you will notice immediately are his long horns. These antennae were twice as long as the rest of his body, and that’s how you would know he was a male. The antennae of the females, in contrast, are typically only half as long. Both male and female have a distinctive white dot at the base of the wings, an easy way to distinguish them from the invasive Asian longhorned or velvet longhorned varieties.

This white-spotted sawyer said he is often misunderstood because of his appearance. He can’t help looking a bit creepy. He also sometimes gets blamed for damaging forests and wanted to set the record straight. He said that as a grub, he fed on the sapwood of evergreen trees that are already dead or nearing it. In fact, sawyer beetles invade trees following forest fires and in the months following mountain pine beetle attacks. They do not, however, kill healthy thriving trees. Sawyer beetles are, though, responsible for the familiar teeth-grinding sounds one hears in a wooded area as the fleshy larvae scrape with their mandibles.

At the other end of Utah perched in Monticello’s rabbitbrush a few days ago, I met a colony of striking Crossidius coralinus. Instead of mostly black bodies, these longhorn beetles boast vibrant reds and many more stories to tell. Thanks to beetle entomologist Ted MacRae, I am able to understand those stories better. I must admit that I will probably still jump when a longhorned beetle initiates a conversation from my forearm, but I now appreciate its point of view. After all, Charles Darwin suggested that “a taste for collecting beetles is some indication of future success in life,” and I will take all the help I can get.

For Wild About Utah, I am Shannon Rhodes.

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah Posts by Shannon Rhodes https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/

Cohen, Joel I. Exploring the nature of science through courage and purpose: a case study of Charles Darwin’s way of knowing. SpringerPlus. 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5020019/pdf/40064_2016_Article_3053.pdf ​​

Corrigan, Maureen. How E. B. White Spun Charlotte’s Web. Published July 5, 2011, accessed August 5, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2011/07/05/137452030/how-e-b-white-spun-charlottes-web

MacRae, Ted C. “Big, Black (and Red), and Beautiful: Mini-review of the Cicindelidia abdominalis species-group.” Published July 18, 2014, accessed August 13, 2022. Beetles in the Bush, https://beetlesinthebush.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/mini-review-of-the-cicindelidia-abdominalis-species-group/.

Rodman, Taryn M. et al. Velvet Longhorned Beetle. Utah Pests Fact Sheet. July 2020. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/research/velvet-longhorned-beetle#:~:text=Quick%20Facts,%2C%20%20Davis%2C%20and%20%20Tooele%20%20counties

Spears, Lori et al. Invasive Insect Lookalikes: mistaken insect identity. Utah Pests Fact Sheet. October 2015. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/research/invasive-insect-lookalikes

Strand, Holly. Bark Beetle Mania! Published June 25, 2009. https://wildaboututah.org/bark-beetle-mania/

Sweet, Melissa. Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. https://www.melissasweet.net/somewriter

United States Forest Service. Mountain Pine Beetle. 2011. https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5299324.pdf

Utah Pests Quarterly Newsletter. Winter 2021. Vol. XV. Asian Longhorned Beetle: not yet in Utah. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/files/up-newsletter/2021/UtahPestsNews-winter21.pdf

Hi there, I’m a monster

Yellow Garden Spider Argiope aurantia Courtesy US FWS, Willliam Powell, Photographer
Yellow Garden Spider
Argiope aurantia
Courtesy US FWS, Willliam Powell, Photographer

Daring Jumping Spider Phidippus audaxdaring Courtesy US FWS, Laurie Sheppard, Photographer Daring Jumping Spider
Phidippus audaxdaring
Courtesy US FWS, Laurie Sheppard, Photographer

I have a new spider roommate that I’ve decided to let stay. This is a bit of a development for me, though, since I’ve never been too keen on spiders, primarily because they’re spiders. They’re those strange land-lobsters that fall from the shower curtains, or appear behind a shelf; those horrid hairy hands that hole up in the bathroom sink to greet you in the groggy morning. “Hi there! I’m a monster!” they yell with delight. “Gahh! You sure are!” I yell back without it.

When I was growing up, I dealt with spiders according to the ‘all are bad’ fallacy. I was a spider killer I’m ashamed to say. I’d grab a wad of toilet paper, or a shoe, and send their bodies to the sewer or dump. As I grew older and learned more about them, however, I switched camps. I learned that they are just wee wolves who wait. They are not malicious or evil, even if some still take a deep breath to see. I then graduated to spider rehabilitator, and it’s where I am still rooted. I have a specific mason jar and slip of cardboard that I’ll catch the spider in, and then send them to the Oregon grapes beside my house. I find rehabilitation easier to cope with than believing that they are still all bad. I never liked killing. Once released, I know that they are actually happier back in their native habitat where they have an abundance of food and opportunity for spider hunting and other activities which behoove them. Maybe they’ll even get to eat or be eaten by an old flame.

But back to my new roommate. Our story begins a few weeks ago: I was brushing my teeth for the evening when I spotted them near the floor in the corner where my bathroom sink meets the wall. They were suspended in a wee web just living their life. About a quarter the size of a raisin, this little one was no threat I figured: they weren’t large enough to be seen as a scare, and, upon brief inspection, weren’t venomous. I decided to pass on an immediate capture and do it the next day or something. In their corner they stayed.

The next evening as I was again brushing my teeth, I was reminded that I would catch them as I saw them again. But today, this itsy spider was not alone: they had caught a hornet in their web and was gleefully doing with it that which spiders do. It surprised me though, that this small hunter in their own right was able to catch and turn a hornet at least ten times its size into leftovers. “Huh,” I thought, “Perhaps I’ll let you stay.” I like hornets less than spiders, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Since then, the bitsy spider in my bathroom has caught even more, and is really doing me a favor. They have snared another hornet, several flies, mosquitos, and other unidentified organisms which I only recognize as tiny Tutankhamuns. My spider roommate has helped me straddle my rehabilitation camp with a new one: teamwork.

Now, while I still do catch other spiders and critters which find their way into my house, I’m allowing the roommate to stay, at least for now. I know there will be a day when my fiancé finally notices them and asks for them to go, but that day is not yet. Until then, I’ll continue to marvel at how my roommate, this eight-legged ecology major, takes on challenges that to us would seem plain mad. If you saw a hornet the size of a Kodiak brown bear, would you even contemplate catching it let alone eating it? That takes some gumption to not back down. I can admire that. So for now, we’ll keep working together, at least until hornet season is over. Then it’ll likely be to the Oregon grapes with you to find that old flame.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
Images: Courtesy US FWS, images.fws.gov
Audio: Courtesy & ©
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/

Spiders North America (Spider Identification), InsectIdentification.org, https://www.insectidentification.org/spiders.php

Monitoring Utah Moose and their Calves

Monitoring Utah Moose: Shiras Moose Cow in Northern Utah Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
Shiras Moose Cow in Northern Utah
Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
In the early 1900s, moose began expanding south into Utah from Wyoming.
This moose sub-species was named in honor of [Congressman] George Shiras III who explored Yellowstone in the early 1900’s and found large numbers of moose.

The Shiras (Shy-ras) moose is the smallest sub-species and occupies the southern-most moose habitat. Specific to the southern Rocky Mountains, the population extends from the bottom of British Columbia, Canada to Colorado.
For the past 100 years, Utah’s Shiras moose population has fluctuated, peaking at 3,500 in 2005. The number has now stabilized at about 2,700.

Dan MacNulty, associate professor in the Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resource at USU, and his research team, joined with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to identify what threatens Utah’s moose population, and then work together to ensure the herds remain stable.
The condition of a moose herd is highly dependent on the health of its adult females, hence, this has been the focus of their research.

Shiras Moose Cow & Calf Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
Shiras Moose Cow & Calf
Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
In May or June, the females begin having their calves. The calves remain with their mothers for a full year. If the mother is expecting, she’ll chase the yearling off before the new calf arrives.

Once the yearling has left, the mother begins searching for secluded thicket to have her calf. Usually the thicket is so dense, a hiker walking by would never know the mother and calf are nearby.
The female moose will stay in the thicket with her calf until its strong enough to walk by her side. Unlike deer, who hide their young while they graze, moose keep their calves in sight.

Shiras Moose with Moose Ticks Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
Shiras Moose with Moose Ticks
Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
One threat, neither the mothers nor calves can hide from – is the winter tick, also known as the moose tick since moose are its preferred host. Deer and elk are able to keep most ticks rubbed off. The winter tick is not prone to pester humans.

Sam Robertson, USU graduate student in MacNulty’s lab explains, “They are a one-host tick and will remain on the same animal during all three stages of the tick’s life.”
In the late summer, the winter tick larvae climb up blades of grass, or other vegetation, and wait for a moose to walk by. When it does, the ticks will jump on, take hold, and stay latched on to the moose for its blood meals and growth until early spring when the tick falls off. By this time, the female moose is at her weakest – likely due to lack of food and tick load.

Kent Hersey, Big Game Projects Coordinator for DWR, explains, “In April, [after the long winter of using their fat stores] the female moose are usually in their worst possible condition. Hopefully they’ll find enough green vegetation to regain energy to help the calf’s growth in its last trimester, and produce sufficient milk reserves.”
To monitor females and calves in 2017, GPS collars were fitted on 80 adult females and 26 6-8 month old calves.
The data from the Wasatch herd indicated that, “The average tick load for adult females who lost their calves within the first couple of days after birth was almost double the average tick load.”
Monitoring of mother moose and calves will continue through 2018 to see how tick abundance changes from year to year.

Once the multi-year tick data are gathered and analyzed, the researchers and managers hope to begin searching for management methods to decrease the tick loads on moose – which in turn, will enhance the stability of Utah’s Shiras Moose population.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson Department of Wildland Resources, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Securing Utah’s Moose Population, Wild About Utah, July 10, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/securing-utahs-moose-population/

Moose, Alces apces, compiled by Anthony Bell, Vertebrate Zoology Collections Assistant, Utah Museum of Natural History, https://nhmu.utah.edu/sites/default/files/attachments/Alces%20alces.pdf

Moose entering water, Jeff Rice, Western Soundscape Archive; University of Utah, https://collections.lib.utah.edu/details?id=1117822

Moose in Utah, Jason Pietrzak, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society/Utah Public Radio, 30 Sept 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/moose-in-utah/

Moose, Wild Aware Utah, Hogle Zoo & Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://www.wildawareutah.org/utah-wildlife-information/moose/

Utah Moose Statewide Management Program, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/hunting/biggame/pdf/moose_plan.pdf









Utah’s Unbelievable Ungulates, Nature’s Call, Fall 1997, Utah Project Wild, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/projectwild/newsletters/97fall-gw.pdf

Where Do They Go When It Snows?!, Nature’s Call, Winter 1993, Utah Project Wild, Utah Division of Natural Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/projectwild/newsletters/93winter-nc.pdf

Winter Tick, (Moose Tick), Forests, Wildlife and Parks of Quebec, Ministère des Ressources naturelles,

Tick Species of Maine – Winter Tick or Moose Tick, UMaine Cooperative Extension: Insect Pests, Ticks and Plant Diseases, University of Maine, https://extension.umaine.edu/ipm/tickid/maine-tick-species/winter-tick-or-moose-tick/