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

Spider Silk

Orb Spider Web
Contains 3 Types of Silk

Courtesy & Copyright 2011
Terry Greene, Photographer

Spider silk has long been of interest to scientists and engineers for its incredible strength. Silk can be, by weight, a stronger fiber than steel or Kevlar. But new research has discovered that the strength of the individual fibers does not explain the durability of a web, which can remain functional after sustaining extreme stress. The web’s overall design adds to silk’s durability to create a truly functional product.

Spiders utilize silk for many different reasons – transportation, lining burrows, protecting and securing egg cases, and of course for catching prey. Amazingly, an individual spider has the ability to manufacture several different types of silk, which are used for different purposes. In a typical orb-style web there are at least three kinds of silk at work. One is strong and dry, making up the ‘spokes’ of the web. These are the strands upon which the spider itself moves around, so as not to get stuck in its own trap. The strands which create the characteristic spiral pattern are actually made of two types of silk – one is a fine, stretchy fiber, and the other a sticky, glue-like substance. Together, these two silks make up the part of the web responsible for snaring prey.

Another important property of silk is that when stretched the fiber stiffens. As more pressure is applied, the properties of the silk change, allowing it to become stretchy and flexible. If still more pressure is added, the silk stiffens again, until finally it breaks. Originally, this stiff-stretchy-stiff response to stress was viewed as a weakness, but when analyzed as part of an interconnected web, that’s not the case. A team of scientists from MIT noted that webs could be subjected to a lot of force with only minimal damage. Whether the force was localized – for example while ensnaring a large insect – or more widespread over the entire surface – such as pressure from strong winds – the damage incurred by the web was minimal. Only the individual strands that endure the most pressure break, while others stiffen, flex, and remain intact.

Localized damage allows the spider to more often than not simply repair a web instead of abandoning it and starting over. Creating silk and weaving a web is a costly process for a spider – it takes up a lot of the arachnid’s energy. The ability to simply patch the broken parts is a more efficient strategy which requires less energy expenditure and fewer materials than weaving a new web.

Figuring out how to mimic this response to stress on a material could be infinitely useful in the human world. Imagine a skyscraper in an earthquake that fails in one small place where the forces are strongest – not in its entirety as is currently the case. That same earthquake-damaged building might also need only minimal repairs, saving time, money, and materials. Oh the lessons we could learn from one of nature’s smallest creatures…

Thank you to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the research and development of this Wild About Utah topic. For the Stokes Nature Center and Wild About Utah, this is Andrea Liberatore.

For the Stokes Nature Center and Wild About Utah, this is Andrea Liberatore.

Images: Courtesy & Copyright 2011 Terry Greene
Text:     Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon.

Additional Reading:

Chandler, David L. (2012) How Spider Webs Achieve Their Strength. MIT News Office. Available online at: https://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/spider-web-strength-0202.html

National Science Foundation press release (2012) A Spider Web’s Strength Lies in More Than its Silk. Available online at: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=123041

Law, Steven (2012) Curious Things About Spider Webs. Available online at: https://www.ksl.com/?nid=968&sid=20488145