Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Weekend Clean-Up Part1: The Garage

This past weekend wasn’t that exciting. I cleaned the garage.

Well, actually, seeing as Awesome Wife sometimes reads this blog, I better stick a little closer to the truth: I cleaned part of the garage. OK, OK, I organized part of the garage. Really it wasn’t all that much of a cleaning. I just wanted to move stuff around so that when the snow finally hits I can access the snow-blower.

Tangent: I think some psychology student should do his or her dissertation on what’s in people’s garages, and what it says about them. Better yet, I think they should come up with new branch of psychology- called IMG_3500Garage Psychology- whereby a certified Garage Psychologist would come to your house, check out what’s in your garage, and diagnose you accordingly. He’d open the door, look around, check out the junk and clutter in your garage and be like, “Yeah, OK. 4 mountain bikes, 3 broken rakes, 10 pairs of skis, a case of Rock Star and a disassembled Volkswagen Carmengia*; you’re an OCD-agoraphobe, with an oedipal complex and dependency issues.” And then he’d prescribe something or have you committed or whatever.

*OK that’s not actually in my garage. But all the other stuff is.

What’s fascinating to me about garages is that no matter how big they are, they always fill up. I’ve had 3 houses in Utah. My first house had no garage. And you know what? Life was just fine. Yes, I had to brush/scrape snow/ice off the car and that was annoying, but it wasn’t really a big deal. My second house had a 1-car garage, and that was fine too. My current house has a 3-car garage, and it’s bigger than pretty much any of the apartments I lived in before owning houses. Seriously, if you had a time machine and you went back to 1989 and brought me back and put me in my present-day garage, I would be like, “Awesome!” I’d set up a cot, live in it, throw parties* and be totally happy. But in the real world, in just 7 years I’ve managed to completely fill it up with crap.

*I threw way better parties in 1989 than I do today.

Nested Tangent: I started to write about countless examples of crap before I caught myself and decided to share just one example. In my garage is a pair of skis- Volkl Snowrangers- that are completely, 100% beat-to-crap. The p-tex has actually been torn off the base in chunks in several spots. But I keep them because one day I “plan” to strip off all the p-tex down to the base metal underneath and make “sand skis” out of them. Sand skis. I’ve skied sand dunes once, 6+ years ago, thought it was kind of lame, have no plans to do so again, live several hours from the nearest decent dunes anyway, but still keep the skis. My garage is like a cry for help.

So anyway, I spent most of the weekend “cleaning” the garage, which might not sound like a very exciting weekend, but it turned out- surprisingly- to actually be really interesting, albeit in a creepy-crawly bug-geek kind of way.

Tangent: OK, not even that part’s true. It was like just 2 hours on Saturday afternoon. And I actually got a bunch of good biking in, both days, road and mountain.

Watcher CC Gully1 Sunday OCRick took Vicente and me on a new trail he found just below the BMX park above City Creek near Shoreline trail.(Pic right. 2 things about this pic, BTW: 1- if you click on it you will note that my beard still looks awesome, and in this context it does so in an I’m All Grown Up And Know What I’m Doing kind of way, and 2- it’s the last photo in this post that is not absolutely packed with close-up creepy-crawly shots, so if that’s not your thing, quit while you’re ahead.) It was one of these wonderful but frustrating trails through a tight, eroded high-walled gully that’s super-cool, but only for like 60 feet, and then it’s over. Doesn’t that drive you crazy?

Cleaning the garage means moving stuff around, and specifically moving stuff that hasn’t been moved in a long time. Gross GarageAnd when you do that, you find bugs. Dead bugs. The most common dead bugs in my garage are these things- Woodlice, also called Pill Bugs or Sowbugs. Woodlice aren’t lice, or anything like them. They’re not “bugs” or even insects, and they’re not arachnids either. They’re crustaceans, like lobsters or crayfish. The majority of the world’s crustaceans are aquatic, but woodlice have done quite well on land, with hundreds of species worldwide.

One of the most interesting things about woodlice is that they never seem to have quite adapted to land in the way insects and arachnids have. WL2 Their exoskeletons lack a waxy cuticle, and so are not water-tight. Woodlice need to stay moist, which they do by seeking out damp conditions and avoiding direct sunlight. They drink water directly and also absorb it through their 2 rear, tiny, tail-like appendages, called uropods. Female woodlice carry their eggs around in a little marsupial-like pouch between 2 exoskeletal plates on their undersides, called- appropriately enough- the marsupium. She keeps the marsupium water-filled and the eggs moist until hatching, when the young woodlice scuttle out and away. And they don’t breathe via trachea- like insects- or book-lungs- like spiders, but through modified gills, called pseudotrachea, which need to be kept wet.

I didn’t make a species ID on our garage woodlice, but my likeliest suspect is the Common Pill Woodlouse, Armadillidium vulgare. Woodlice that can roll up into a defensive sphere (“rolly-poly bugs”) belong to the family Armadillidiidae, and A. vulgare is one of one of the most widespread species in the family, tolerating both drier and colder conditions than most other woodlice. It’s native to Europe, but is now common in North America.

But then again- as we’ll see in a moment- I may be completely wrong.

The important thing about finding dead woodlice in your garage is this: there are spiders about. Spiders chow on woodlice, leaving the sucked-out exoskeletons behind. In fact the last time we visited woodlice, it was a year and a half ago, when I was chasing down that Black Widow in the garage. So if you’re moving stuff around and come across a bunch of dead woodlice and maybe a cobweb or two, you need to start watching where you put your hands.

Side Note: The coolest thing about that Black Widow post was that Black Widow venom contains 7 separate neurotoxins, one of which is specifically targeted for crustaceans.

And as I moved other boxes around, I found more dead bugs. I found several millipedes, which, like woodlice, aren’t insects or arachnids either, but something altogether different. There are somewhere around 10,000 species of millipedes in the world. Some are quite large, growing to several inches in length. The ones in my garage are tiny, maybe 1” long. Millipedes BTW never have 1,000 feet; most species have between 30 and 400, and the record-holder is around 750.

mpede1 Legs are generally 2 pair/body segment*, in contrast to centipedes, who have one pair/segment. Also in contrast to centipedes, which are generally predatory, millipedes are usually detritivores, consuming primarily dead organic matter. The first known land animal BTW was a millipede that lived 428 million years ago**.

*I learned this back in the Spring from Ted over at Beetles In The Bush. Thanks Ted!

**That would be during the Silurian period, which came about following the Ordovician period, possibly- as we saw during AstroWeek- as a result of a nearby supernova. Isn’t it cool how all this stuff just keeps tying together?

553px-Armidillidium.vs.glomeris OK, so here’s the confusing thing about millipedes. 2 orders of millipedes, called the Pill Millipedes (superorder = Oniscomorpha) have evolved a way different body form, with fewer body segments (11 to 13) and corresponding leg-pairs, a broader, flatter profile, and the ability to roll up into a ball when threatened. That’s right- they’ve evolved- completely independently- into “rolly-poly bugs”, that look just like woodlice, but aren’t at all closely-related! (pic left from Wikipedia) So the truth is I don’t know what I’ve got in my garage- woodlice or pill millipedes, and suspect I’ll have to explore the question further when Spring returns and the Trifecta catches me some more “rolly-poly bugs” out in the yard.

Woodlouse plates1 Side Note: I’m leaning toward Woodlice though, for 2 reasons. First, when I rooted out that Black Widow last year, her lair was littered with these things, and we know Black Widow venom has a crustacean-specific neurotoxin. Second, check out the layering of exoskeletal plates in the very rear and compare with the Wikipedia comparison-photo.

Cricket1 In addition to all these dead non-insects, I stumbled upon a fair number of dead insects as well, including this cricket (pic left), but mostly flies. I found several Green Bottle Flies, Lucilia sericata. This fly shares a largely familiar anatomy with the Common Housefly which we looked at earlier this month, and you can see several of the typical housefly features we covered in that series. Below is a view of the right haltere (flight-stabilizer).

GBF Haltere1 And here’s a great shot, with both an eye close-up (check out the individual facets- is my camera awesome or what??) as well as the tarsal claws on the end of the right foreleg (her right, not yours) and the pulvillus visible in between.

GBF eye claw1 Better yet, I managed to get another anatomical feature that I missed in the Housefly series: the ovipositor. IGBF Eye Superzoom1n that series I mentioned how one can use the separation between the eyes in houseflies as an indicator of sex. You can also tell via the opposite end by checking out rear end. This Green Bottle is a female, and the bump on the tip of her abdomen is the ovipositor in its retracted position. A female fly’s abdomen has 9 segments, only 5 of which are normally visible. The ovipositor consists of segments 6 through 9 and is contained within segment #5, but extends like a telescope when utilized to deposit eggs.

GBF Female Abdomen1 So what about the spiders? Who’s eating all these “bugs”? I spotted a few. First I found this wolf spider, with a nice view of one of the “big eyes.” About 99% of spiders have 8 eyes, 2 of which are big, image-forming eyes (the remainder serve mainly as light/dark indicators.) Unlike insects, the eyes of spiders are not compound eyes, but “simple” lens-type eyes, more like ours structurally than those of insects.

Wolf Spider1 Wolf spiders are not orb-weavers, but spin small funnel webs. They’re hunting spiders, relying on speed and camouflage. Along with jumping spiders, wolf spiders have some of the best eyes in the arachnid world, complete with telescopic components. Here’s another shot of the spider running along a guideline at the top of a window IMG_3486frame (below, right).

Wolf spiders are common in most homes (and harmless). There are hundreds (thousands?) of species; many of the most common belong to the genera Hogna or Pardosa, as I believe this one does.

Tangent: What is it about spiders and (some*) women? Twin B, who will happily pick up nearly any insect, is absolutely terrified of spiders- especially wolf spiders- and will immediately summon me to dispatch any she spots. Why is a spider scarier than a box elder bug or a moth or an ant or a rolly-poly-bug?

*Yes, yes, this tangent's all sexist and all. Fine, go ahead, let me have it- I'm the Bobby Riggs of amateur entomology. But you know it's true. So many women are freaked out by spiders- why? (And besides, I said "some"...)

But wolf spiders don’t spin real big webs, like those in the nooks and crannies in my garage. So I poked around a bit (with help of KanyonKris’ Miracle Light) and found a likelier suspect: The Triangulate Cobweb Spider, Steatoda triangulosa.

S triangulosa1 Steatoda is a worldwide genus of about 120 species. S. triangulosa is believed to be native to the Old World but was introduced to North America early on in European colonization and is now widespread throughout the US. They love garages and basements, and prey upon woodlice and ants and ticks and millipedes and flies and all sorts of other arthropods, including… other spiders, which we’ll come back to in just a moment.

TCS climbing1 cut In form these guys sometimes appear similar to “widow”-type spiders, but they’re a whole different deal. Their bite isn’t dangerous to humans, and apparently they practically never do bite us anyhow. But even better, they hunt other spiders, including the dreaded Brown Recluse, Loxosceles recluse, and Hobo Spiders, Tegenaria agresti, which also show up in your garage and whose bites can be both painful and medically significant. S. triangulosa is in particular both a habitat competitor and a predator of hobo spiders, and in area where it occurs appears to play a significant role in reducing T. agresti populations*. So check out this guy and remember it: this spider should absolutely be on your do-not-kill list when you encounter it in the garage.

*2 other Steadota spiders are even more significant hobo spider predators: the Western Bud Spider, S. hespera, which looks like a small brown black widow, and S. grossa, the “False Black Widow”.

Thinking about this assortment of “bugs”, 2 things jump out at me. First, insects, arachnids, crustaceans and myriapods are all represented. None of these things has a shared a common ancestor in over half a billion years- nearly twice as long as the time since we and magpies shared our last common ancestor- and yet here they all are in my garage. Isn’t that wild? And at least 2 of them- the Woodlouse and the Cobweb Spider- aren’t even native to North America. It’s like my garage is this little arthropod United Nations! “Cleaning up” turned out not to be quite so dull Garage Yellowjackets1 after all…

There were a bunch of other dead bugs in the garage, including these 2 yellowjackets (pic left). Which reminded me- it was probably time to clean out and put away the yellowjacket traps out back.

Next Up: Yellowjackets = Bees Gone Bad

Note: Special thanks to Andrew Williams over at bugguide.net for the S. triangulosa ID. I love that site.


Sally said...

Incredible post, once again, Watcher. Who knew? You are truly providing a service to humanity.

But why are you dispatching wolf spiders when they're so easy to move? Do you need the specs for my patented spider-mover?

I always assumed pillbug and millipede carcasses died of desiccation, so this spider-food thing is a wonderful revelation! I've kinda wondered what house (er, um, garage) spiders eat in winter...

Thanks for a most enlightening read! The Garage Psychologist is a great idea too.

Lucy said...

Nice shot of the triangulate cobweb spider. I love his/her posture.

For the record, I, a woman, really like spiders and routinely refuse to kill them at my female friends' houses, because "spiders are our friends". I do, however, have a real and sometimes debilitating fear of miller moths. If you ever post on them I will definitely not read that one. I am getting the heeby jeebies just thinking about them.

Sally, what is your patented spider re-locater?

Mike J in Fremont said...

Another great post. I am the designated spider enforcer of our household. Upon arrival to our cabin, I and immediately dispatched to do reconnaissance for arachnids.

I often recommend your blog and send interesting posts to my friends. My IT director buddy, (who has a degree in biology), is amazed that you are able to post so much and still have a full time job.

I was able to hook him on your blog when he mentioned his interest in Costa Rica. I sent him your posts and the rest is history. I would love to go there for vacation, but unfortunately, my son will be going to college next year...

Take care and have a great Thanksgiving!


Chris said...

My 4 year old spent the summer wanting a pet... so she collected rolly polys in jars. She did try to feed them and keep the climate damp but they ended up dying. It was like a rolly poly holocaust jar, we felt pretty bad. I wonder if that was worse than death by being eaten by a spider?

Anonymous said...

Great post (although I got the creepy crawly feeling while reading it). So, do other insects do the garage thing - fill up their nests/webs no matter how large it is?

I don't know if you covered this before but how do spiders suck out the innards of the insects? How long is their "tongue"? I would think their mandibles would just crush the exoskeloton and then eat the insides. I am surprised they can "suck" out the middle, but it certainly explains all the insect exoskelotons lying around my garage.

Also, (and you may have covered this before too and this is waaay off topic), but I've noticed that most insects, mammals, etc. have many species of each type. (Ex: you mention there are 10,000 species of millipedes). The same seems true in the plant world. Yet, homo sapiens don't have any other existing species (or do they?). Is there a scientific explanation for this? Though, sometimes I feel like if we had other species around, it would explain certain people!

mtb w

Watcher said...

Sally- please do share! What’s the spider-remover? I only swat the wolf spiders because a) I don’t want to get bit picking them up and b) they move fast and c) it’s usually late and I want to wrap things up fast so Twin B will go back to sleep. But I’m very open to reform, so clue me in.

Jube- that’s right, you’ve previously indicated your arachno-friendliness, so forgive me for sweeping you up in my vast generalization. But Miller Moths? What’s scary about them? They don’t bite or anything. Twin B has zero fear of them; in fact when we spot one out of reach I put her on my shoulders so she can catch it, which she always does gently before releasing them outside.

Mike J- thanks for the plug and the kind words. Yes, the CR trip can be spendy, but the only really tough part is the airfare. Once you get down there it’s not hard to keep costs very reasonable. For reference, once you’re on the ground, I’d say a week in CR costs ~1/2 what a similar week in Hawaii would cost.

cmsparks- Speaking from experience, any young-child bug collection never ends well for the bug.

mtb w- my answer is too long for this comment. See next comment!

Watcher said...

mtb w- Great questions. The spider injects digestive juices into its prey, liquefying the insides, and making them "suckable". A number of insects also do this. (Last night in fact I read of a large (3” long) water bug that actually does this to small frogs!) It’s also why flies “vomit” on food; they’re pouring digestive enzymes onto the morsel to liquefy it.

The species question is a great one with a longer answer, well worth a post of its own. But I’ll take a quick shot: The trend you notice isn’t so much people vs. other creatures as it is big creatures vs. small creatures. There are way more species of small things than big things. Here in Utah we have way more species shrubs and forbs for example than we do species of trees. And we have more species of things like squirrels and chipmunks than we do elk or moose or cougars or bears. When you get down to little things like bugs, the trend continues: more and more species. The likely reason is that what is a single big environment/ habitat for a big creature is a whole bunch of diverse little habitats for a small creature, which also needs a smaller range to support itself, leading to greater opportunities for colonization, adaptation, speciation, and non-overlapping coexistence with similar species. Smaller things also generally have shorter generation times, which could enable change and speciation to happen more quickly.

Side note: A current quandary in paleontology is why so many large dinosaurs seem to have lived contemporaneously in Western North America during the late Cretaceous, apparently bucking this trend.

For people, there were other species until fairly recently, and we can be certain that within the last 100,000 years modern Homo sapiens bumped into both H. neanderthalensis (in Europe, Middle East) and H. erectus (in Asia). What came of those encounters- range competition, conflict, interbreeding and/or genocide- is a whole other (and very contentious) topic.

Brandon said...

i think you discussed this at some point in the past but what kind of camera do you use?

As a side note I am male and completely terrified of spiders.

KanyonKris said...

Even out cleaning the garage your biology "bug" kicked in?

As always, good info. My theory is spiders are creepy because of their rather unique leg movement.

Inspired by your post, here's a little scene I imagined:

AW steps into garage: "How's it going?"

Watcher: "Good."

AW: What are you doing back there? Was that a camera flash I saw?"

Watcher: "Yeah, well, I found all these dead bugs and they sure are easier to photograph dead and then I had this great idea for a blog post and ..."

AW: (rolls eyes then mutters) "I need a drink."

Anonymous said...

Watcher - thanks for your response! Yeah, I was wondering if spiders could do the "vomit" thing. So, do they have strong suction or does the stuff just ooze out?

The more I thought about human species, I also realized that the bigger the animal, the less species seem to exist. But I am not sure that fully answers the question, though, since even whales have more than 1 species. And monkeys and gorillas have other species. Maybe the genocide/interbreeding is a major factor since we are a warring/loving people! It must a be complex issue with many contributing factors and likely still subject to great debate.

mtb w

Ski Bike Junkie said...

I had the same question as MTB W regarding speciation in humans, but, I'll suggest something else:

If "colonization, adaptation, and non-overlapping coexistence with similar species" are criteria for speciation, then I maintain sufficient justification exists for designating different species within homo sapiens. The practical reason not to designate species within homo sapiens likely has more to do with the awful lessons from our past and present with genocide, slavery, and bigotry, than with any "scientific" reason.

Ted C. MacRae said...

Fun stuff!

Interestingly, there is emerging molecular support for nesting insects within the crustaceans - that's right, my beloved beetles may be nothing but land lubbin' crusties! Oh well, ever since I learned to accept tiger beetles nested within the ground beetles, I'm open to just about anything.

Enel said...

Another great post.

A trick I have noticed is if I walk around the outside of the house with an LED headlight on at night, anything really bright and sparkly on the ground is likely to be the eyes of a wolf spider looking back at me. It is a fun way to locate them. They have amazingly bright reflections, almost like cat eyes.

Watcher said...

Ted- get out! Insects are crustaceans- really? Do a post on this! (or in the meantime maybe point me to a source to check out?)

KKris- That scene- or some variation of it- occurs at least once or twice a week in the Watcher-Home.

SBJ- Whoa. “colonization, adaptation, and non-overlapping coexistence…” aren’t criteria for species. I listed them as conditions that can lead to speciation. Criteria for species can be debated, but generally they’re accepted as (from Wikipedia):

1- Members of the group are reliably distinguishable from members of other groups. The distinction can be made in any of a wide number of ways, such as: differently shaped leaves, a different number of primary wing feathers, a particular ritual breeding behaviour, relative size of certain bones, different coding sequences of a peptide, and so on. There is no set minimum 'amount of difference': the only criterion is that the difference be reliably discernible. In practice, however, very small differences tend to be ignored.

2- The flow of genetic material between the group and other groups is small and sometimes can be expected to remain so because even if the two groups were to be placed together they would not interbreed to any great extent.

Humans certainly fail #2 and arguably fail #1.

A slightly stronger argument could be made that humans are a polytypic species, or one consisting of 2 or more races or subspecies… if only it could be agreed what a race or subspecies actually is…

mtb w- I believe they (the spiders) have to suck. And you are right- the hominid species questions you raise- though great- are complex and unresolved.

One more thing: I was hoping to get part 2- the Yellowjacket part, which will be – yes, that’s right- Way Cool, up by tomorrow AM but I can tell now it’s not going to happen. Look for it over the long weekend and have a great Thanksgiving.

Watcher said...

Brandon- sorry, missed your comment earlier. It's a Canon PowerShot SD 780IS. I've had it since June and been absolutely thrilled with it. Bought it @Best Buy for $250, but I see it's on sale now for $200.

I carry it in a foneGEAR mobile phone case which clips onto a belt or shoulder-strap.

maggie said...

I'm also a huge fan of spiders (used to have a pet tarantula, in fact) - the only critter I can't cope with is house centipedes, and I think that comes of living in too many basement apartments.

Incidentally, if you only spent 2 hours "cleaning" the garage, and you managed to take all these photos, did you actually get around to getting anything done?

Lucy said...

Miller moths are evil. They leave that dusty covering everywhere and they flutter straight for your head, every time. Gross. Might have something to do with the time when I was 12ish and opened my dresser drawer to have a dozen of them fly out at me. But I'm also with maggie on house centipedes. They are gross too. I once went to wash my face and just as I got the washcloth three inches from my face, I realized there was a centipede on it. Ewww. By comparison, spiders are friendly.

Ski Bike Junkie said...

OK, so I blew it on the species criteria. But by the criteria you/wikipedia list, a good argument could be made that Mormons are another species.

Watcher said...

Incidentally, if you only spent 2 hours "cleaning" the garage, and you managed to take all these photos, did you actually get around to getting anything done?

Oh man, now you sound like AW...

KristenT said...

Why I don't like spiders: Or at least, the Gigantic House Spiders (Tegeneria duellica, cousin and competitor for habitat with the Hobo spider) that live in my house:

A) they are unnaturally large for a spider living on the wet-side of the Cascades.

2) they move unnaturally fast on their scary long legs

III) they fight back, kung-fu style. This ain't the matrix, spidey, stop it.

And the most compelling reason: Once, up at Gramma's house, my mom swatted one, put it on a piece of paper and brought it to me to identify.

It was squashed. Flattened.

And then it got up and ran to the edge of the paper, that I dropped and ran away from.

Apparently, T Duellica's secret is super regenerative powers. And kung fu.

I don't mind garden spiders or other hunting spiders like the cool jumpy ones we have here at the office. I like daddy longlegs. But T Duellica? NO THANK YOU.

That goes for you too, Hobo spider.

Watcher said...

KristenT- Thanks for piping up. Between Sally, Jube, Maggie and Brandon, I was this close to posting a retraction on the whole girls-afraid-of-spider thing. Thanks for bailing me out. ;^)

Lucy said...

Hey Watcher, Turns out you are correct when you say girls/women are more often fearful of spiders (and snakes). The Sept 26 issue of ScienceNews magazine reports on a new study that found these fears start even before the 1st birthday!, and that arachnophobia and ophidiophobia affect roughly 4 times as many women than men. Still only 3.5% and 5.5% of the Swedish population, respectively, though. Check it out http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/46784/title/Girls_have_head_start_on_snake_and_spider_fears

I wish someone would study irrational fear of miller moths.