Baby Spider Eyes Aglow!
Over a thirty year career of night hikes through the jungles of Tropical America, I have seen some really strange and fascinating creatures. I was first introduced to tropical ecology while working as a naturalist with an incredible outdoor school and crew at Wilderness Southeast based in Savannah, Georgia.
On our last evening at Glover’s Atoll, I noticed the eyes of a wolf spider glowing back at me, something we had already shared with our 22 students from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, Baltimore.
Wolf spider eyes contain a tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer that increases the available light aiding them in their stealthy hunting practices. Years ago, I learned the “naturalist trick” of instructing students to place their flashlight on their foreheads, find an emerald green glow in the grass and follow it to the source…indeed spider eyes! This night activity was often a crowd pleaser though would send others quickly to their tents!
That last evening I happened to glance at a wolf spider but noticed that it’s entire back was sparkling with tiny little emeralds. At first glance I thought I had discovered a new species. A closer examination revealed that the tiny sparkles were the eyes of baby spiders clinging to their mother’s abdomen. Creepy and cool….100’s of eyes shimmering back at us!
An unforgettable moment during our naturalist- led adventure to Belize with http://www.bluewaterventures.org
Each year during our Caribbean programs in Belize and the British Virgin Islands, our group is invariably drawn to the Caribbean Reef Squid, Sepioteuthis sepioidea. Even seasoned snorkelers become overwhelmed by the explosion of colorful activity found on a coral reef. Suspended in blue water, an erie feeling that something is watching you creeps into your consciousness. A quick glance around reveals a squadron of reef squid. Swim away and they follow. Move towards them and they quickly change color, a deep red if near the reef or pale if over sand, masters of camouflage.
They may even create false eyes on their posterior end as seen here. The eyes will instantaneously vanish once the threat of a predator is gone. Quite incredible.
The picture below reveals an unusual white blotch across the dorsal side. I have watched reef squid for decades and have rarely seen such coloration. It appears as though we may have interrupted the amorous intentions of a courting male.
Reef squid not only expand and contract the chromatophore cells embedded in their skin to conceal themselves, but do so as part of their mating ritual. Males may flash an impressive zebra pattern to the female who is revealing a blotchy saddle indicating her sexual receptivity. Mate selection is a serious business to a female reef squid. She will die soon after depositing her fertilized eggs in a safe corner of the ocean floor. Like most cephalopods, the life of the Caribbean Reef Squid is relatively short. They are thought to live for one year, mate and die.
Join Blue Water Ventures on a naturalist-led adventure to the reefs, rain forest, kelp beds and beyond!
In 1988, I was traveling through southern Belize and visited the remote Mopan Mayan village of San Antonio. It was there that I was mistaken for a Duende, a forest dweller, trickster and dwarf. Duende lives deep in the jungle. He is thought to slumber in a forest cave and emerge during daylight hours to sheepishly observe humans. Two legged kinds be weary if the trickster appears near the sacred Ceiba tree. Perched among the buttressing roots, Duende may strum his guitar for you, an intoxicating ploy. It is highly recommended to respectively wave your four fingers but hide your thumb. Duende may wish to acquire your opposing appendages as he is missing his own. The forest dweller often wears a wide brimmed hat and stands a mere three feet tall which accounts for my mistaken identity.
Encouraged by the peace corp volunteer, my traveling companions Korinn Saker, Patty Smith and I threw together a skit for the Mayan Community. We chose a childhood favorite of mine that I fondly remember as “Little Nemo”. Concealed by a sheet, Korinn wrapped her arms around my waist becoming my arms, my arms were my legs and my head sported a wide brimmed hat. Voila, a tiny little creature had emerged on stage and sloppily performed such antics as brushing one’s teeth.
Korinn, unable to see my face kept missing the teeth and polishing the brow, an act which I alone found hilarious. After having my brows polished and my composure retrieved, I glanced out at the audience expecting cries for an encore. Instead, I was met by a solemn crowd. There was not a smile, snicker or unpolished eyebrow raised in an exclamation point among the 100 or so brows in the audience. I felt like shrinking, but that was part of the problem so I quickly took a bow and retreated behind the makeshift curtain. Tucked away in our hammocks that night, we were told by our host family that Little Nemo was thought to be a Duende. Ah…..it all made sense now as I instinctively checked in with my thumbs!
Kim Powell is owner, operator and head naturalist at Blue Water Ventures in Santa Cruz, CA. Offering naturalist-led field trips for students and adventurous vacations designed to be relaxing with an educational component for women. Kim has been organizing single and multiple day excursions to extraordinarily beautiful places since 1985
Sincerely, Kim of Blue Water Ventures
Imagine fine tuning your eskimo roll on a remote deserted island in the Caribbean. Join Blue Water Ventures on an all women’s adventure to Belize. We will kayak through ancient Mayan ceremonial caves, dance with the Garifuna children of Hopkins Village, snorkel over acres of coral reefs and fine tune your eskimo roll (or watch the show under the shade of a coconut palm tree!)
Look for the next blue adventure at: http://www.bluewaterventures.org
A soft layer of hair expands the surface area of a fishing spider allowing it to “walk on water” as it seeks its prey. Capturing a bubble of air, the spider submerges breathing though its book lungs, as it hunts for fish and aquatic insects. It may remain silent on a rock above the water’s edge detecting subtle ripples across the water. As its fore legs sense vibrations, it lunges towards its prey injecting it with venom. I first encountered these impressively large spiders while backpacking through the heart of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica. On our recent expedition to Belize, we kayaked through a series of underground caves encountering fishing spiders, roosting bats and “Pica Culas” or Ass Biters, a small voracious fish that shares the same family as the Red Bellied Piranha, Characidae.
Soon we are heading to the reefs, ruins and rainforests of Belize, Central America.