I was walking past the Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) tree, one of two saplings I have planted on the southwest side of the pond. Bald-cypress are known for getting species-specific insects known as Cypress Twig Gall Midge (Taxodiomyia cupressiananassa). The smaller of my two trees has a few sprinkled throughout.
Galls are housing created from plant materials for developing larvae of various flies, midges and wasps. Midges are a type of diptera (fly) which feed those up the food chain (think birds, anoles). Some of the females bite and are often mistaken for mosquitoes. Some midges are aquatic in their larval stage and are important food sources for fish in addition to the avian and reptilian bunch.
I’ve been reading up on the particular galls on my baldcypress and since all accounts indicate that they winter over in their little housing units after they drop with the leaves to the ground, I wasn’t counting on seeing the resulting adults any time soon. I put further research on the back burner while I became enthralled with the other massive amounts of new fauna in my beautiful wildlife garden at this time of year.
These galls, for the most part, are only a problem with the aesthetics of the baldcypress although a huge infestation could pull down a branch or two from the weight. By all accounts, they really don’t harm the tree’s overall health.
This week, on the larger tree I thought I saw a rather hefty size gall, all of about 1/4 inch. Since it was the largest I’ve seen, I figured maybe it was time to put on my citizen scientist cap and do some photo documentation of the lifecycle…maybe dissect this one and see what the larvae inside looks like. I gently pulled down the branch and got the camera on macro setting.
All of a sudden the gall walked about an inch down the branch. I was startled, to say the least, perplexed to say the most. I looked again, but with these old eyes and no reading glasses I couldn’t focus on what my new found friend was. Still, I clicked away, and grabbed a thin stick to prod the little devil into revealing itself.
Luckily it got into a standing posture so I could see it was a spider.
It is a Difoliate Orbweaver (Acacesia hamata), one individual among the hundreds of species of Orb Weaver Spiders. I’d seen one only one other time and that was on my Bastard False Indigo (Amorpha fruticosa) shrub where I found it hiding in a folded leaf.
Like many orbweavers this guy (gal?) is part of the nocturnal set, working at night to create the webs that we sometimes wind up walking through in the early morning, that is if you get up very early.
Many orbweavers, after a night of catching and eating, disassemble their webs around dawn and rest during the daylight hours, blending in with foliage, leaving little trace for their predators to find.
So tiny, but with such interesting markings, thank goodness for cameras, for I doubt you could ascertain the subtle color differences with the naked eye. Speaks to having a hand lens when in the field, but since so many insects move at the slightest shadow of an approaching human, I don’t bother with this extra equipment. I’d rather take some macro shots and enjoy the encounter on the computer screen.
From accounts by others across the web, this spider seems elusive…I guess because of the small size, nocturnal habit and it’s ability to hide in a nest of leaves or masquerading as a gall. I found an account of them in a forest of Nebraska and Eric R. Eaton a.k.a. @bugeric, gave an account of the only time he found one and that was in Ohio. That was where I got the information on the spider undoing the web at dawn. Eric is co-author of the fabulous field guide “Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America”, my favorite go-to general insect guide.
This bald cypress is the same tree that recently had the mass of fall webworms and there doesn’t seem to be any more of those around, so perhaps this spider was playing cleanup on the baldcypress branches. Something I’ll have to monitor to find out if this spider is a predator particularly interested in that species.
Another fun find in my beautiful wildlife garden.
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