Northland Nature: Large dock spiders can be seen on land and near water
According to the calendar, the halfway mark between the summer solstice in June and the autumnal equinox in September is the first week of August. Sunrise is now at 5:50 a.m. as compared to the summer solstice time of 5:15 a.m. and Sol sets at 8:40 p.m., much earlier that the 9:07 p.m. in late June. The daylight time of about 14 hours has shortened from the nearly 16 hours earlier. Though the days can still be quite hot, the shorter light will impact the natural happenings. Slowly the season is moving on towards autumn and this month is full of nature observations. I like to call it awesome August.
Songbird families are now going through a dispersal phase as the young travel with the adults, feeding and growing in preparation for the south flights. Within a month and a half, many will be absent from here, on their migration. Warbler species blend together in "waves" as they move through the woods. And at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, the raptor flights are going overhead by mid-month. With these activities in the lives of birds, they are no longer singing. August days can be strangely silent, devoid of bird songs. This void is partially filled by insects as crickets, grasshoppers, katydids and cicadas all add their noises to the scene. Not as abundant as they were in July, local Lepidoptera of butterflies and moths are still active. We see them each day. But there is much more in this awesome month.
Being prolific in the region, raspberries, blueberries, juneberries, pin cherries and later choke cherries can all be found ripe. And for those of us a bit to the south, we can also collect and devour the magnificent blackberries. This is a good time for mushroom numbers and variety. Though the woods are filled with new kinds seen with each walk, we do not even need to leave our yards to find these strange growths. They often seem to pop up overnight. Along the roadsides, the summer wild flowers that demanded our attention during much of July — milkweeds, evening primroses, bergamots, along with tansies, thistles, clovers, sweet clovers and trefoils — are still flowering, but beginning to show signs of waning. This may be best noted in the fireweed as the blossoms continue to climb up the stalk as the season progresses. A month ago, I observed the first bloom low on the flowering growth. Now the florets are near the top. Late summer wildflowers are quick to move in and many kinds of sunflowers, goldenrods and asters are now in bloom. They will be our companions as we wander through this month. While many of the roadside plants are alien, these three kinds are mostly native.
It seems like every year, someone will report or ask about this huge spider seen on their dock. With eight long legs that surround a thick body, they do appear quite big. Though there are some large spiders in the Northland, we tend to exaggerate and see them as beyond their real size. Bodies are about one inch long, but leg-span may be five inches; yes, impressive. A few species of this spider (Dolomedes) live here. Most are gray-brown, some striped, some with other lives and markings. They usually live near water and can run over the surface when spreading their legs. Though harmless to us, they feed on aquatic life, mostly insects. (Some have been known to catch small minnows and are called fishing spiders.) It is insects on our docks or cabins that bring them to these places.
They also come on land to lay eggs. Egg sacs are placed in folded leaves of various summer plants such as raspberry, milkweed or goldenrods. Here mother will sit and guard the eggs and the hatched young spiderlings. For this reason, this group of spiders is frequently labeled as "nursery-web spiders." (They do not make webs for catching prey.) Often confused with wolf spiders, these dock spiders differ in many ways such as not as active as the wolf spiders. They are an interesting spider to see and they invite us to observe many more kinds of spiders, with or without webs, as we go through this awesome month of August.