Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city is hip and urban – and you can, too.

Category: Biophilia (page 3 of 3)

Charlotte has a web in my kitchen!

In my house, I have a rule: All rooms can have a resident spider, but only one per room.

It also depends on what kind of spider. A daddy long legs in the bedroom is OK, but my kitchen spider – a fierce and fast little predator – I’d move it elsewhere. Outdoors if the weather is ok, but in winter, to the garage or the cold cellar.

You may notice a little spider in the photo between the mouse figurine and the medication bottle. With its previous moult exoskeleton hanging above. If you really look, you’ll see that there is greater clarity in a circle around the spider. This is Charlotte’s cave.

Charlotte has been a very subdued presence on the window sill, hanging out at the mouth of her cave but retreating whenever I startle her. As she has been such an effective hunter there, I decided not to interfere — there’s no need.

But since I had to wreck her extended web today by taking away the medication bottle (using a pair of chopsticks), I removed her exoskeleton and her discarded prey. I was really quite surprised how small she started out when she moved in — she was a very tiny spider.

Now when she comes out of her cave, she’s a bold thing with a leg span greater than a 25¢ piece. Since the destruction of the cave, she hides behind the mouse figurine.

Last week, after more than a week without prey coming to her web wound around the frame of the window and various doodads not pictured above, she got off the window sill and wrapped a new web around the — I kid you not — handle of the kitchen faucet.

The first morning I just removed the web, but on the second morning, I felt a little sorry for her because the energy expenditure to do that work must mean she was hungry. I left the web intact, and just handled the faucet when I needed to use it. The web sagged with the direction the handle was throttled. Eventually, the web tore off.

I’m sure she’ll build a new web configuration overnight. If it starts expanding again, I might have to relocate her, with care, to the outside or to my garage. I have guests coming on the weekend and I won’t be around to supervise — I don’t want to freak them out too much. A sticky note with her name on it is insufficient information to say “this spider is ok by me.”

An update: Charlotte moved her web over to the left corner of the window, which is a great spot for her.  

The orb-weaver spider

spider and prey in web
Look at the detail in the web!

We have this spider in Quebec. It’s perhaps all over the world. It weaves a web between plants in meadows. Because it is so energetically costly to weave a web, the spider creates a zig-zag pattern across with silk that is coated with proteins that show up in UV light (or else the zig-zag renders the view more obvious), so that birds don’t fly through in pursuit of insects. This idea is now being applied to glass, to reduce bird impacts. Read about it on the BBC website.

And now, a jumping spider!

Checking out the links on the side of Jim McCormack’s  blog, “Jumping spider!” jumped right out at me. I would write his blog if I had his unique set of characteristics, and he always matches the enthusiasm nature calls for. “Cute” is definitely the word I apply to jumping spiders, and I’m glad to see someone in the comments rethinking her relationship to spiders. It comes with a great macro picture of a little guy in full-on “you lookin at me?” mode.

Check out this great video of a jumping spider.

Yesterday (no macro lens or better-than-iPhone camera available) I had a wee Zebra spider, black and white striped, this guy, hanging out on the floor by my bag while I was working at my desk. An hour or so later, I turn around, and there he/she still is.

Now, these spiders are everywhere, perfectly harmless, and at times perfectly helpless. It just seemed terribly out of place sitting by my shoe, and a little listless when I went to pick it up. It didn’t want to climb onto my finger despite making it a finger-jail, but it willingly got onto a scrap of paper I offered. So I took it to the bathroom where the window was open, and let it go.

It explored the sill for a while, but then decided the great outdoors was really where it wanted to be. So my one good deed was done for the day. (I try not to tattle/brag about these acts, but I keep on doing it. Bragging negates valour, dontcha think?)

So I took it to the bathroom where the window was open, and let it go. It explored the sill for a while, but then decided the great outdoors was really where it wanted to be. So my one good deed was done for the day. (I try not to tattle/brag about these acts, but I keep on doing it. Bragging negates valour.)

Soil structure improvement – assisted by rodents

Dirt is a living expanse, it’s not supposed to be sterile. Over the years, the soil underneath my back deck has been a home to ground-dwelling bees, a rat or two, and a skunk. I don’t mind the wildlife, especially the skunk, who is a good neighbour (aside from eating my water lilies).

This week, I reconfigured the deck as I was changing the set up of this year’s garden. As I lifted various parts of the deck, I noticed the soil was quite moist and rich, sheltered from the heat. It had been tunnelled, turned, and fertilized by all the species of animals I know and don’t know. (Tip for dealing with the skunk’s latrine: throw down some dolomite lime).

I took a course at McGill in Organic Soil Fertilization late last year. I learned that my yard’s soil type is loamy clay (with a lot of rocks in it – I actually look forward to digging them out and collecting them on the surface, if they’re bigger than a quail egg).

I also learned that soil microfauna, like isopod “pill bugs,” centipedes, and worms, are essential for soil fertility. They are our little decomposer friends, grazing on bacteria, fungus, carbon sources, and occasionally on each other. Soil macrofauna, like rodents, amphibians, and others who burrow to make nests and passageways, are soil engineers. They are particularly responsible for distribution of seeds and nutrients.

I’ve since found a chapter, published in two different books on ecological management of rodents as pests (and not as pets as we know them over at Mooshika). The chapter Rodent-Ecosystem Relationships discusses the positive aspects of rodents in ecosystems. Considering how we belabour the economic damage they do to crops and the public health issue of plague (which isn’t that relevant over the past 100 years), this perspective is long overdue. Let’s hope it’ll take about a quarter as long to put those issues into their proper perspective.

I’d like to hope that we could be free of scapegoating rats and mice or any other creature as being  pests, but really, we must try to see them as they actually are. The above book chapter is a welcome addition to the literature. It’s by Dr. Chris Dickman, an Australian desert ecologist, of whom you can see on ABC Television here: http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/3251977.htm

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Newer posts

Rewilding is about converting your lawn to groundcover (bit by bit!) to native species. This fosters biodiversity. It also creates habitat for urban wildlife. Finally, you'll only trim it 2-3 times per season rather than every 7-10 days!

The green driveway gallery shows you how you can DIY a driveway conversation using my first model as an example. There are other ways to do it, and things I learned in the process and afterward. Please call me at 514-815-5163 for my landscaping service, or to discuss upgrading your driveway.

The work season is April 1st through June 30th, but I install bird strike prevention (to stop birds from crashing into windows and glass balconies) whenever the temperature is above 5ºC. Call the number above or email. It's important to do this earlier rather than later,  in time for bird migrations in late April to end of May, and late August to mid-October.


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