The dogs belong to John Howard, a familiar name to regular readers of this blog and students of the natural sciences statewide and beyond. John lives in Adams County, smack in the middle of some of the richest biodiversity east of the Mississippi River. There is nowhere in this great state that I'd rather go, partly because the prospects of incredible new finds, whether they be plant or animal, always loom large. And on this trip, we scored big.
David served as my counselor/therapist when I was trying to decide whether to acquire Canon's remarkable (and costly) MP-E 65 macro lens. It's a very niche lens, but if you're into macro and shoot Canon, it'll eventually be a must-have piece of hardware. Dave already had one, and after a lengthy talk with him I pulled the trigger and got one. We're holding our macro rigs in this shot, and made good use of them on this day. Laura, by the way, is holding a spectacular female Hercules Beetle, Dynastes tityus.
We'll stick the borescope in anything that looks interesting, but in this prairie we had a specific target in mind. Missouri Wolf Spiders, Geolycosa missouriensis.These big spiders create round burrows in the ground, and hole up in the depths during the day. At night, they come to the entrance and dash out to kill any unfortunate victim that bumbles too close. Most of the burrows that we inspected had a spider in residence, and it is really cool to see them come into view as the camera snakes its way into the inky depths of the burrow.
Yes! We knew we weren't looking at a Missouri Wolf Spider; this thing was significantly larger and quite grayish. Laura popped off many photos and a lot of video of the animal as it glared at the camera. By now, we were relatively certain that we had made an exceptional find.
We had rediscovered the Carolina Wolf Spider, Hogna carolinensis, which had not been seen in Ohio for over 60 years. At one time, going back nearly a century, this was considered a common wolf spider in Ohio. Spider expert Richard Bradley (CLICK HERE to see his excellent new book) believes that it could not cope with intensive agriculture and other habitat alterations, and thus disappeared from much of its former range.
We called Richard Bradley that night, and quickly sent him photos for confirmation. We're grateful for his comments about this species, and for confirming the identification. Our find was made at the end of the day, and thus we ran out of daylight before we could scour the prairie for additional spider burrows. There must be others, and you can believe searches will be organized before long.
Chance favors the prepared mind, and even though rediscovering this spider was not even on our minds, all of the necessary ingredients were present. Rich had educated us all in year's past about the Carolina Wolf Spider, and what its burrows looked like. John and I had sought it before in places that we thought looked good, but obviously with no luck. However, as soon as we saw the burrow we thought about this spider. Without the Hughes' borescope, it wouldn't have been possible to confirm the spider without a serious intrusion on the animal that involved shovels, and we wouldn't have wanted to do that.
Many of you who read this - if you made it this far! - will wonder why it isn't a GOOD thing that this spider went missing. To me it is fantastic to know that the largest wolf spider in North America lives on in Ohio. It is a high-end predator and such animals often serve as excellent early warning systems when things go awry with the environment. This Carolina Wolf Spider, and I suspect any others that we discover, live in some of the rarest and most interesting habitats in the Midwest. Within feet of the spider's burrow were several state-listed rare plants, and the general area is loaded with rare species. The spider is one of them, and an integral part of the relict prairie in which it occurs. I'm very glad that this site is owned and protected as a preserve by the Cincinnati Museum and The Nature Conservancy. Most of our prairies were not protected, and that's why many cool animals such as the Carolina Wolf Spider have become critically endangered in Ohio, along with a raft of plants.
Video by David and Laura Hughes
Click on the video to see actual footage shot through the borescope before we teased the spider out. Ignore our excited chatter. We were already discussing how to get our evidence to Rich for confirmation.