I recently got back from another fun weekend of BioBlitzing – this time in the Ojibway Prairie Complex (OPC). The OPC is the equivalent of a gold mine for discovering species that are new to science or Canada. At last year’s BioBlitz, BIO’s team of arachnologists found an astounding total of seven new species to Canada. This comes as even more of a surprise when considering that the OPC, comprised of five separate areas, totals only a meagre 834 acres. As the name implies, the OPC is predominated by a prairie biome. This is pretty unusual considering that most of the land mass in southern Ontario is forest. Most of the area has poorly drained, yellowish sandy soil over a significantly sized slice of clay. This allows the soil to be very saturated with water in spring but much drier in middle of the summer. This annual flux tends to favor grasses and wildflowers over trees which need a relatively stable environment to prosper. Due to this, the OPC is effectively maintained as a prairie and continues to provide great habitat for a variety of animals such as insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals.
Before this summer, I had never even heard of a BioBlitz let alone volunteer in one. If you are in the same boat as I was, let me give you a quick overview. A BioBlitz is an event that involves taxonomic experts and the general public in a number of ways. Volunteers from both the professional and unprofessional domains can volunteer as public programmers, guided BioBlitz leaders, or intensive surveyors. Most of BIO’s employees volunteer as intensive surveyors. Their main goal is to identify, and if necessary collect, as many different species as possible within a certain time period. When I volunteer in BioBlitzes, I focus solely on spiders. But the public can volunteer in any taxon that interests them. One of the best things about volunteering in a BioBlitz is you get to rub shoulders with some incredibly knowledgeable biologists. I’ve already learned so much about spiders and other taxa from BioBlitzes alone. Depending on what taxon interests you, the identification methods used can be quite different.
For example, experienced birders can usually identify species based on appearance and call, meaning that no birds actually need to be captured. Unfortunately, identifying spiders isn’t so easy and usually hundreds and hundreds of spiders must be collected for later identification under a microscope. So while other groups get to finish early, the spider team has to keep working until the early morning. At the BioBlitz in the OPC, the spider team was sorting and identifying until 4:00am! The identification period may take up to several months but once all the data has come in, every recorded species is put into a master list for the entire area; essentially giving us an inventory of what lives in that ecosystem!
To finish off, let me give you a case of the heebie-jeebies with one mean looking spider. I present to you, the Black purse-web Spider (Sphodros niger). This rare spider is about the size of a toonie and has very interesting chelicerae (i.e. fangs). The chelicerae of most spiders open and close like the pincers of ants. But the chelicerae of primitive purse-web spiders fall directly down on their prey. Think of a hammer coming down on a nail and that’s a pretty good metaphor for purse-web spiders biting their prey. If you’re an arachnophobe, you need not fear. These spiders prefer to hang out in cozy retreats near the bases of trees. The males only wander out into the forest when it’s time to mate and they need to find a female.
Before I sign off, here’s a quick joke. How do spiders communicate? Through the World Wide Web.
Thanks for reading,