Thursday, November 21, 2013

Giant Florida Spider

While in Florida last week, I took a walk through the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. It is an example of what southeast Florida looked like before the drastic re-shaping of the 20th Century. I thought it was surprisingly empty of wildlife. A heron and some baby raccoons were all I came across until I was heading out of the park. 

As I walked between trees, I looked up and almost screamed. A whole row of these beauties were overhead. They are as big as my hand. I'm not kidding.

Golden Banana spiders Nephila clavipes are non-aggresive, as are most spiders. They are great bug catchers as you can see in the web.

While researching this spider I came across another spider, also called a banana spider. That South American spider has been found on supermarket bananas. That spider is aggressive and its venom is quite toxic.  The Scaredy Cat Naturalist will be carefully perusing all bananas before they go in the grocery cart.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

NOT a Mushroom Hunter

It's mushroom time in the Pacific Northwest. Most any time is mushroom time here but more so in the Fall. This is an excellent year for fungi in the Messy Garden. We are seeing new species. The most spectacular and only easily identifiable species is Amanita muscaria var. flavivolvata.

Amanita muscaria Toxic and Hallucinogenic

You'd think artists made this one up as a necessary element for fairy tale illustrations. Bright red with little chunks of white, they start out as domes, gradually opening out to a flat disk. They are toxic and hallucinogenic. Something, maybe the squirrels, takes bites out of them. Maybe they are taking little trips.

The mushrooms are a host for some fly species, which I find ironic as the common name is fly agaric, alluding to their traditional use as an insecticide.

The Messy Garden has many other species, including a least one that is edible. Several years ago a car stopped in front of the house and a middle-aged couple came to the door. In eastern European accents they asked if we were going to pick the mushrooms in our front yard. I'm sure we looked horrified when we said no. They asked if they could pick them; they used to pick them in Russia under birch trees.

We said go ahead. I asked the woman what the mushrooms were called; she gave their Russian name. When I asked what that meant, she said,"Mushrooms that grow under birch trees."

They must have known their mushrooms because each Fall they came back. Sometimes we saw them, sometimes not. They didn't knock, just stopped and picked the yard clean.

Nevertheless, I won't be cooking up a mess of yard mushrooms any time soon. The Amanita also grow under birch trees and not all of them are bright red.

Even if you told me you were an expert at mushroom identification and ate them in front of me, I still wouldn't try them. Well, maybe if you came back a week later, hale and hearty. I'm not the Sacredy Cat Naturalist for nothing.