Sunday, January 30, 2011

a handful of spiders: the slow process of evicting salamanders...

So, here's WHY we were out there today:

California tiger salamanders: totally charming creatures. Awesome photo courtesy of John Cleckler, of the USGS.

We're trying to trap out all the salamanders at several future project sites. Since they infrequently respond to letters sent by mail, for their own good, we must evict them.

First, you build a fence to exclude wildlife from the area, then you set a bunch (in this case) of bucket traps into the ground (with fancy custom lids, etc.), to catch the salamanders that are IN the fenced in area so you can get them out.

Mind you there's all sorts of USFWS and CDFG stuff we deal with and adhere to since we're, you know, professionals (aHEM! =) ), but I gloss over that stuff so you don't doze off.

In other words, don't try this at home.

Anyhow, salamanders don't just run around every day.

They wait.

And wait.

And wait.

For months.

And then, when it's good and rainy and drippy and (to some humans) gross, THEN they think, "Ah! This is a BEAUtiful day for a stroll. Think I'll get out and stretch my legs."

Then, we hope, the ones within the project area cruise around, bonk into the peripheral fence, travel along said fence to get around it, then PLONK! Fall into our bucket and wait, adorable permanent smile intact, for us to find and release them.

Release them, that is, on the OTHER side of the wildlife fence, so they will no longer be in harm's way.

The unglamorous reality of such work is you spend 99.9% of your time with either no species in the bucket, or with "non-target" (in this case, anything BUT the California tiger salamander) species in the bucket, most of which you then rescue (if alive) or remove (if dead).

So at one point today, I was kneeling down (in the mud and rain) to rescue several centipedes from the one of the buckets. I semi-blindly scooped them up, and withdrawing my hand from said bucket, I find 2 centipedes in my hands and about 5 spiders on my hands. =)

I calmly flung them over the fence, just like every other time I've flung invertebrates today, but it was at that moment that I was reminded that this is not a job for everyone.

Arachnophobia is very common.

According to a few papers which cite a 1992 G.C.L. Davey paper on the topic, as many as 55% of females and 18% of males in Western society "experience arachnophobia."

Since it costs $34 to read the original paper, I'm going to just put that out there, and hope it's at least close.

ANYhow, there were MANY different species of spiders partying down in those buckets today. I dare say they benefit from being at the bottom of a pitfall trap.

I expect many an innocent, unwary bug has tripped and fallen into one those buckets of late, landing in an invertebrate den of wolves, never to be heard from again.

And soon tiny milk cartons will be circulated, with grainy bug portraits: "Johnny Jumper, last seen on a rainy day in January, 2011, on his way to study hall with his cousin Julie." =(

Aversions to other creepy crawlies are also common.

Among the inverts I've handled today:
3 types of worms
slugs (found out later don't need to rescue them, the CAN crawl up a bucket)
pill bugs
big fat red millipedes (the kind that squirt a cyanide compound when disturbed, and one pair of gloves I wore today got nuked, so I tossed those before snacking, I can tell you)
beetles of all sorts
Jerusalem crickets
many many many centipedes
other things I couldn't identify or remember, but nevertheless flung.

Some folks don't like mice and other rodents.

We caught (and processed) several meadow voles and gophers.

Voles are SO cute. Gophers are also pretty freakin' cute, but MUCH much bigger. (My, what big teeth you have!)

Some people don't like getting dirty.

Hm, maybe I will take a photograph of my "outer gear" in all it's muddy glory. VERY dirty today. Totally wrecked boss's car re: mud inside and out. ew.

They are SO used to it, it's very sweet. They cheerfully assuage my guilt, saying "You'd be surprised how well mud cleans up."

Yeah, so sliding around in the mud today, in the rain, despite wearing leather hiking boots that are all about traction.

At a few points I grappled on all fours to keep a grip on the hillside. Works really well, I must say.

Heels would NOT have worked. =)

So, today I thanked my lucky stars I was a tomboy when I was a kid. Otherwise, there's no way I'd do that in the rain on a Sunday. No matter how much they paid me.

And it wouldn't have been nearly as fun. =)


P.S. DEFINITELY bringing camera tomorrow, as hoping rain will taper off, so we'll see. And after that I'm headed back home, so will let you know what happens then.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds like quite a day! I love salamanders, although I've only ever seen them in zoos in Europe. (Not counting axolotls. Which I suppose is unfair to them.)


Cool people write inside rectangles....