Thursday, October 4, 2018

Come see me at ABQ Zine Fest!

If you happen to be in Albuquerque this Saturday, come visit my table at the ABQ Zine Fest! Look for this banner (and me).

Friday, August 24, 2018

My Garden in New Mexico, August update

Sun, soil, water, and air.... my crops have grown!

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Black Widow

I have a black widow spider living just outside the back door of my residence in New Mexico.  Two nights ago, I checked on the spider while returning from watering my garden.  I noticed there was a second spider sharing the web—a tiny one.  A male black widow!  For the first time, I was seeing live a phenomenon that is featured in all the books about spiders.  The male black widow puts everything on the line in hopes of mating with the female, who is twice his size and inclined to eat him.  I watched their dance, with the male hovering in the web atop the female’s abdomen.  I disturbed them by getting too close while attempting a photo, and sent the female scampering back to her protected corner behind the outdoor electrical outlet, where she can hide from outsized dangers such as me.  Meanwhile, the male dropped like a stone, until being caught by his silken life line.  He climbed up the thread, to continue his quest.  All my photos of their love ritual were coming out blurry, so I gave up, and left them in peace.

The next night, I flipped on the light outside.  The male spider was dead in the web.  The circle of life.  Only time will tell if he managed to seduce the female long enough before her hunger took over.  We will see whether the female produces an egg sac.

A beetle flew into the web, perhaps drawn to the light.  The black widow spider sprung into action, trussing up the insect in silk, her rear legs working rapidly to wrap the prey.  The unfortunate beetle didn’t stand a chance.  It received a quick death, as the spider’s bite paralyzed it then liquefied its insides.  The fortunate spider consumed the nourishing innards-smoothie, and would live on, and might even make baby spiders.  There was no way not to feel sorry for the beetle; all living things want desperately to stay alive—from microbes to ourselves.  The circle of life in a beautiful, heartless world.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Colorful Jumping Spider

Jumping spiders are sometimes referred to as the big cats of the arthropod world, being predators who stalk and pounce, guided by their superb eyesight.  These smart little spiders also adapt their hunting techniques and learn from past encounters.  

This one's rainbow of color has made a good study in marker for me.  I've been working in color a bit more recently in part to build some skills and confidence, because I'm at work on an illustration project about bats, for the NPS, in color.  More about that soon!  I'm glad to find that I didn't forget everything from my painting courses at Denison University, even though most of my art in the subsequent years has been black and white.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Wasp from my Nightmares

For another gouache experiment, I turned to the devil of the sky.  Or, the creature that seemed that way to a younger me—the tarantula hawk, the largest and most powerful of the parasitoid wasps.  Other species of parasitoid wasps target cicadas, caterpillars, and ladybugs.  The tarantula hawk goes after a large spider that eats mice and small snakes.  Despite being much larger than the wasp, the spider is outgunned.  After the wasp paralyzes the tarantula with a sting, it’s larva eats the spider slowly, while it is still alive.

As a child, I loved spiders and kept a pet tarantula.  In the picture books about spiders which I read and re-read, I skipped over the part about the tarantula hawk, after reading it once and being horrified.

I suppose that the prolonged torture of a living tarantula to nurture a newborn wasp is part of nature and therefore we must accept it?  Charles Darwin saw parasitoid wasps as evidence that the universe was not created by an omnipotent and loving god.

Tarantula hawks are common in the desert where I work, and I’ll acknowledge that their blue-black iridescence can be quite pretty.  Virginia’s state insect is the eastern tiger swallowtail.  Pennsylvania’s state insect is the firefly.  New Mexico’s state insect is the tarantula hawk.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Tarantula made the world?!

Who made the world?  Most pious midwesterners I know do not attribute it to a spider, but the Apache people are less constrained in their visions. 

From an Apache Legend:

"Tarantula spun a black cord and, attaching it to the ball,crawled away fast to the east, pulling on the cord with all his strength. Tarantula repeated with a blue cord to the south, a yellow cord to the west, and a white cord to the north. With mighty pulls in each direction, the brown ball stretched to immeasurable size--it became the earth! No hills, mountains, or rivers were visible; only smooth, treeless, brown plains appeared."


I used this as my inspiration while getting to know a new set of gouache paints.

Tarantulas are content to sit quietly in their burrows most of the time.  So a world made by tarantula seems like a peaceful place to me.  Alas, frenzy has invaded!