Death to the Invader

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

April 10, 2012

It is the quintessential Dorothy Gale moment: “There’s no place like home.” How often does it happen that we travel afar for new adventures and new experiences only to discover that we have left the best things in life at our very front door?

The Brown Marmorated Stinkbug  (Halyomorpha halys) is hardly one of the best things in life. It is an invasive species from Asia that has become a nuisance to homeowners and fruit growers alike.[1] They damage crops, making fruit unpalatable and unmarketable, they like to spend the winters (in very large numbers) in houses, and they actually do—really—stink. They also like to defecate on freshly painted surfaces.[2] They look a lot like several native stinkbugs, but they can be distinguished by the light bands across the antennas. They also have creepy red eyes.[3]

Brown Marmorated Stinkbug  (Halyomorpha halys)

Brown Marmorated Stinkbug--note the light bands on the antennae.

Brown Marmorated Stinkbug  (Halyomorpha halys)

Brown Marmorated Stinkbug. Creepy red eyes.

Now a lot of people don’t like these stinkbugs; in fact, many people have an aversion to all stinkbugs, stripes on the antennae, Asian or otherwise. Often, these same folks don’t like spiders. Therein lies a choice.

I recently spent a blustery April day searching far and wide for good photographic subjects. I had come up empty until I came home to find, literally at my front door (at least on the brick wall right beside my front door), a scenario that could qualify for those in the know as one of the best things in life: a Brown Marmorated Stinkbug in the embrace of death.

Death, in this case was a hairy little spider that had Mr. Stinkbug by the butt.[4] I think, at first, the spider had the bug by just a wing tip. The bug was very actively trying to get away. Eventually the spider worked its way up to juicier parts, and that quelled the stinkbug fairly quickly.

Jumping Spider with Brown Marmorated Stinkbug

Jumping Spider with Brown Marmorated Stinkbug

I identified the stinkbug easily enough, but what about the spider?

I thought this would be an easy identification, a hairy little spider with an orange dot that hunted by day. I was wrong.

The eyes and the habits said Jumping Spider (Salticidae), and I immediately thought of the genus Phidippus, a common flavor of jumping spider. So my first stop was the wonderful website BugGuide—which also covers spiders—but nothing quite matched.

Jumping Spider eyes

Jumping Spiders have a unique eye arrangement.

I went back and cropped and enlarged several of my photos to see if I was missing something, and I was. On one of the worst photos in the series there was a flash of iridescent green.

Iridescent green chelicera, Phidippus spp.

The clue: an iridescent green chelicera.

Gotcha.

Phidippus it was. The members of the genus Phidippus are renowned for having iridescent green chelicerae (jaws, basically).[5] The most common is the Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax). I know that P. audax is famously variable in its patterns, but I couldn’t find anything with just a single orange dot on the abdomen. So crop and enlarge again: and and there it was, the rest of the pattern hiding under all that hairiness.

Phidippus audax abdomen

Bold Jumping Spider, enlargement of abdomen.

So, I’m calling this Phidippus audax, the Bold Jumping Spider.[6]

What’s the choice?

Well, I understand that a lot of people are afraid of spiders, and we do have a couple that are pretty toxic, but the Jumping Spiders are not toxic at all. According to Dr. Arthur Huntley:  “The bite is usually asymptomatic to slightly painful and subsequently results in a local reaction such as an erythematous papule [red bump] or a small urticarial wheal [itchy red bump].”[7]

That said, the same article states that jumping spiders “are the most common biting spider in the United States.” This is an interesting bit of information, and it is repeated verbatim in several places on the net. However, I have never found an original source.[8]

So the choice is yours,  the possibility of an occasional itchy red bump, or stink bugs.

Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax)

Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax)

As for me, well, I like spiders.

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  1. Allentown, Pennsylvania has the honor of the first record of the Brown Marmorated Stinkbug in September of 1998. In fairness, scientists don’t think the bugs started out in Allentown. Furthermore, Allentown has several other claims to fame. During the Revolution, the colonists hid the Liberty Bell there while the British were entertaining themselves in Philadelphia. They have several minor league sports teams, to include the inelegantly named Lehigh Valley IronPigs (baseball) and the Pennsylvania Stoners (soccer; nope, I am not making that up). Allentown also boasts Lee Iacocca as a native son, and the lovely Michaela Conlin as a native daughter.  For those who don’t know, Iacocca was an auto industry legend responsible for the turnaround of Chrysler after the bailout—in 1979. Michaela Conlin plays the delightful Angela Montenegro character on the TV show Bones. []
  2. Personal experience []
  3. Insects have big compound eyes and little simple eyes. There is a very good reference here, if you want to know the difference: http://www.earthlife.net/insects/anat-head.html Accessed 9 April 2012. []
  4. Actually, it could have been Ms. Stinkbug; I do not know how to tell them apart. []
  5. Apparently, Phidippus has dichromic vision, green and ultraviolet. The green sensitivity probably explains the flashy green mouthparts—which we can assume are sexy for Jumping Spiders. []
  6. There is every possibility that I could be wrong. I often am. If any arachnologists out there want to contact me and tell me I bonked this ID, please feel free to do so. []
  7. Arthur Huntley, MD. Jumping to Unfortunate Conclusions: Phidippus audax, the most common cause of spider bites. Dermatology Online Journal, 3(2): 5. Available online at http://dermatology.cdlib.org/DOJvol3num2/centerfold/phidippus.html Accessed 9 April 2012. Comments in brackets are mine. []
  8. Ibid. The page cites Spiders http://www.nitehawk.dk/CarlsenRanch/newsl/animal/spiders.htm, but that link did not work. []

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One Response

  1. Dennis Murphy said:

    Great post. As for me, I say, go jumping spiders!

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