As I sit here listening to the rain fall on our metal roof this early October day I think of climate change. Today has reminded me a lot of the winter days I grew up with in Washington. Rain, fog, temperatures in mid to upper 30’s and an overcast grayness that weighs on your spirit after a while. I really do like this weather, but it’s been nearly a week since we’ve had clear skies and I’m hoping we get some more before it snows so I can find bugs without the rain. It would only have to drop a few degrees for us to be blanketed in snow. Normally this time of year we are. There have been a few years that it has not snowed significantly till Halloween or later, but even in those years we would most often have frozen up already. It seems like each year spring comes earlier and winter later and the months in between are warmer both winter and summer.
Today at lunch I put on my rubber boots, rain pants and rain jacket and headed back down to the Tanana lakes recreation area. Yesterday I took a picture of a spider that has yet to be identified on the Spiders of Alaska facebook page. This is significant because normally someone will have any posts identified in minutes or hours. And it is not for lack of trying. There are a couple very knowledgeable individuals in the group and as of this afternoon they said they were still stumped. Alaska is a big state and it is conceivable that it could be something no one has seen before. More likely it is just something very few have seen before. The pictures I took yesterday of it were fairly clear but could have been better. Today I went back to see if I might be able to find it again. The chances were slim, but spiders are fairly territorial.
I did find the log where I’d photographed it yesterday, but no luck today. Instead I found a beetle. Specifically it is an Alaskan Darkling beetle Upis ceramboides. The beetle produces a sugar based antifreeze called xylomannan that works to prevent ice from forming in it’s cells. This adaptation allows it to survive temperatures as low as -76 F (Walters jr. et al., 2009). It was not -76 F today, but it was cold enough that the beetle was moving slowly which did allow me to get some good photos.
In addition to the beetle I also found two types of spider. Neither was the one from yesterday, but I was still excited to find them. On a day like today and this late in the fall I feel lucky to find them at all. I was without my camera for August and much of September and I missed out on photographing bugs. I did not get my replacement camera till well into September and thought I’d missed the window, but thanks to climate change I’ve continued to have opportunities.
I did look carefully for the spider from yesterday and will return again until either the snow falls, I find it, or someone on the spider page identifies it. Of course I’ll also be looking for other insects, but I’d really like to find that spider again.
Walters, K.R., Serianni, A.S., Sformo, T.et al. (2009) A non-protein thermal hysteresis-producing xylomannan antifreeze in the freeze-tolerant Alaskan beetle Upis ceramboides. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106,20210–20215.