Science

Spider on Snow – Lakeshores in Winter

Sun and snow warming the tree well of  this native yellow birch tree, Betula alleghaniensis, can lead to phenological responses, awakening larva and insects from winter hiding spots and ultimately draw the attention of a snowy owl.

Sun and snow warming the tree well of this native yellow birch tree, Betula alleghaniensis, can lead to phenological responses, awakening larva and insects from winter hiding spots and ultimately draw the attention of a snowy owl.

How is it that a tiny black spider can appear on top of freshly fallen white snow in the middle of the winter? To the spider it is poor timing, but if a storm didn’t displace it from its winter hiding spot, then it is a victim of its own chemical and biological reactions to a sunny day.  Small environmental changes like a brighter, warmer day can trigger winter activity in a forest or along natural lakeshores.  With no leaves on the trees, the sun permeates the understory warming up small spaces.  Just imagine the sun reflecting off the bark of a golden birch, Betula alleghaniensis, warming the little hollow low in the tree’s well to awaken the critters of this natural, fairy-like home.  The sun provides enough light and warmth to hatch insects or set a spider out wondering on a bright winter’s day.  But, this burst of energy doesn’t stop with a spider on snow. One awakened spider feeds a scrounging mouse, and soon the snowy owl has discovered where his evening meal will come from.  Phenology, or the ecological responses to slight or significant changes in the environment contribute to wildlife survival, including migration patterns, hibernation habits, and food chain dynamics. Wooded lakeshores are essential for providing habitat for terrestrial and aquatic life during all seasons.  On a hot, summer’s day, overhanging trees shade the water for trout, while casting insects from branches to be snatched up by trolling fish.  Feeding fish glimmer the water and alert the osprey where her next meal will come from. Phenology activates natural chain reactions.  And, to experience these wonders of nature by doing nothing but lounging in a lakeshore hammock, or strolling along a snowy shoreland to discover a spider on snow is one of the rewards to maintaining a healthy lakeshore. Learning how to best care for lakeshores starts with simply enjoying their natural powers and beauty. For more information on lake friendly practices, visit the Vermont Lakes and Ponds Lake Wise Program.  Also, check out the regulatory Shoreland Protection Act’s Vegetation Protection Standards by visiting the Shoreland Permit Program’s web site. Other Cool Phenology to Observe Along Lakes

  • 20150204AlderflyOn the next warm, sunny winter’s day, look for a crack in the ice to see if an alderfly, Sialis spp., hatch is occurring. If so, mice may risk their lives and travel across the open snow to feed on these aquatic insects, attracting a fox or a snowy owl to show up next.
  • Another amazing activity is witnessing a turtle swimming under ice. Yes, that’s correct. On a bright day, you may see a painted or snapping turtle roused from their benthic wintering site to take a little cruise about under the ice. 20150204IcewithTurtle