A fishing spider on a house in Southwest Harbor. PHOTO COURTESY OF DEB KRYSAK

Nature: There are always new things to learn

A fishing spider? That was a new one for me! And it’s been a fascinating week learning about them.

A friend in Southwest Harbor sent me a photo she took of a very large, spiderlike creature on the shingles of her house. At first, we could only see six legs. On a closer examination, we discovered it had eight legs, making it an arachnid, or spider. The two front legs on either side were very close together. It seemed to be a fishing spider.

I sent the photograph to several consulting experts I have as friends, and it seemed that we do indeed have a fishing spider. Sometimes they are called dock spiders, raft spiders or wharf spiders. They can also get to be very large – even to the size of the palm of your hand, which I thought was impressive!

They are sometimes found in the woods, and they live about two years. They don’t make good pets, for they are very active. These spiders can bite but are not considered dangerous unless you are allergic to their venom, as some people are allergic to bee stings. They can run on water and dive under water in search of fish and other prey. I’d like to see that! If you are around the water, watch for them, but I would not advise picking one up in your bare hands. Take a photo instead and don’t kill the spider.

A tiny bird caught my attention in an apple tree near my porch. All I could see was that it was very small, but not acting like a hummingbird. Then I saw a flash of blue, a yellow throat and two white wing bars. It turned out to be a parula warbler gleaning insects off the lush foliage in an old apple tree.

This beautiful bird’s song is a buzzy trill and not too hard to recognize once you know which bird is making it. I don’t have a bird song app, but I’ve been with people who do, and I think it’s a very helpful tool in identifying bird calls and for learning to recognize them when you’re out and about.

Parula warblers like to use the usnea moss so abundant in our Maine woods for their nests. Sometimes they need to make slight alterations to the ‘old man’s beard,’ as this moss is sometimes called. The bird just fastens the bottom on the base of a moss clump to form a nest landing spot and there they have it. On the other hand, some parulas look to creative solutions to build themselves a fancy nest from the moss. The parula is apt to be quite tame and not as busy or as elusive as other warblers can be. Look this one up in your bird book.


I noticed something about a hellgrammite in this paper recently and thought I might write about this strange but interesting creature that lives here. It actually is the larva stage of the dobsonfly and it looks very fierce. Actually, as both the larva and as an adult, it is a fearsome-looking creature. The dobsonfly adult is probably one you have seen as it flies around a light at night. It has four gauzy wings with a wingspread of about 4 inches. It definitely attracts your attention!

The male grabs the female of his choice with hornlike jaws. Although the female has a shorter jaw, she has a sharper bite. Contrary to what the old music classic says, love is not always “a many splendored thing.”


The female lays her eggs on the pebbles and rocks in the water in a big, white, chalky mass about 1 inch across. There are probably about 2,000 eggs inside the mass. After the eggs hatch into larvae, they fall in the water and live there for about three years. These larvae are called hellgrammites. They have long, brownish hair-covered bodies. In late spring, they leave the water and become short-lived dobsonflies. Any time you are near a woodland stream, notice the many forms of life living there. Always be on the cautious side, however, if you handle anything with bare hands. Take lots of pictures and look up what you saw when you get home.

On any walk along the rocky shoreline of Mount Desert Island, you will surely find seaside plantain. It looks quite similar to the plantain on your lawn that may be annoying to you. However, seaside plantain is really quite beautiful with tufts growing where minute amounts of soil have accumulated in between the rocks and along the shore in the spray zone. This hardy plant tolerates the impact of salt, wind and surf and grows close to the sea level of the highest tide. Other neighbors in the environment are goose tongues, seaside goldenrod and Xanthoria parietina, that orange-yellow lichen found on rocks and boulders.

Seaside plantain’s tiny, greenish-white flowers are inconspicuous growing on tight, slender heads atop a leafless stem. The narrow leaves, often called goose tongues, are basal and when young can be eaten in a salad or as a cooked green. The seeds are eaten to a slight extent by many birds. Rabbits are very fond of the leaves.

Go out and about as much as you can now!

Send any wildlife observations or questions to [email protected]


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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