During our two recent visits to the Briones bullfrog ponds, and on another trip up to the Serpentine Prairie, we met and studied many tiny creatures. We went up to the Serpentine Prairie to release about fifty baby praying mantises (Mantis religiosa) born in a jar on my desk that day. While we were up there we swept the tall grass with nets and caught many curious spiders. The most unusual was a “trash line orb weaver,” Cyclosa turbinata, with spiny bumps on her abdomen. She was not at all afraid to tackle prey bigger than herself, like a fly. At the frog ponds we saw hundreds of pale, new damselflies emerging from their aquatic nymphs, which simply crawled atop the floating water plants. We also caught several fence lizards, Sceloporus occidenatalis (one of them actually hid in my pants pocket and I found it later in the day!) and many frogs. Under a rock by the pond I found an enormous Jerusalem cricket, Stenopelmatus fuscus, which, though it looks terrifying, is a harmless vegetarian.

On some of the many fragile, bright orange poppies shivering in the breeze we spotted pale, ghostly crab spiders, waiting patiently for their prey. Unlike orb weavers, the crab spiders, which don’t build webs, have very good vision, and when we got near a flower they would scamper to the back side of the petals to hide.

A newly hatched nymph of Mantis religiosa.

A newly hatched nymph of Mantis religiosa.

The tiny nymph of a katydid we caught in our sweep net.

The tiny nymph of a katydid we caught in our sweep net.

Cyclosa turbinata is not afraid to tackle prey bigger than itself!

Cyclosa turbinata is not afraid to tackle prey bigger than itself!

One of the bullfrogs we captured.

One of the bullfrogs we captured.

Dozens of frail, pale new damselflies dried their wings on the raft of duckweed atop the water.

Dozens of frail, pale new damselflies dried their wings on the raft of duckweed atop the water.

A big Jerusalem cricket.

A big Jerusalem cricket.

Though the cricket, called a Potato Bug by some, looks scary, it is a harmless vegetarian.

Though the cricket, called a Potato Bug by some, looks scary, it is a harmless vegetarian.

Jerusalem crickets use the spurs on their legs to dig tunnels underground.

Jerusalem crickets use the spurs on their legs to dig tunnels underground.

Stenopelmatus spurs side Stenopelmatus spurs front Stenopelmatus stare Stenopelmatus stare 2

A western fence lizard.

A western fence lizard.

The fence lizard is sometimes called a "blue belly" for obvious reasons.

The fence lizard is sometimes called a “blue belly” for obvious reasons.

A close up of the fence lizard's front foot.

A close up of the fence lizard’s front foot.

The scales on its back are "keeled."

The scales on its back are “keeled.”

The spiders legs resemble the filaments inside the flower.

The spider’s legs resemble the filaments inside the flower.

A crab spider perched on a poppy petal.

A crab spider perched on a poppy petal.

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