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Black widows, wasps, and cactuses near San Nicolás

Saturday, January 28, 2006 | 7 comments

Originally we wanted to go to El Limón Totalco today, but because we both got up late, we would arrive too late, so I thought up a new destination more nearby. When we visited Otates last year, we passed through a town that had attractive surroundings. But I couldn't come up with the name.

A wasp nest
A wasp nest

We took a bus to Plaza Crystal, and when we got off someone asked us if we were interested in a taxi. Taking a taxi is a bit more expensive compared to the bus, but because the price is shared between several people, it's not that much more expensive. The taxi driver named the towns, and I recognized the name of the town I wanted to go: San Nicolás. The rate was 15 pesos a person, so we agreed. We had to share the font seat, since there were three people in the back. So, not as comfortable as the bus, but probably faster.

Close up of a wasp nest
Close up of a wasp nest

After a trip of about 20 minutes we arrived at the edge of San Nicolás. Esme said she wanted to follow the road in the direction of the center. She then noticed a wasp nest and said: "I found the first picture of today", and indeed. I saw a dirt road going to the left, but it looked like it was private property. We asked, and we were told we could walk there without a problem, and that the road would take us to a nearby village.

Plants growing in groups
Plants growing in groups

When we followed the road, we saw to our left plants growing in groups, almost like someone had done so by design. More up we saw cactuses growing. It was very beautiful to see, a botanical garden made by nature.

Several cactuses growing near the road
Several cactuses growing near the road

We saw quite some volcanic rock, and I suspected that the big hill we had seen a bit earlier might have been a volcano once. I looked underneath stones, but the ground was quite wet, so I was not expecting scorpions.

Hechtia sp. growing between pieces of volcanic rock
Hechtia sp. growing between pieces of volcanic rock

After a short time we were walking near several mango trees. I looked under a big rock in quite a wet spot, hoping to find a frog, and indeed, a small frog jumped around, and before I could take a picture it was gone. We continued our walk, and I kept looking under stones. Under a small stone I spotted a small red-brown frog (about one inch), and after several attempts I was able to take a picture.

Small red brown frog
Small red brown frog

After crossing a bridge over a dry riverbed, the road became wider, with walls made out of volcanic rocks to the left and the right. Several species of cactuses where growing on those walls, and behind the walls, to our right, we saw huge cactuses, about 4 meters high and more.

A cactus with yellow flowers
A cactus with yellow flowers

While we were looking around, and I was taking pictures, several people passed us. Some driving cows, and others returning from shopping. It was clear that what I at first considered to be a private road was more like a busy road to another town.

Several cactuses growing on volcanic rock
Several cactuses growing on volcanic rock

Some of the smaller cactuses we saw had a pleasant red color. I have no idea why they have this color. Iron in the volcanic rocks? Influence of a lot of sun?

A small cactus with a nice red color
A small cactus with a nice red color

I spotted a few more of those nice colored cactuses, and took another picture. When I looked around, I noticed that the road had taken us higher and higher and we had an excellent view on the landscape around us.

Another small cactus with a nice red color
Another small cactus with a nice red color

We again walked between some mango trees. One cactus was growing next to a mango tree and was about the same height, or even higher. I kept looking under stones, and when I noticed a big, tile like, piece of volcanic rock, and looked under it, I saw my first scorpion of that day.

Centruroides gracilis
Centruroides gracilis

It was running with it's tail in the air, almost like a cat, to a place with less light. I took several pictures, which was not that easy, because I didn't want to disturb the animal too much.

Centruroides gracilis
Centruroides gracilis

The stone it was hiding under was large, and flat, hardly touching the ground, so this was to me quite an unexpected find. On the other hand, the ground didn't look as wet as the ground I had seen underneath stones earlier on, so maybe that was the reason I found this scorpion.

Seeds of a plant
Seeds of a plant

Esme spotted quite a funny sight, the seeds of a plant had become separated from the fruit, and it almost looked like a weird animal with big bulbous eyes.

Dry riverbed near the town
Dry riverbed near the town

We kept walking and arrived into the town. We followed the road to the left, and came upon a bridge over a dry river bed. We crossed the river, and followed the road more to the left.

Yellow flowers
Yellow flowers

Esme wanted to walk on the dry riverbed, so when we came upon a small dirt road towards the river, we followed it, and walked on the riverbed.

One of the not so dry parts of the river
One of the not so dry parts of the river

Esme wanted to rest a bit, and I followed the river a bit more, and took some pictures. Some parts of the riverbed had big pools with quite some water.

Another pool in the riverbed
Another pool in the riverbed

After some time Esme joined me. I checked the right river bank, and looked under stones. There was plenty of grass growing, and to me it resembled a Centruroides gracilis habitat. I walked further away from the river, and kept looking under stones.

Wasp sitting on the nest
Wasp sitting on the nest

Under one stone I found what looked like a wasp nest made out of mud, and at least two wasps walking on it, and around it.

Close up of the wasp nest made out of mud
Close up of the wasp nest made out of mud

I called Esme to come over and have a look to. The wasps just kept moving but didn't act like we disturbed them.

Wasp nest made out of mud, with at least 3 wasps
Wasp nest made out of mud, with at least 3 wasps

Just a little later, I moved a stone, and saw two black widow spiders. One spider was clearly a gravid female, and I guessed that the other, hiding quite fast, was the male spider. In the picture below you can clearly see the red hourglass on the underside of the abdomen.

Gravid black window spider (Latrodectus species)
Gravid black window spider (Latrodectus species)

I tried to take a picture of what I guessed to be the male, or at least another black widow hiding underneath the same stone, but it didn't want to come out of its hiding place.

Hiding place of a male(?) black widow spider (Latrodectus species)
Hiding place of a male(?) black widow spider (Latrodectus species)

Because I really was expecting to find more Centruroides gracilis in this place, I took a overview picture of the surroundings: high grass with stones. But it turned out to be more a black widow habitat.

Overview of a black widow habitat
Overview of a black widow habitat

Last year, when we visited Campanario, we saw a very similar landscape, and plenty of scorpions (Centruroides gracilis), and a few black widow spiders. We now had found the black widows spiders, but no scorpions.

High, dry grass and volcanic rocks
High, dry grass and volcanic rocks

Esme and I kept telling each other that this was it, that we would find scorpions, but no. However, I did took a close up picture of the high grass and volcanic rocks, since that's how a Centruroides gracilis habitat, or at least one type, does look like.

Another black widow spider
Another black widow spider

We kept looking underneath stones, and soon Esme found another black widow spider (Latrodectus species) and I took a few pictures.

Black widow spider on the underside of a stone
Black widow spider on the underside of a stone

We're always very careful when we lift stones. We try to keep as much of the stone between our body and the ground underneath it. And are also be very careful with where we put our hands. Contrary to all the myths, black widow spiders don't jump at your throat and suck the life out of your body, but they might bite when you try to squeeze them flat against a rock with your hand.

Because the daylight was going quite fast, we decided to walk back, and after a short walk arrived back at the town. Esme asked if we could take the main road back, and I agreed. After a short walk, a taxi passed us. We both noticed that it had Xalapa written on it, and Esme made it stop. Esme asked how much to Xalapa, and the driver asked 20 pesos a person, which was ok with us.

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