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Garden ornament

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My new visitor is the perfect houseguest. She's quiet, undemanding and clean. In fact, I didn't even notice she was here until I was trimming the lavender bush and probed an unusual green knob the size of a grape with the clippers.

It moved. Then eight skinny, spiky legs unfurled, revealing a green lynx spider whose full anatomy was nearly as large as the palm of my hand.

How could I have missed her?

As summer morphs into autumn, you start noticing the orb-weaving spiders growing ever larger in their expansively constructed webs. But I've never seen a lynx that doesn't have fur. So I asked Lila Higgins, manager of citizen science at the Natural History Museum (who has been known to stroke a tarantula the way the rest of us pet a poodle), just how special my visitor was.

Meh.

She told me in an email that lynx lady isn't that unusual, that, essentially, it's my powers of perception that have been wanting. These spiders, she said, "are present year round here in our mild climate."

On the museum's blog a couple of years ago, Higgins wrote that the notable feature of a local lynx spider is that "she's GREEN! There aren't many creatures here in Los Angeles, that can camouflage this well in our gardens. ... she is a voracious and cat-like predator, hence the name. ... although this spider looks fat, she is not. She is actually toting an almost fully developed egg case in her abdomen, which contains hundred[s] of developing spiderlings!"

In an effort to be an hospitable hostess, I looked up some stuff about my Loretta (pretty sure that's her name, but spiders whisper at a faint decibel, so I can't be sure). Her CV:

Family: Oxyopidae

Physical features: high carapace, eight eyes, spiny legs; flexor muscles curl legs inward, hydraulic pressure extends them (they lack extensor muscles, which is why spider motion is so creepy)

Skill set: utterly no interest in web construction; catches prey with speed, acute vision and the ability to jump half an inch to catch flying insects

Menu preferences: insects and spiders

Sleep cycle: maybe; some lynx are active day and night

Motivation: so protective of their egg sacs that some won't eat while guarding them, and often die of starvation

Oh, I hope not. Loretta is so awesome I'm thinking of recruiting her into the green waste bin, where the black widow lives.

Photo: Ellen Alperstein


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