Consolation prizes

Mom and I wandered about the farm Saturday on a quest for interesting things to photograph.  Well, in truth our search focused primarily on black widow spiders.

We know they inhabit the area and skulk about the various buildings and surrounding woods.  Finding them proved to be a challenge, however, and that despite the many hiding places we uncovered, flipped over, lifted, and peered behind, under, over and through.

I even tried to convince Mom to crawl beneath the house as I was certain we could find some there.  She refused.  Vehemently.  I was disappointed with her of course.  She passed up a great opportunity for discovery…

Our travels notwithstanding, we found nary a single black widow spider, at least not one willing to pose for us (I’m sure a few scampered off into the shadows as we pillaged their cover).

Nevertheless, we stumbled upon a handful of arachnids who didn’t flee at our lumbering approach.

Special note: This is the time when you should look away, nathalie with an h.  Eight-legged critters ahead…

A female arabesque orbweaver (Neoscona arabesca) clinging to the center of her web (20081011_13562)

I only captured one presentable photo of this female arabesque orbweaver (Neoscona arabesca).  Her massive silken trap spanned the distance from ground to the outside eaves of the house (probably three meters/yards).  Unfortunately for me, that large space meant the web succumbed to the light breeze with striking regularity, and the spider herself swayed like a trapeze artist preparing to make a dashing and dangerous leap.

Standing beneath her facing the dark porch ceiling in the background, I found little contrast with which to memorialize her presence.  From behind her I found only bright blue sky to cloak her image.  Damn it!

A female spinybacked orbweaver (a.k.a. crab spider, spiny orbweaver, jewel spider, spiny-bellied orbweaver, jewel box spider or smiley face spider; Gasteracantha cancriformis) clinging to the center of her web (20081011_13713)

Neither Mom nor Dad had a clue as to this creature’s identity.  As short-lived as her life will be, I was surprised she survived long enough for my mother to remember her and bring me to her location for help in putting a name to the beast.

By that picture alone she is recognizable, the only spider in North America with both of the telltale traits that define her: the abdominal carapace spines and the pattern of spots.

That happens to be a female spinybacked orbweaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis).  It comes as no surprise that she is also known as a crab spider, spiny orbweaver, jewel spider, spiny-bellied orbweaver, jewel box spider and, most importantly, a smiley face spider.

A female spinybacked orbweaver (a.k.a. crab spider, spiny orbweaver, jewel spider, spiny-bellied orbweaver, jewel box spider or smiley face spider; Gasteracantha cancriformis) clinging to the center of her web (20081011_13654)

Like the arachnid before her, the day’s light winds made photography nearly impossible, although in her case that was much more apparent as her web rested at a 45° angle to the ground and her minuscule size provided no anchorage to weigh down her resting spot.  Each time I focused on her and pushed the button, she would sway leisurely toward or away from me.  That makes for impossible photography when working in macro mode (when dealing with very small subjects and a very tight depth of field).

A female spinybacked orbweaver (a.k.a. crab spider, spiny orbweaver, jewel spider, spiny-bellied orbweaver, jewel box spider or smiley face spider; Gasteracantha cancriformis) clinging to the center of her web (20081011_13705)

Challenges aside, I felt great pleasure in digitally capturing her.  This was the first opportunity I had to do as much.

A female black & yellow argiope (a.k.a. yellow garden spider; Argiope aurantia) hanging on the underside of her web (20081011_13695)

The black & yellow argiope (a.k.a. yellow garden spider; Argiope aurantia).  Ubiquitous yet mesmerizing, this female caught my attention as she rested against her web, a structure built on the south side of the purple morning glories my parents so enjoy.

A veritable horde of this species can be found no matter where one looks at the farm.  Growing from a tiny spiderling to a massive creature spanning the palm of my hand—legs not included, I mean—it’s difficult to miss them regardless of where one happens to rest one’s eyes.

Close-up of a female female black & yellow argiope (a.k.a. yellow garden spider; Argiope aurantia) as she clings to her web (20081011_13625)

Yet another female called home the area around the pigs.  From her first appearance here she has grown to the tune of at least tripling in size, if not quadrupling, and she has a long way to go.

She will double her mass before the end of her days.  She might even triple her mass.  When she is done growing, she will fill the palm of my hand without her legs being counted.

If she stretched her appendages to their furthest extent, at least once she’s fully grown, she would be able to encompass the whole of my hand with plenty of room to spare.

Close-up of a female black & yellow argiope (a.k.a. yellow garden spider; Argiope aurantia) showing the anchor line coming from her spinnerets (20081011_13622)

Disregarding the promise of her future, though, she made for a tolerant and beautiful subject.  When I focused on her abdomen, the anchor line from her spinnerets revealed itself, the safety harness with which she attaches to her web being an important part of her existence.

Like most spiders, although not all.

A female black & yellow argiope (a.k.a. yellow garden spider; Argiope aurantia) hanging on the underside of her web (20081011_13631)

Briefly did I poke the lens into her realm; briefly did I invade her space for a shot or two (not all of which are shown here).  What a patient and tolerant beast.  Her bite no worse than a wasp sting, perhaps she comprehended the challenge before her should she choose to fight me—or the camera.

I hope to see her at her prime, at her most mature stage before she hands the future over to generations she might never know.

A female green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) resting atop a leaf (20081011_13681)

But what about the ambush predator, the one briefly touched upon a few months ago?

Mom drew my attention to one such beautiful monster also hidden amongst the purple morning glories.  This female green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) cared little for our presence, reacting slowly and methodically as I invaded her territory.

A female green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) resting atop a leaf (20081011_13674)

Perhaps my favorite arachnid species, she is an ambush predator, a stealthy bit of green upon a canvas of green.  She spins a tad of web for safety before taking her position near where she knows insects will follow: flowers.

Like a statue she waits.  Eventually an unsuspecting wasp, bee or fly will wander into her territory, will land upon some bloom within her purview.  Then she strikes.

A female green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) resting atop a leaf (20081011_13683)

Resting the camera lens on the same leaf from which she hunted, or perhaps the place she chose for rest, I felt a tinge of surprise that she didn’t flee.  My experience with this species has always included a ready retreat when I invaded their territory.

So I got closer.

Close-up of a female green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) resting atop a leaf (20081011_13688)

My heart leapt when she stood her ground no matter how close I pushed the camera.

Then again, I realized she held a distinct advantage: She can see in 360° at once without moving her body.  Atop her head rests a white cap, and the outline of that cap defines her field of view.  Apparent in that photo, all eight of her eyes circle her head: two facing backward, one facing each side, two facing directly forward, and two angled to either side of front.

My invasion posed no risk as she had a superior position, one that she knew included the whole of her surroundings.  No matter what I did, she always had in sight an escape route.

5 thoughts on “Consolation prizes”

  1. I do love the Neocomas, and just by coincidence celebrated Neoscoma crucifera this morning. They’re our Charlottes, Jason! I’ve never seen your N. arabesca here though I ran across it on Bugguide this morning. Our cruciferas are extremely polite spiders.

    The spiny orb weavers are encountered here most in the deep woods, invisible until you run into their little webs strung between small trees at head level. They’ll give you a little nip, too, if you end up with them on you after failing to notice them.

    The green lynx are among my favorites. I’ve been admiring them whenever I spot them, all summer.

    Very nice photos.

  2. It’s funny that you mention the web, xocobra. For such a tiny spider, the females can weave enormous, intricate webs. This one constructed her home in the utility shed, and the doggone thing stretched from the ground to the rafters. She didn’t seem big enough to produce all that silk!

    I just saw your post, Wayne, although I’ve not had a chance to comment yet.

    This isn’t the only Neoscona spp. I’ve seen, and I have to agree that the entire genus seems full of gentle giants (although I’ve also found Araneus spp. to be equally large and beautiful, not to mention docile).

    Ah, green lynx spiders. There are larger and more beautiful arachnids, sure, but something about these unassuming, stoic predators fascinates me beyond words. They can sit on a flower petal for hours and hours without moving, then suddenly they become a deadly assassin when the right food comes along. And I have to admit I’m terribly impressed with their ability to see full-circle around them just by standing still. Wouldn’t we all love to have that ability?

  3. Oh these are just wonderful. Entirely new universes for me. Thank you. I keep my eyes peeled here, always alert to what’s out in the garden. Our arachnids endlessly fascinate, but unless I’m missing something… and I don’t think that I am… we just don’t have the spectacularly colourful array that you clearly enjoy in your backyard. And I’m enchanted by the names too. The Green Lynx. I feel as though that should be a firework! As for the three hundred and sixty degrees of vision, my mind starts to unravel at the thought of possessing that. One might spy all sorts of things better left unseen. LOL! Handy for a predator though.

    1. Thanks, Clive! I’m sure the arachnid diversity hinges on location. Though you might not have some of the more colorful characters in your immediate area, they’re probably lurking about not too far away. (I’ll note I did a little digging to see what kind of spiders can be found in Britain. I’m jealous of the fact that the approximately 600 species of native spiders there are all relatively harmless.)

      I laughed uproariously at the idea of 360° vision meaning you see things you really don’t want to see! For the spider it’s useful, but otherwise I think you’re right: I’d go through life with several eyes closed to avoid unsightly encounters.

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