Walking with spiders – Part 2

Despite my passion for creepy crawlies (i.e., insects, arachnids, etc.) and my passion for flowers and my passion for—well, you get the point—despite my love of the smaller joys nature provides, I have yet to invest in a macro lens.  Times are tough and finances are tight, so I don’t see such an investment happening soon.  Nevertheless, I can’t allow lack of equipment to interfere with my desire to see and photograph as much life as I can find.

Female filmy dome spider (Neriene radiata) hanging on her web (2009_07_07_026162)

This female filmy dome spider (Neriene radiata) built her web alongside a creek in the shade of surrounding trees.  Hardly more than a hand’s width above the ground, she patiently hung from the underside of the web as she waited for a meal to drop by.  These small, delicate spiders have a habit of building webs anchored at multiple points vertically, and that design effort creates a domed sheet web unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  Getting her photograph proved challenging with her nearness to the ground and the shape of her food trap—especially with me trying desperately to avoid snagging or breaking any of the anchor lines—yet she sat quietly and never budged as I contorted myself into odd shapes looking for at least one reasonable view.

Female black & yellow argiope (a.k.a. yellow garden spider; Argiope aurantia) eating prey (2009_09_26_029375)

Still nibbling on prey which long before had stopped being identifiable, this female black & yellow argiope (a.k.a. yellow garden spider; Argiope aurantia) soaked up some rays at the woodland edge.  The floodplain stretched out before her like a living smorgasbord of food.  Behind her, thicket at the drip line gave way to riparian woodlands.  Her position offered her a delectable banquet of goodies on which to feast while she prepared to create her first egg sac.  I had hopes that a mild winter would allow her to survive (females of this species, when they survive the winter, live into the following year whilst continuing to grow, hence they become massive).  Unfortunately for her and for my hopes, our winter started early and hard freezes have already occurred…with more on the way.  No matter: her children will survive and they will take her place at the dining table starting next spring.

Wolf spider (Hogna sp.) standing on a leaf (2009_09_06_028837)

One of the joys of photography comes from discovering surprises in the frame when you review the images later.  Thus was the case with this wolf spider (Hogna sp.).  I knelt in mud and flooded grass trying to get a picture of a cricket frog.  Such frogs are small, mind you, and they vanish quickly beneath even the shortest ground cover.  But later that day when I looked at the results, there in the depth of field stood this little hunter whose stillness and shadow-like colors kept me from seeing it to begin with.

Female spinybacked orbweaver (a.k.a. crab spider, spiny orbweaver, jewel spider, spiny-bellied orbweaver, jewel box spider or smiley face spider; Gasteracantha cancriformis) with freshly caught prey (2009_10_03_030591)

I never for a moment thought I could get a respectable image of this female spinybacked orbweaver (a.k.a. crab spider, spiny orbweaver, jewel spider, spiny-bellied orbweaver, jewel box spider or smiley face spider; Gasteracantha cancriformis).  I stood on the opposite side of a large creek from where she and her web hung in the shadows.  In fact, I didn’t realize she was there until a small insect hit her trap and she scampered off to grab it.  I waited for her to return to the center of the web before I tried to get her photo.  Despite their unique appearance, these spiders tend toward the small end of the scale and usually go undiscovered until someone walks through their web.

Female funnel-web grass spider (Agelenopsis sp.) with freshly caught leafhopper (2009_10_17_031931)

With heavy dew on the ground, seeing this female funnel-web grass spider (Agelenopsis sp.) proved easy: a small plot of land no larger than a car had four shimmering traps stretched across the wet grass.  Thankfully she caught a small leafhopper just as I took her photo.  You can barely see it there near her mouth.  Here’s another view that makes the prey a tad easier to see.

Female funnel-web grass spider (Agelenopsis sp.) with freshly caught leafhopper (2009_10_17_031934)

Interestingly enough, grass spiders like this do not spin webs that are sticky.  The silk dries and serves a more net-like purpose, trapping insects by entwining them when they land and keeping the critters held for a second or two.  Just long enough for the spider to erupt from the funnel, grab and bite the prey, then return with it into the recesses of their web where they remain unseen.  This helps ensure other insects don’t associate the web with danger, and it also helps the spider enjoy its meal without interruption.

Female barn spider (Neoscona crucifera) sitting in the middle of her orb web (2009_10_10_031233)

And finally a barn spider (Neoscona crucifera).  Often confused with the spotted orbweaver (a.k.a. cross spider; Neoscona domiciliorum), the barn spider will be the focus of part 3 of this series.  Why one post dedicated to one kind of spider?  Because just when you thought it was difficult to differentiate one species from another or one gender from another, wait until you see how polymorphism makes this species a real challenge to identify.

14 thoughts on “Walking with spiders – Part 2”

  1. I’ll admit to being an arachnophobe. I know how irrational it is, and I’m working on it. I often find it hard to look at spider photos but find yours so beautiful, I can almost deal with it. I’m amazed you can get such good closeups without a macrolens. Lovely.

    1. Thank you, Liz! As for the photos without a macro lens, you’re safe in assuming it’s mostly luck as opposed to skill.

      I think arachnophobia is common. I’ve always known I was outside the norm with my lack of fear coupled with serious infatuation. You can actually thank my mother for that. There’s very little in the natural world that bothers her, and she raised me with that same thirst to know, to see, to experience. (Though I’ll add–and don’t tell her I told you so–she really hates crickets.)

  2. Oh all this is splendid, both the images and the observations. That enchanting spinybacked orbweaver looks as though she’s been designed by the Pixar Studio. What a charmer. I’m reminded of Cecil Beaton’s extravagant black and white hat designs for the Ascot scene in the film of My Fair Lady!

    This site is a wild ride Jason. I see things here that are completely new to me.

    1. Thank you, Clive! I’m a tad capricious when it comes to nature–or more accurately, I’m like a ferret always rushing to investigate the next shiny bauble. I never see anything as mundane (which no doubt can bore some people to tears).

      The spinybacked orbweaver is a very unique critter. It’s the one spider that can’t be confused with any other species. And I love the comparison to the “My Fair Lady” scene! How absolutely true!

      (By the way, there are a few slightly better images of the spinybacked orbweaver in this post. Still not great shots, but there are some closer and different views you might like–including one that shows exactly why they’re also called smiley face spiders.)

  3. I’ll have you know I’m still working on the cricket thing. I do take a lot of grief for not being afraid of “critters” but that’s ok.

    With your great photos and writing, you open up a whole new world to people who rush through life, never seeing the beauty all around them. You’re doing our neighborhood of misunderstood critters a world of good. Thanks for all your efforts!

    1. I was being facetious of course, Mom, as my kryptonite is roaches. Hissing roaches I can handle, but pretty much most other roaches are cause for me to scream like a spanked child and run in the opposite direction.

      And thank you so much! Mind you, you’re thanking me for being who you taught me to be. My appreciation of the universe is a direct result of my upbringing under your tutelage. So let me say this: Thank YOU for raising me to not fear what I don’t know and to appreciate what surrounds me, to always seek a better understanding of the world I live in and the universe that contains me, and to find the beauty that too often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. I am definitely your child…

    1. Thank you so much, Birgit!

      I really love the spider-and-water combo pics. There’s something reflective about them–and I don’t just mean reflection in the water. Thanks for sharing those!

    1. Thanks, Anna!

      (I’ll add a rather large cockroach made it inside last night. I didn’t notice it until it ran across the bedroom floor and climbed my foot. Two of the cats followed it closely and dispatched it quickly, thereby ensuring I didn’t have to flee our home in the dark and chilly night.)

  4. Just to add to the debate here! I don’t really have much revulsion when it comes to ‘creepy crawlies’. I can happily handle spiders. Never seen a roach but I can imagine that in the right place they too must have their charms. (However in the wrong place they’d be pretty horrid. Infesting your kitchen for instance.)

    Here at Ty Isaf I nearly passed out in the shower when I first found a tick buried in my arm. We’d never experienced such things in the city. Now checking the dog for ticks in ‘the season’ is a part of everyday life, so I’m a dab hand with those little plastic prongs that remove them. My own bête noire is that I feel revulsion at the ‘cluster flies’ that squeeze through every tiny space around our ancient, rattling sash windows in order to hibernate indoors. The flies just come in to sleep out the Winter in nooks and crannies and they don’t lay eggs indoors. But as they invade in their thousands we have plagues of them. They won’t be chivvied out again by opening the windows either. And those that do manage to hide emerge on the first warm days of Spring to blunder about. We’ve returned home some days to find rooms swarming with them, which is really, really unpleasant. I don’t want to use insecticide as we have bats. Nevertheless I’ve had to learn to bury my instinct not to harm any living creature or we’d be overwhelmed with the flies. I ‘vacuum’ them up, which is the only way I can figure to be rid of them. (The process kills them stone dead as they hurtle through the cleaner.) We’re about to embark on the expensive process of making good our sash windows to make them less prone to the flies being able to access. Hope it works. I can’t bear killing even these not-desirable-in-the-home insects. I grit my teeth to go on the rampage. I’ll share my house with any number of things… we use humane traps for mice and the bats constantly shit on my easel while I’m working… but the flies drive me crazy! Anybody have any ideas beyond what we’re doing here? (Sorry Jason. I know that you can’t bear killing anything. I’ve probably let you down here!)

    1. Despite my desire to do no harm, Clive, I have to resort to the same treatment when ants make it inside. I’m deathly allergic to ant and wasp stings (and I do mean DEATHLY allergic). If a wasp gets inside, it’s no trouble at all: either the cats will kill it before I get home or I can capture it and set it free outside (I hope for the latter but accept the former as part of giving refuge to predators). But ants? Well, capture and release isn’t really workable. Once they’re inside, they’re bringing lots of friends (otherwise they don’t come inside). Generally I have to vacuum them up and put a wee bit of Sevin dust or diatomaceous earth around their entry point. Sure, that will kill any other explorers, but it will quickly dissuade them from coming inside. And the vacuuming doesn’t really bode well for the health of those already inside. Nevertheless, it’s necessary–even if its distasteful.

Leave a Reply