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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.