Tag Archives: colours

Killer Flowers

In spring and early summer many trees and shrubs come into bloom, and many are so heavily in bloom that they are like the terrestrial equivalent of coral reefs, absolutely teeming with wildlife of all kinds, shapes, sizes and colours. Take the blooms on this massive shrub in my garden for example, a Wedding-Cake Viburnum, which blooms from May to June in good years like this one, and which is as old as I am. It looks like a giant icing-covered cake:

A whole city of flowers, and one-tree habitat and my favourite of all.
A whole city of flowers on a one-tree habitat which is my favourite garden tree of all.

Anyhow, as you look over this wonderland you might see something strange. You might see a bee perched on a flower with its head jammed into the petals, as this small solitary species is. Bees do get drunk on pollen, but usually fall off flowers when this happens. What is it doing?

A solitary bee looking a bit odd.
A solitary bee looking a bit odd.

And then you might see something stranger than that. You might see a big drone fly, a species of hoverfly, doing a head-stand! How?

A big bee or fly doing a headstand on a flower is not as unusual a sight as you might think - but what on earth is it up to?
A big bee or fly doing a headstand on a flower is not as unusual a sight as you might think – but what on earth is it up to?

This is the same area of blossom two days in a row – clearly something is amiss, but what? We need to see the same petals without the yogic insects. Do you notice anything odd?

There's something funny about these flowers...
There’s something funny about these flowers…

Have you noticed anything? Don’t worry if you haven’t, it’s not easy to see. But there is something hidden among the petals. In fact, you might actually be looking at it and thinking it is a petal. It is in fact our largest species of crab spider, the Flower Crab Spider. It’s an ambush specialist and to make sure it can’t be seen by its insect prey is can even change colour, but not to any colour. Just some. It doesn’t make a web, it just perches on a suitable flower and waits for an insect to come down to feed. Can you see it now in this next photo?

If you can't see it let me tell you this, it's looking right at the cameras and waiting to grab it.
If you can’t see it let me tell you this, it’s looking right at the cameras and waiting to grab it.

Okay, maybe you can see the spider now, but are finding it a little difficult to make out the details, so I’ll make it a little clearer. Check this out:

Here it is, as clear as day, with long forelegs outstretched to snatch prey when it comes to land.
Here it is, as clear as day, with long forelegs outstretched to snatch prey when it comes to land.

This is a female Flower Crab Spider. She is much larger than the male and has a smooth shiny body with bright yellow eyes. She can almost turn green but is usually bright white or bright yellow. These spiders get their name because they hold their long forelegs out like crabs claws. In fact, they generally stand on their four short back legs and hold out their four long front legs, and when they walk they scuttle sideways. The venom is not known to be harmful to humans, but it is so powerful to insects that it kills them instantly, preventing them from escaping the spider which has no web to aid it. The small male is very thin and coloured like bird-droppings, and will usually deliberately perch on bird droppings splashed on leaves. The female is not gigantic, but its cushion-like body can reach almost the width and length of a human thumbnail.

So now that you know what it is for sure, go back and look at those other photos and see if you can recognise the spider clearly among the petals. But the story doesn’t just end here…

How to recognise a False Widow

The photo of Steatoda nobilis in the previous entry shows a female with the classic pattern of this species. However, here is the other, smaller False Widow, Steatoda grossa, which has a similar pattern, but with a row of triangles in the middle rather than a big pale patch.

A classic example of Steatoda grossa, a female.
A classic example of Steatoda grossa, a female.

So here are the best ways of recognising False Widows:

1. The spider’s abdomen is generally very shiny, like a berry. The spider is hairless.

2. False Widows don’t just hatch out of an egg fully grown. They can be very large, up to 2.5 cm (just short of an inch) when pregnant, and any size under that.

3. The web is a hammock-type web, but unlike the similar Hammock-web Spider, the web of the False Widow is EXTREMELY strong.

4. The spider always hangs upside down from its web.

5. Apart from the male Steatoda grossa, which is a fast runner often wandering into houses in spring (he doesn’t bite for some reason and will happily let you handle him) the female S. grossa and both male and female Steatoda nobilis are extremely slow and clumsy on the ground and actually slip when they walk on smooth surfaces.

6. The False Widow pulls its legs in tight, forming a ball, if knocked from its web or handled. Biting is the very last resort.

7. Both species have two very shiny eyes located at the top front of their heads which virtually glow in torchlight and are among the first things you will notice.

False Widows rest under crevices, usually only coming out at night when birds won’t see them. Birds have no difficulty eating any spider that will fit in their mouths. Anything resting against a wall, or in a sheltered area, or on the outside of a house especially under the eaves will be an attraction to a False Widow. They will enter sheds too, but outside if their preference.

8. False Widows are not afraid to be outside on even the coldest, frostiest nights. It was assumed, because they originate from the Canary Islands that they would fear the cold, but I have seen them outside in their webs when the temperatures were below freezing.

A big female Steatoda nobilis. This is one of the darker ones, with only a white crescent to the front of the big abdomen. They can be all black too, as can Steatoda grossa.
A big female Steatoda nobilis. This is one of the darker ones, with only a white crescent to the front of the big abdomen. They can be all black too, as can Steatoda grossa.

 

More Moths

Yes, it’s pretty grotty wet weather in Wicklow at the moment, but it’s really brought the moths out. And one of the great things about studying nature is that all you need is a wall with a bright light over it, or a bright but sheltered window, to get them to land. So here are a few I’ve found:

The Streamer is one of the carpet moths, as you can tell from its shape.
The Streamer – Anticlea derivata, is one of the carpet moths, as you can tell from its shape. It seems to be camouflaged to resemble Turkey-tail fungus. It gets its name from the streamer-like black marks which you can see on its wingtips.
Common Marbled Carpet, another carpet moth.
The Common Marbled Carpet – Chloroclysta truncata, is another carpet moth.

 

White Ermine -
White Ermine – Spilosoma lubricipeda. You can tell this one is a male, as it has feathered antennae. Females have soft straight wispy ones.
One of the Pug moths
One of the Pug moths, which I have yet to identify. It might be something rare.