Tag Archives: “Misumena vatia”

Autumn Surprises

At the end of every summer I usually have a few regrets, mostly places I didn’t go, creatures I didn’t see, and photos I just missed. One of my regrets this year was I didn’t see so much as a single Hummingbird Hawkmoth (Macroglossum stellatarum) all spring and summer. And then it happened – the Autumn Equinox was gone and it was getting cooler, and one bright sunny morning (late morning) a Hummingbird Hawkmoth flew past me and landed on a Butterfly Bush to bask in the weakening sunlight, allowing me to sneak up and get a macro of what looks, to the casual observer, like a large and very unspectacular moth. Of course, we all know differently:

   But that wasn’t all – this spring and summer, for reasons which never revealed themselves, I didn’t see one Beaked Hoverfly (Rhyngia species). And then one appeared as if by magic only moments after the Hummingbird Hawkmoth had flown away, feeding on a cultivated convolvulus flower:

This year there are plenty of hoverflies to be seen, even now. There has been a mass blooming of dandelions this autumn, currently underway, and many handsome species can be seen feeding on them. And their favourites, the convolvulus flowers, are still blooming in many places. Here is the very common hoverfly species Syrphus ribesi feeding on Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium). However, it seems some of the predators which stalk these flowers are still about – I didn’t notice it when I took this photo, but look at the white object beneath the flower. Do you know what that is?

This bright white beast, which looks like a fallen petal, is a female Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) and the hoverfly is very lucky it had left the flower as it almost certainly would not have seen the spider until after it had been caught by it. Autumn, more than any other time of year, is dominated by spiders. Flies beware!

Summer Solstice

Today the exact moment of the Summer Solstice occured at 5.38 pm Summertime (4.38 pm GMT), but in practical terms and astronomical ones, this is only the beginning of summer in Wicklow. We have had a dry but cold spring and only in the last two weeks has it become properly and consistently warm. There is still Cuckoo-spit on many of the hedgerow plants, the strange protective covering of bubbles worn by froghopper nymphs. And there in the flowers there are Flower Crab Spiders hiding in plain sight, and some of them will not be alone, as in the case of this photo below:

A tiny male Flower Crab Spider perched on the bulbous abdomen of the much larger female, fortunately out of her reach. Mating is a delicate and dangerous procedure for him.
A tiny male Flower Crab Spider perched on the bulbous abdomen of the much larger female, fortunately out of her reach. Mating is a delicate and dangerous procedure for him.Hi is camouglaged to blend in with bird dung, of all things.

Also, keep an eye out for the remarkably bright green-coloured Cucumber Orb-weaver aka Green Orb-weaver (Araniella cucurbitina ) which makes a tiny web, usually in the middle of large leaves, curling their edges. It hangs upside down from this so its amazing colours are often not quite so obvious, but it has a red spot on the underside rear of its abdomen.

The best photo I have ever achieved of a Cucumber Orb-weaver, and this one is a male. You can tell this by the club-shaped palps (little arms) hanging below his head. Unusually for orb-weaver spiders, the male and female in this species are almost the exact same size. Very little is known about their behaviour.
The best photo I have ever achieved of a Cucumber Orb-weaver, and this one is a male. You can tell this by the club-shaped palps (little arms) hanging below his head. Unusually for orb-weaver spiders, the male and female in this species are almost the exact same size. Very little is known about their behaviour.

All you need to know about orb-weaver spiders is that they produce the classic spider webs, the really beautiful ones. The largest of the family you are likely to see will be the Garden Spider, which has been covered often on this blog. Anyhow, this time of year, which has always been associated with powerful magic, is indeed a magical time.

 

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…