Ambush in the Prairie

Like crocodiles in African water holes, crab spiders sit patiently on prairie flowers, waiting for prey they know will eventually come.  For crab spiders, that prey is most often an unwary pollinator looking for nectar.

A crab spider with a recently caught orange sulphur butterfly. The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies.

Crab spiders are not built for speed and they have poor eyesight – even for a spider.  However, they’re well built for ambush.  Both sets of front legs are extra long, and the spider snaps them shut to catch any insect that happens to come within reach.  In addition to those legs – and a good dose of patience – some species of crab spiders can also change their color to better camouflage themselves.  They’re not quite on the level of chameleons, but over a day or so, those species can change from white to yellow – or vice versa – to match the color of the flower they’re on.

Read more about crab spiders in my NEBRASKAland magazine article here: CrabSpider-July2009 and about spiders in general in another article here:Spiders-AugSept2010.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
This entry was posted in General, Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Ambush in the Prairie

  1. jason says:

    Nice shot! And I had no idea that some crab spiders could change color, even if only in a limited way. That’s a useful trait–and very cool to know.

  2. Pingback: Why I Care About Prairies and You Should Too | The Prairie Ecologist

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