Photo of the Week – July 3, 2013

Sometimes danger is waiting just around the corner…


An ant explores an annual sunflower for extra-floral nectar, seemingly unware of the crab spider lurking on the other side of the petals.  The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve – Nebraska.

Last summer, I wrote a post about annual sunflowers, including a short bit about how sunflowers secrete extra-floral nectar to attract ants.  The ants eat the sweet substance and may help repel potential herbivores from the sunflower in return.  As you might expect, however, an abundance of ants can also be a potential source of food for other predators – including crab spiders.  When I was at our Niobrara Valley Preserve last week, I noticed several instances where crab spiders were hanging around on sunflowers.  They probably weren’t waiting specifically for ants, but apparently ants are an acceptable prey item if they happen to be available (see below).


A crab spider feeds on an ant it caught on an annual sunflower.  This photo was taken a few minutes after the above photo, but it wasn’t the same sunflower, spider, or ant shown in that first photo.

…and that’s life – and death – in the prairie.


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 Prairie Animals, Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography, Prairie Plants and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Photo of the Week – July 3, 2013

  1. John Morgan says:

    Fascinating natural history info Chris. One more thing to look for when I am out on the prairie. Thanx for sharing!!

  2. Teresa says:

    What a fun and dramatic photo! I can just hear the ‘dum dum dum’ background music. This would be perfect for a children’s book; call it “Danger on the Prairie!” and throw in some of your other great predator/prey insect photos.

    I’ve actually been a little concerned about the relative scarcity of pollinators of any kind I’ve seen so far this year. Presently I see more ants than anything else. Have seen many fewer bees, butterflies, moths, and even beetles compared to last year. Although I’ve been happily surprised to find more native ladybugs with their black heads.

  3. Ricky Linex says:

    Great photo of the crab spider and the ant. Would you grant permission to use photos and your narrative in our newsletter, the Reverchon Naturalist
    We would even plug your blog.

  4. James C. Trager says:

    It’s definitely a bug-eat-bug world out there! I knew the ant wasn’t the same in the two pictures, because indeed, I’m almost certain they are different species. I was just about to write that, when I read your second caption. :)
    The surprise to me is to see the ant that is prey in the second picture up there at Niobrara – It’s not one I’d expect up there, just demonstrating my need to get up that way some day.

  5. Suzanne T. says:

    Wow, Chris. What an excellent photo of the ant and lurking spider.

  6. troutlily57 says:

    Wow, Chris. What an excellent photo with the silhouette of the lurking crab spider.

  7. James McGee says:

    Looking in my garden I noticed something interesting. The aphids on butterfly milkweed pedicles were orange. This is a different color than aphids on any of my other plants.


  8. Mike says:

    One usually wouldn’t think of spiders as pollinators… but it’s clear they must serve as incidental pollinators. Very cool shot.

    • This is a bit of a stretch, Mike, but I suppose when they drag their bee prey around the flower hiding from passing shadows, some incidental pollination may occur. Flower spiders are not hairy, but with their yellow color, pollen on them would be hard to see, so this ought to be investigated. The thing is, an animal such as this that sits in ambush on a single flower or flower head for days on end wouldn’t be a very effective pollinator.

  9. Mary says:

    Beautiful photo, like my twins tell me, circle of life.


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