“Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

It’s good to be back in the prairies after spending last week in the mountains.  The mountains were beautiful and daytime temperatures were pleasantly cool, but I sure enjoyed the chance to catch up with the goings on in our prairies yesterday.  As if to welcome me home, the weather provided about an hour of bright overcast skies and light winds around lunchtime – perfect weather for a little close-up photography.

As I wandered, I found a crab spider perched atop an upright prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera) flower.  I’m a sucker for crab spiders, so I crept up and snapped a photograph of it.

Crab spider on upright prairie coneflower.  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.
Crab spider on upright prairie coneflower. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

I was surprised the spider was sitting so high on the flower – it seemed awfully visible to predators, and poorly placed to capture pollinators coming to visit the blooming portion of the flower below.  Just as I was wondering what it was up to, the spider answered my question for me.  It popped itself up on its “tiptoes” and let loose a long silk trail.

ENPO140624_D055
If you look closely, you can see a long silk thread emerging from the abdomen of the spider.

The spider was attempting a technique commonly called “ballooning”, though “kiting” seems a more appropriate term.  Small spiders use ballooning to travel long distances by releasing long silk threads into the breeze and floating off to wherever the wind carries them  Often, the spider only goes a short distance, but it’s still a faster mode of transportation than walking on short little legs!  Sometimes, if the wind is right, a ballooning spider can go many miles.

In this case, the light winds were apparently insufficient to carry the spider off, and after it failed to launch, it detached its silk thread and sat back down (dejectedly?).  I imagined the spider’s disappointment at having steeled itself for a potentially long trip only to find that it wasn’t going anywhere after all.

Oh well...
Oh well…

As I walked off, I left the spider with good wishes that it would catch a better breeze in the near future, but also with a silent warning.  It’s great to go to new and different places, but sometimes travel just helps you appreciate how nice it is to be home.

10 thoughts on ““Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

    • Chris Helzer June 25, 2014 / 7:42 am

      Thanks. Yes, it was on that same flower species, but on a pure yellow morph.

  1. maritimeoutofdoors June 25, 2014 / 8:11 am

    Incredible photo! Could use you out here to get some spruce budworm shots! hah

  2. Gisela Fisher June 25, 2014 / 9:10 am

    Wonderful story and such a teaching opportunity!

  3. kvsalisbury June 25, 2014 / 3:11 pm

    Wonderful post and as always I learned something new from you. Thank you

  4. Bill Wedeking June 25, 2014 / 9:01 pm

    Thanks for, yet again, a great post. Great pictures & great commentary!

  5. James C. Trager June 26, 2014 / 2:25 pm

    Steve Schwartzman’s bug is advertizing its bad flavor.

  6. uloboridae June 28, 2014 / 11:30 pm

    Gorgeous photos. Looks like a Misumenops species though it’s hard to tell for sure at the side angle.

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