Photo of the Week – October 1, 2015

This has been a week of big black spiders.  …In a good way.

First, my wife brought home a huge black wolf spider one of her biology students caught.  It stayed the weekend, and my stepson helped me photograph it on Sunday.  Later this week, I found the biggest jumping spider I’ve ever seen just outside the house at our Platte River Prairies field headquarters.  I had to photograph that too, of course…  Here are some of the photos of those spiders, and a little bit about how I got them.

Big wolf spider. Aurora, Nebraska.

A big wolf spider (Hogna aspersa).  Including its legs, it was about as long as a lip balm container.

Another look.

Another look.

To photograph the wolf spider, I utilized a long-standing technique of mine.  Some of you might remember a previous post I wrote about using a wheelbarrow as a wildlife photography studio.  I brought out the same wheelbarrow again for this spider, but had my stepson assist me by holding a diffuser (to soften the bright sunlight) and helping to keep the spider from getting away.  Having an assistant made the job much easier, though also much less humorous for any potential observers of the process.  (Though I’m still pretty sure my neighbors are keeping their eyes open for houses in better neighborhoods.  Between the pile of garter snakes beneath our backyard snake board and the giant hairy spider in our wheelbarrow, we’re not exactly everyone’s picture of the ideal neighbor!)

Atticus was a big help, both diffusing the light and keeping the spider contained.

Atticus was a big help, both diffusing the light and keeping the spider contained.

When I first saw the jumping spider, I was talking with our Hubbard Fellows and waiting for someone to meet us at the house.  It was perched on a Maximilian sunflower plant in the prairie garden.  I put it in a paper bag until I had time to look more carefully at it.  Later, I took the top of the sunflower plant the spider had been on, cut it off, stuck it into a pocket gopher mound, and carefully relocated the spider to it.  The Fellows then got to watch me squirm around on my hands and knees with my camera, trying to cajole the spider into posing for the camera.  We did promise the Fellows a wide range of experiences, I guess…

Big jumping spider (Phiddipus apacheanus on Maximilian sunflower. TNC Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Big jumping spider (Phiddipus apacheanus) on Maximilian sunflower. TNC Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Big jumping spider on Maximilian sunflower. TNC Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Isn’t she cute?  She was nearly 3/4 inches long – the longest jumping spider I’ve seen.

I’ve spent more than 20 years looking at spiders and other invertebrates in Nebraska prairies, and I pride myself on being a fairly keen observer.  It’s an inspiring thing to me that I’d never seen either of these spider species before this week.  I hope I never stop finding new prairie species to marvel at.

…especially species that fit into my wheelbarrow!

Many thanks (once again) to Bill Beachly of Hastings College for his help identifying these spiders – which, by the way, he called “lovely ladies”.

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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.
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16 Responses to Photo of the Week – October 1, 2015

  1. Kim Sosin says:

    Chris, I LOVE the last photo of the jumping spider looking right out at us. It would have been fun to watch you take these. Kim

  2. Pat says:

    I agree with Mr. Beachly, lovely ladies, indeed. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Emma B says:

    Your posts are always so terrific! I wanted to comment and thank you for what you and your family do. I am about to graduate with a degree in Environmental Management, and I enjoy your website very much. (Also, jumping spiders are the cutest!)

  4. James C. Trager says:

    Jumping spiders are so charmingly observant of those who observe them.

  5. James McGee says:

    If you like that species then you should see Hogna carolinensis. It is about 1/3 bigger. I almost had a Hogna carolinensis fall on me while fishing. A bird tried to catch the spider in a tree. The spider jumped out of the tree right into the water. It ran past me across the water’s surface until it reached the safety of shore. I’ve only seen one of these spiders in a local prairie since I stopped trout fishing. I used to see them all the time when I live in Iowa and fished in the driftless region. These spiders must need high quality habitat. There was lots of this in the ravines in northeastern Iowa but very little remains in the suburbs of Chicago. However, the spider that jumped out of the tree was at a trout stream in Southeastern Michigan.

    Off to keep cutting and pulling weeds I couldn’t get to earlier. Lots of work and never enough time.

  6. Louise B in Lancaster, PA says:

    I like the way you describe your process of photography in this post. Love all these pics too. Thanks for taking the time to share with us.

  7. btremback says:

    Phidippus has such a winning smile with the iridescent green chelicerae (just peeking out in the photo)!

  8. I LOVE jumping spiders, wolf spiders I am wary of due to having experienced some rather aggressive ones in the past, but jumpers?! Love them! Great photos and techniques – I learned something new.

  9. Mary says:

    Jumping spiders are my favorites, they are very cute. I like orb spiders too.

  10. Kim says:

    could the female jumping spider be gravid? or is it too late in the year?

  11. Patrick says:

    So would those be real eyes on top of Phiddipus’ head in the top photo, or false eyes to make it seem like it’s looking at you?

  12. I’m a visitor to the prairie from South Africa, currently stationed on a reserve near Malta, MT. It’s such a pleasure to follow your blog as I discover for myself the secrets and delights of this landscape. I particularly enjoy your macrophotography and these spiders are my favourite so far! Keep up the excellent work.

  13. Debra says:

    Love the Spider pictures. I am a big lover of the jumpers. The one you got pictures was a very pretty one. Thanks for sharing..

    Debbie Beck

  14. Wallace Ward says:

    I was wondering what camera and lens combination you are using.

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