Photo of the Week – June 8, 2017

In several of our prairies right now, poppy mallows are among the most prolific flowers.  Purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata) and pale pink poppy mallow (Callirhoe alcoides) are not only great tongue twisters, but also pretty flowers and important food sources for pollinators.  Earlier this week, I watched a monarch moving from flower to flower in a big patch of pale pink poppy mallow, but I didn’t manage to get a picture of it.  Yesterday, I paused to photograph a poppy mallow blossom and noticed something funny about the underside of the flower…

Those of you who have followed the blog for a while know of my affinity for crab spiders.  They’re just so stinking cute, and once you start looking for them, they are everywhere, especially on flowers.

This particular long-legged friend and his relatives were on several kinds of flowers in our prairies this week, including pale pink poppy mallow (above) and yarrow (below).

At our family prairie, I found a different crab spider (below) hanging out on yarrow with its long front legs cocked and ready to spring shut on unsuspecting prey.

As I photographed the spider, a fly landed on the flower and started feeding on pollen and moving about the flower.

It got closer and closer to the spider, so I just kept shooting.  A few moments later, it turned its back on the spider…

…and the spider GRABBED it.  The fly buzzed loudly and drug the spider around a little, but was no match for the strong grip and venomous bite.

For a few seconds, the spider stood vertically, holding tight to the fly.  Then as the fly’s struggles subsided, the crab spider repositioned itself to start feeding.

Apparently, the spot right behind the head is the best place to puncture a fly if you want to suck out its liquefied insides.  A little tip for all you fly sucker wannabes out there…

Seeing the number of flowers with crab spiders, and the ease with which this crab spider caught its prey is a reminder of how dangerous it is to be a pollinator.  Every flower is a potential source of nutritious food, but a fair number of them also host lurking crab spiders, waiting to snag careless insects.  As someone who spends a lot of time trying to photograph pollinators, I’m keenly aware of how quickly they move from flower to flower.  Of course they do – the longer they stick around each flower, the better chance something will catch and eat them!

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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 – June 8, 2017

  1. Lynne Eggers says:

    All I can say is “WOW!”. Thanks.

  2. Andre Hoyt says:

    Great pictures!

  3. Pat says:

    I’ll second that “WOW!”. Don’t often get to see these guys in action.

  4. Laurel Erickson says:

    Wow! Life, death, and beauty on the prairie! Good series of photos!

  5. shoreacres says:

    I got my first macro shot of a crab spider a few weeks ago. It was deep within the fluff of a thistle, and I wondered what it was doing there. Now, I think I know! Wonderful series — who says there’s no drama on a prairie?

  6. Karen H says:

    Feeding you crab spider picture addiction again I see :)

  7. Karen d. says:

    Amazing photo series, Chris. Thanks for not only sharing great images, but the stories behind them!

  8. What an amazing opportunity to not only observe this encounter, but get such good photographs as well!

  9. Larry Nolan says:

    Thanks very much for capturing this event with such great photos.

    Thinking about trying to use drone aerial photography on any of the preserves?

  10. Carol Davit says:

    Fantastic photos and great commentary, Chris!

  11. Jane Papsdorf says:

    Great photos and the story behind them.

  12. Rick Champeau says:

    I’m going to spend more time “just sitting” amongst my collection of native forbs.

  13. Robert Cox says:

    I am an outright aranchophile; so I absolutely ADORE your pics. Kudos!

  14. Robert Cox says:

    Like the top one best; something compelling about it.

  15. Great series of shots but not a good day for the fly!

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