Photo of the Week – August 24, 2018

Former Hubbard Fellow Evan Barrientos came back for a visit last week and the two of us wandered around with our cameras for a couple hours on a wet foggy Saturday morning. (Quick reminder – applications for the next round of Hubbard Fellows are being accepted NOW – click here for more information.)

It was a beautiful morning, and we spent the bulk of our time in a prairie Evan had helped create while he was working for us.  Despite its young age (3rd growing season), the prairie already has a lot going on.  Plant diversity is looking good and invertebrates seem to be colonizing nicely.  Among those colonizers are a lot of spiders, and a foggy morning is a great time to see and photograph spider webs.  I spotted webs of several different species, but ended up photographing mostly webs created by a couple different species of (I think) longjawed orb weavers (Tetragnatha sp.).  I photographed much more than just spiders during those couple hours, but some of the longjawed orbweaver shots ended up being my favorite images of the day.

A longjawed orb weaver sits poised on its dew drop covered web, warming itself in the sun.

Early morning diffused light beautifully accented both spiders and their webs.

This is the same individual as in the first photo above, but from the other side of its web.  The spider was being very patient with me – and I was being very slow and deliberate in my approach to it.

The following three photos were taken within a minute or so of each other.  I couldn’t decide between them, so have included all of them.  I’m curious to know if any of you have strong preferences between them.  I think I like the first and third best, though the second is really nice too.  See what I mean?

Spider 1

The pose of this spider is common among many skinny long-legged spiders.  When inactive, or in the presence of a potential threat, they cozy up to a grass leaf or plant stem and almost seem to melt into it.  This one was in its hiding pose when I first spotted it. Judging by the dew droplets still affixed to its legs, I’m guessing it spent the night in that pose, but I’m not sure.

Between the first and second photo, I carefully held out my hand near the web and the spider shifted slightly away from it, moving a little more toward my camera, and into the light.  This is a really handy trick for slightly repositioning insects and other invertebrates for photos.  It always works spectacularly, except when it fails even more spectacularly and the subject hops, drops, or otherwise flees.

Spider 2

As I was photographing the spider in its new, more illuminated position, it suddenly stretched out its legs – as if it was yawning.  I squeezed off a couple quick shots before it returned to its original position.

Spider 3

The chance to photograph spiders on dew-covered webs always feels like a gift.  The conditions have to be just right – including near-zero wind velocity.  Late summer seems to be the time when an abundance of spider webs corresponds with an abundance of calm foggy/dewy mornings.  On those mornings, I tread carefully through prairies, trying hard not to blunder through webs, but knowing I will anyway.  I find most webs by looking toward the sunlight so that the glowing backlit dew-covered orbs stand out against a darker background.

Most webs are close to the ground, surrounded by tall vegetation, making them nearly impossible to approach without jiggling the web, and either breaking it or scaring the spider away – or both.  To add to the difficulty, most spiders sit on the downward slanting side of their web, with their eyes facing down and away from the sun. I always like to feature the faces of invertebrates when I can, but it’s not always possible to find a camera angle that works with web-weaving spiders.

The first three photos above were taken of webs that were along a restored wetland swale, where vegetation was relatively thin and I could fairly easily slide my tripod close to the spiders.  The last three were of a web that was placed at nearly head height – something I don’t see very often.

Oh, I did take photos of Evan too, but he wasn’t covered in dew and sitting on a glistening orb-shaped web, so he didn’t make the cut for this blog post.

This entry was posted in Prairie Insects, Prairie Photography and tagged , , , by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

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.

4 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – August 24, 2018

  1. Dear Chris,

    I’m very excited to have found your blog when I googling around to try to identify a wild flower I found the other day that I’ve never seen before. It was on some land just north of Branched Oak Lake near Lincoln. The property was private but was prairie and part of the Nebraska Land Trust. Do you know what it is? Forgive me for picking a couple stalks but I was intrigued and it was for research :) It was a stalk about 3 feet tall with about 60+ tight round flowers that unopened looked like tiny cabbages, or a head of radicchio, and opened like a small jewel-like rose that turns into a thistle looking plant. Quite the metamorphosis.

    I look forward to reading your blogs and seeing your beautiful photos of the prairie. This iPhone photo isn’t the best but I don’t have a macro lens for my Sony A6000 :)


    Marsha Kahm Director/Director of Photography Figaro Figaro! 415-225-8785

    Try again, fail again, fail better. __Samuel Beckett


  2. Last year I dug out all the sweet clover plants from behind the visitor center at a local nature sanctuary. I felt I had done a good thing. They burned the area and this year I dug out about 1300 plants from this same location. After finishing with the known patches of sweet clover, I started digging out purple loosestrife from around the swales. Purple loosestrife is pretty easy to dig out when it is a year or two old. However, the big ones are really exhausting to dig. The staff sprays some of them every year, but this just seems to lead to patches full of purple loosestrife seedlings if the target plant happens to even be killed.

    This leads to my question. Have any of your Hubbard Fellows spent an entire summer controlling some invasive species only to visit the next year and see there are even more? How do people reach to this kind of thing? Has anyone ever stripped off their clothes and started running around the Platt River Prairies like Charles Martin Smith did in the movie “Never Cry Wolf?” Invasive species control can really mess with your mind.

  3. I like the 3rd photo, because easier to identify the object is a spider.
    Due in a morning with the light coming in the background creates a spectacular scene of many small spider web networks that you would not see without the dew or angle of light. Always amazing to see the web patterns. Almost like they specialize in one type of web.


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