Hello from Wisconsin! I’m spending this week in Madison, Wisconsin with about 250 colleagues at a conference for scientists, land managers, and other conservation staff of The Nature Conservancy. It’s been a fantastic conference, but also an awful lot of time spent with crowds of people – something that drains me after a while. As I write this, I’m holed up in my hotel room, grabbing a little peace and quiet before heading to supper.
Because I’ve been busy with the conference all week, I haven’t done much photography (and I really miss my square meter plot!) but I did manage a few photos during our Tuesday field trip west of Madison. We had a few minutes to wander after arriving at our first stop, and I stopped to admire numerous Argiope spiders on their webs. Even after our tour leader started talking, I wandered around the edge of the group – staying within earshot – and looked at some more spiders. I hope I didn’t come off as rude, but the spiders were really pretty, and a few let me get within photo range.
Not long after I took these photos, the sunlight became too intense for good close up photos so I rejoined the tour group and behaved myself. There is great conservation work going on in the Military Ridge area, with a great set of partners working together. It is one of the best remaining landscapes in Wisconsin for grassland birds, and still has fairly stable populations of regal fritillary butterflies and other species. Eric Mark with The Nature Conservancy is doing some grazing work to manage bird and butterfly habitat, and is working hard to build ties with the local community. The local chapter of The Prairie Enthusiasts is doing some tremendous prairie restoration work, converting brome fields to diverse prairies. Those and other partners, including state, federal, and non-profit organizations, seem to have a strong and positive working relationship.
During a brief stop at our family’s prairie this morning, I noticed a small spider on its web, and set up my tripod to see if I could photograph it. Just after I got a couple nice photos, a grasshopper nymph blundered into its web, and the spider leapt into action. I tried to get pictures of it as it was quickly wrapping the little grasshopper, but I only managed one – it was moving quickly, and there was some vegetation in the way.
However, once it had its prey stabilized, the spider slowed down and I was able to watch and photograph it for the next 10 minutes or so as it waited for the nymph to become sufficiently paralyzed. When I finally had to leave, the spider hadn’t yet started to feed. Instead, it was perched above the nymph with two legs resting on the nymph like it was feeling for a pulse. Every time the nymph twitched, the spider quickly pulled its legs back as if it had touched a hot stove. Very carefully, I pulled my tripod away and left the spider to its meal.
During a walk in our family prairie last week, I found a spider web spanning the entrance to a badger tunnel.
When I pulled in close with my camera, the shadow behind the web and the bright sunlight on the spider contrasted beautifully.
It might be tempting to think the spider was trying to catch a badger except for three things. First, that would probably end badly for the spider, and natural selection usually takes care of that kind of thing. Second, spiders often string webs across any opening that could act as a funnel for flying insects. A badger hole makes as much sense as any other, I suppose. Third, this wasn’t a tunnel a badger lived in, just a hole dug while a badger was hunting a ground squirrel or some other small burrowing animal. Most badger-made tunnels are of that ilk, and if you look closely at them, you can usually see the end of the tunnel within a few feet of the surface.
I do think it’s funny to think about what might happen if a spider hung a web across the opening of an active badger home, though. I’m imagining a badger emerging from its tunnel in the morning and then hopping around shouting “OOOH!! Ick! Spider web on my head! Spider web on my head!!”
It’s not often the wind is calm enough to get a good sharp photo of a spider in its web, but everything came together nicely late last week as I walked around one of our restored wetlands. There were a number of long-jawed orbweaver spiders (Tetragnathidae) in their webs, but this one was the most accomodating…
Of course, I missed a great shot of a nearby spider that had caught a mosquito. The light was great, the composition was going to be fantastic, but my tripod leg bumped the grass stem holding the web and the spider hightailed it to safety. Oh well. I still got to see and enjoy it – I just can’t share it with you.