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!

Crab Spider and Poppy Mallow

I have a hard time walking past purple poppy mallow when I’ve got my camera in hand.  I have plenty of photos of the flower already, and I’m not sure there are many angles I haven’t explored (see last week’s post).  But it’s so darn attractive!

This week I began noticing how many of the flowers had crab spiders lurking around on them.  Although some crab spider species can change colors from white to yellow and back, that ability doesn’t do much to help spiders sitting on bright magenta flowers…  Regardless, there they were – maybe one per 10 flowers I looked at. 

Crab spider on purple poppy mallow. Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

The day I photographed this one, the light was a nice bright overcast (light diffuse clouds), but the spider kept moving to the opposite side of the flower every time I got the tripod set up.  (Fortunately, no one besides the bald eagle across the creek was around to watch me.)  Finally, I got the shot by waving my hand around the other side of the flower so the spider would scoot away from my hand (and into the frame of the photo).  I only got a shot or two squeezed off before it figured out my ruse and went INSIDE the flower where I didn’t have any chance of photographing it…

If you’re interested, you can read more about crab spiders in my NEBRASKAland magazine article here: CrabSpider-July2009 and about spiders in general in another article here:Spiders-AugSept2010.