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Archive for the ‘Arachnids’ Category

Large black spiders are often associated with Halloween—many people find them to be merely spooky, but some are totally creeped out by them. Maybe the spiders need better marketing and a new poster child for the autumn holidays. I would nominate this colorful Marbled Orbweaver spider (Araneus marmoreus) that I spotted on Thursday at Huntley Meadows Park.

When I spotted this spider, I was immediately attracted to the way that the light was illuminating its legs from behind and causing them to glow. As I made adjustments to my camera settings, I was a little shocked to see the beautiful orange coloration and intricate patterns on the spider’s body. The oval body brought to mind a kind of stylized jack-o’-lantern and I later learned that one of the informal names for this spider is “pumpkin spider.”

For many of us this is the season for voting. Would you vote for this spider as a new autumn mascot?

Marbled Orbweaver

 

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Spiders are really cool and I always marvel at the elaborate webs they weave out of material from their own bodies. Almost all my shots of Black and Yellow Garden Spiders (Argiope aurantia) have been taken from the front, primarily because the webs are generally in inaccessible locations. However, the placement of this spider’s web that I spotted recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge allowed me to view and photograph it from this unusual side angle.

It is always fun to play around and attempt to capture images of a subject from multiple perspectives. In this case, the spider was cooperative and I was able to capture this cool little portrait.

Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I always feel like I am being hypnotized when I stare into the giant center eyes of a jumping spider. Resistance is futile when I try to look away—I am irresistibly drawn back to those mesmerizing eyes.

I spotted this really cool-looking Bronze Jumping Spider (Eris militaris) on Tuesday when I was photowalking at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge with my friend Walter Sanford. I was thrilled to spot this little spider perched atop of some waist-high vegetation. I had to move in close, though, to be sure that this was in fact a jumping spider, because the bodies of Bronze Jumping Spiders are only a bit over a quarter of inch (6-8 mm) in length.

The little spider was not jumping, but it was moving around a lot, which made it quite a challenge to photograph at such close range. However, that meant that I was able to get shots from multiple angles without having to change my shooting position, as you can see in the photos below.

I often encourage readers to double-click on the images to see the details of the subject and think that it is especially beneficial to do so with these images. You will be able to see the fascinating arrangement of the spider’s eyes—I think there are eight eyes—and the reflection of the sky and the landscape in the large front eyes.

My favorite photo is undoubtedly the first one. I love the direct view into the eyes of the jumping spider and its combative pose that reminds me of a sumo wrestler at the start of a match. Was the spider challenging me?

 

Bronze Jumping Spider

Bronze Jumping Spider

Bronze Jumping Spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Dragonflies are fierce predators that eat a wide variety of insects. However, predators can easily become prey, as was the case with this male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) that encountered a Black and Yellow Garden Orbweaver Spider (Argiope aurantia). When I spotted this pair last Friday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, the spider had already immobilized the dragonfly and may have been injecting it with venom at that moment.

dragonfly and spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Have you ever tried to wrap a present that is large and awkwardly shaped? I have childhood memories of helping my parents wrap tricycles and wagons for my younger siblings on Christmas Eve. No matter how much wrapping paper I used, it was pretty obvious what was underneath the wrapping.

I have watched Black and Yellow Garden Spiders (Argiope aurantia) capture prey multiple times. After the initial capture, the spider wraps up its prey in a special kind of silk that looks like a long gauze bandage. (Check out my 2014 posting called “Wrapping up a meal” for a more detailed explanation and some close-up shots of the wrapping process.)

When I spotted this Black and Yellow Garden Spider on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I could see from a distance that the spider had captured something that was as large as it was, but I could not determine what it was. Once I got closer, I could see that the spider had awkwardly wrapped up what appeared to be a large cicada—it was impossible to hide the shape of the cicada’s large wings.

At some point in this process the spider injects venom into the prey, killing it and liquefying its internal organs for consumption. I cannot tell for sure if that is what the spider was doing at the moment I captured this image, but the position of the spider’s body suggests that possibility.

Spider and cicada

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I have observed animals, birds, and animals, I have noticed that sometimes the male is larger than the female and sometimes the opposite is the case. Quite often the size difference is so slight that you have to rely on other characteristics to try to determine the gender of a subject.

When it comes to spiders, though, the size difference is shockingly large—the male is often one quarter the size of the female or even smaller. On Monday I spotted my first black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) of the season. I have long been fascinated with these large spiders and the distinctive zigzag pattern that they weave into their webs.

When I looked at my images on my computer, I was surprised to see that there was a second, smaller spider just to the left and behind the main subject. Could this possibly be a male garden spider? According to Wikipedia, males range in size from .2-.35 inches (5-9 mm) and females range in size from .75 to 1.1 inches (18 to 28 mm), so the size differential seems about right. Additional the smaller spider looks like photos I was able to find of male garden spiders.

Spider mating can hazardous for male spiders. In some species, if the male is rejected by the female, she eats him. I thought that might be the case for these garden spiders, but came across a fascinating article at newscientist.com with the sensationalist title “Spider sex causes spontaneous death” that suggests something stranger than cannibalism.

According to a study conducted at Concordia University and the University of California, “Researchers found that for male orb-weaving spiders of the species Argiope aurantia completing copulation leads to certain death. The deceased suitor’s corpse is then trapped in the female genitalia. This may be a strategy to prevent other males from subsequently mating with the female, say the scientists.” The scientists determined that the female did nothing to kill the males who died spontaneously and concluded, “The females do sometimes remove and devour their dead mates. But the researchers do not think the death program evolved to give her a post-sex snack, as the males are too tiny to provide much nutrition.”

Nature can be wild, weird, and wonderful and endlessly fascinating. I guess that is what prompted the scientists to carefully study 100 pairs of spiders mating. 🙂


Argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am catching up on some photos and thought I’d post this image that I captured in mid-July of a cool-looking fishing spider that Walter Sanford spotted while we were hunting for dragonflies at a creek in Fairfax County. I am not sure of the specific species of the spider, but I am pretty confident that it is of the genus Dolomedes. Most of the times in the past when I have spotted similar spiders, they have actually been in the water, but this one seemed to be hunting from a crevice in the rocks at the edge of the water.

I love the texture of the rocks and especially the lichen that add a lot of visual interest to this image. If you would like to see Walter’s take on our encounter with this spider, check out his post ‘Fishing spider Friday.’ Walter noted that he sees “a mean monkey face on the front half of the spider and a baboon face on the back half.” Be sure to click on the image to see the spider more closely, if you dare and let me know what you think.

 

fishing spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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It was probably my imagination, but the Wolf Spiders (Tigrosa georgicola) that I spotted last weekend while exploring in Fairfax County seemed huge. In the first image, the shadow makes the spider look even larger and gives it a somewhat menacing appearance. I am not sure why the spider in the second shot was out in the open, but its exposed condition allowed me to examine it closely—even relatively large spiders spark my curiosity.

wolf spider

wolf spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the time when I see spiders, it is because I spot their webs first.  Some spiders, though, rely exclusively on speed to capture unsuspecting prey, like this Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton) that I spotted on Monday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Fishing spiders sit at the edge of the water with some of their long legs fully extended. When they sense vibrations of a potential prey on the surface of the water, fishing spiders can walk on the water to seize insects, vertebrates, tadpoles and occasionally small fish or even dive underwater up to 7.1 inches (18 cm), according to Wikipedia.

When I first spotted this fishing spider, it was perched on a semi-submerged log, as shown in the second image below. The spider somehow sensed my presence and ran towards some vegetation at the edge of the water. I was able to maneuver to a position from which I was looking almost directly down at the spider and captured the first image which makes the spider look rather large and menacing, which is why I selected the photo as the featured image.

six-spotted fishing spider

 

six-spotted fishing spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have not yet seen any large spiders this spring, but I have run across a few long-jawed spiders. The bodies of long-jawed orb weaver spiders of the Tetragnathidae family tend to be thin and they have extremely long legs of varying lengths. Most often I find them on vegetation overhanging the water, which in this case was a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

long-jawed spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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This week I did a pair of postings in a single day that I called “beauty and the beast” that was so well received that I thought I would do it again. Earlier this morning I did the “beauty” part with a shot of some crabapple blossoms in my front yard. For the “beast” part, I decided to feature this shot of a little orchard spider (Leucauge venusta) in the garden of my neighbor, fellow photographer and blogger Cindy Dyer. The spider was hanging in the midst of a group of irises that have not yet bloomed and I was happy to be able to be able to frame the shot so you have a sense of the spider’s environment.

As always, I offer my apologies to those who are creeped out by spiders, and recommend that you check out the crabapple posting if you have not seen it yet. As for me, I find spiders to be always fascinating and often beautiful.

orchard orbweaver spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Whenever I have my macro lens on my camera, I tend to scan small areas very carefully, looking for variations of color and patterns or signs of movement. The colorful markings permitted me to spot the tiny cricket frog that I featured in yesterday’s posting. Not far from the frog’s habitat, it was movement that allowed me to spot this cool-looking wolf spider (Tigrosa georgicola) on Monday. The spider was slowly crawling through some leaf litter and I was able to grab this shot when it paused for a second in an open area.

I believe that this is the first wolf spider that I have ever photographed. Fortunately I was able to get help in identifying it in a Facebook group devoted to spider identification. I know that some people are totally creeped out by spiders, while others are fascinated by them. I apologize to those in the former group, but hope that exposure to these spiders through my photos will help you appreciate their beauty—they truly are amazing creatures.

If you are at all interested in or curious about wolf spiders (and there are a lot of different species), you should check out Pete Hillman’s blog that just yesterday featured a photo of a wolf spider basking in the sun. Those who really like spiders will love a posting that Pete did earlier in the month entitled Not One For The Squeamish that shows a female wolf spider with a group of little spiderlings on her back—be sure to double-click on that image.

 

wolf spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If you were to pit a mantis against a spider, which one would have the advantage? I thought it would be the mantis, but that was clearly not the case this past week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This spider had a large web stretched over a path on which I was walking, and I guess the mantis was unlucky enough to get stuck in its sticky strands as it was moving through the air.

mantis versus spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was looking at a small patch of purple aster flowers yesterday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, I noticed that the center of one of them was a different color than all of the rest. I moved closer and was thrilled to see this very cool-looking White-banded Crab Spider (Misumenoides formosipes) nestled in among the petals of the flower. This kind of spider does not build a web, but patiently perches, waiting to pursue passing prey.

crab spider

crab spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How do spiders decide where to place their webs? Is there some special secret that is passed on from generation to generation about optimal web placement for capturing prey? I know that human fisherman and trappers look for specific conditions and wonder if it is the same with spiders.

Whatever the case, this Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) appears to have mastered her trapping skills and looks to have caught both a female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) and what I think is some kind of female grasshopper. I am not really sure about the latter victim, but that is what I believe the green-colored object is in the image.

Often I see the webs of this kind of spider in fairly thick vegetation, but this web was hanging in mid-air about six feet high at the edge of a small pond last weekend at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. The murky grayness in the upper right portion of the image is the water of the pond. In the left hand side you can see some of the web strands that tenuously connected the web to some nearby vegetation. This spider would not have one any contests for the beauty of its web, but there is no arguing with its success in capturing prey.

argiope aurantia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was exploring Prince William Forest Park yesterday morning, I spotted this little spider. I was shooting almost directly into the sun when I captured this image and the light caused the spider’s legs to look almost transparent and the web to glow with all kinds of colors.

It looks almost like the spider was in outer space (and a Facebook viewer commented that she was totally ok with the spider being as far away as possible from her)..

spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Did you know that not all spiders build webs? Some, like jumping spiders, rely on stealth and speed to capture unsuspecting prey. One of my favorite spiders, the Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton), sits at the edge of the water with some of its long legs fully extended. When it senses vibrations of a potential prey on the surface of the water, a fishing spider can walk on the water to seize insects, vertebrates, tadpoles and occasionally small fish or even dive underwater up to 7.1 inches (18 cm), according to Wikipedia.

Here are a couple of images of a Six-spotted Fishing Spider that I spotted earlier this week at Prince William Forest Park. I really like the way that you can see most of the spiders eight eyes in these images and the way that the environment looks almost alien and other-worldly.

Past experience has shown me that viewers will be split in their reactions to these images—some will find them to be really cool and fascinating, while others will find them to be completely creepy. As you might suspect, I am in the former group.

Six-spotted Fishing spider

Six-spotted Fishing spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During a recent morning walk at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I came across some spiderwebs in the fields that glistened in the sunlight thanks to rain the previous night. Many of the webs were only partial webs and I wondered if perhaps the torrential rain had ripped them apart.

Light was mostly coming from the front, which made it a little tricky to get a correct exposure, but that kind of backlighting is the reason why the webs are visible.

The backgrounds were different for the different webs and most of the time I had to deliberately underexpose the images to have the webs “pop,” which meant that the backgrounds looked really dark. I was thrilled when I managed to capture the first image below with a background full of autumn colors.

autumn web

autumn web

autumn web

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When this Spotted Orbweaver spider (Neoscona crucifera) spotted me last week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, it scurried along the silken threads of its web to the relative safety of the plant to which one end of the web was attached.

There is something that really appeals to me about this image. Maybe it’s the way that the colors of the spider match those of the plant or how the shapes of the stems are similar to those of the spider’s legs. Perhaps it is the contrast between the sharpness of a few elements in the image and the dreamy, almost ghost-like background.

Most of the time I strive for super-realistic images and try to draw a viewer’s attention to the details. When I am in an artsy, creative mood, though, I am content to capture an impression of the subject, leaving the details to the imagination of others.

spotted orbweaver spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Raindrops can enhance the beauty of many subjects, like this spider web that I photographed on Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. As I looked at the drops, they somehow brought to mind an elaborate necklace of loosely strung pearls.

wet spider web

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When you shoot with a zoom lens, you can change the look of an image without moving from where you are standing. That can be an advantage, but it can also be a disadvantage, because it can discourage you from exploring different angles or different perspectives.

I really enjoy shooting with a lens of a fixed focal length, especially my macro lens, because it forces me to think more about composition. If I decide that I want the subject to be larger in the frame, I have to move physically closer to the subject. If the terrain doesn’t let me get any closer, then I have to consciously consider how else I could frame the shot.

This past weekend I saw a lot of black and yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia) when I was exploring Jackson Miles Wetland Refuge, a small park not too far from where I live. Some of the spiders were in bushes and others were overhanging the water of a small pond. It was a fun challenge to figure out how to photograph the spiders in different and interesting ways.

In the first shot, I decided to shoot the spider from the side rather than from the front as I normally do. I was delighted to see the way the the shape of the vegetation in the background almost matched the shape of the spider’s legs.

I also photographed the spider in the second image from the side, but the leafy backdrop and the inclusion of more of the spider’s web gives the image a completely different feel as compared to the first one.

When I saw the spider in the third image overhanging the water, I loved the shape of its body and its extended legs. If I had had a zoom lens, I am pretty sure I would have zoomed in on the spider. When processing the image, I was also tempted to crop in closely. I remember when I was shooting, though, that I deliberately included the vegetation on the left hand side, because I liked the way that it looked. So the image that you see is pretty much the one that I chose when I shot it, having zoomed in as closely as my feet would allow (without getting really wet). Despite my normal desire to fill my frame with my subject, I think it was good that I was not able to do so in this case.

argiope spider

argiope spider

argiope spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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On Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I watched with fascination as this spider (maybe a Marbled Orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus) spider) worked on her web. She seemed to have started with the spokes coming out of the middle and was adding the ribs when I photographed her.

If you look closely in the first image, you can actually see the web material coming out of one of her spinnerets, the organs in which a spider produces the different kinds of silk that make up a web. I tried to figure our her process as I observed her. It looks like she would produce a length of silk, maneuver it into place on one of the spokes with one or more of her legs, affix it in place, and then start the process over again. For the final image, I moved back a little to give you a somewhat better view of more of the web and a sense of its shape.

I have photographed spiderwebs many times before, but this was the first time that I watched one being built. My admiration for the skills and artistry of spiders continues to grow—they are simply amazing.

spider making web

spider making web

spider making web

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

 

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When you check out spider webs really carefully, you can often discover really cool-looking tiny spiders, like this Arrowhead Orb Weaver spider (Verrucosa arenata) that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. If you look really closely in between its uppermost legs, you can see some of its multiple eyes looking straight at you. Information on BugGuide.net indicates that this spider is unusual because it rests in the web with its head up, not head down like most other Orb Weavers.

It’s hard to get a sense of scale when you look at this image, but I’d estimate that this little spider was less than an inch in length (25 mm). It was hanging in the air in its web at the edge of a trail when I first spotted it. I was able to move in pretty close with my macro lens—unlike many other spiders, it did not scurry away to the edge of the web. Sharpness is always an issue when shooting at at close range, but my monopod helped to steady me enough to get a relatively sharp image.

You may not like spiders, but you have to admit that this is a cool-looking spider.

Arrowhead Orb Weaver

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Unlike those that construct elaborate webs, some spiders instead perch at the shore with extended legs and sense prey through vibrations on the surface of the water. When the prey is detected, the spider runs across the top of the water, prompting some to call it the “Jesus spider.”

I spotted this cool-looking Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton) in the shallow water of a pond this past Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Six-spotted Fishing Spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes the dragonfly is the predator and sometimes it is the prey—it appears to be primarily a matter of circumstances and timing. This male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) met his demise this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I am not sure how exactly the spider managed to snag the dragonfly, but I assume the dragonfly flew into the spider’s web, which was high in the air, spanning a gap between some tall trees. Interesting enough, I was only able to see a few strands of the web, so I wonder if this action took place at the extreme edge of the web.

common whitetail dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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When I came upon this little praying mantis during a recent trip to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I couldn’t decide if it was the predator or the prey. Although the mantis seemed to be at least partially trapped in a spider’s web, the spider no longer seemed to be present. In addition, the mantis appeared to be trying to work its way out of the web.

There is definitely a story here, but I can’t figure out for sure what it is. You’ll have to choose an ending to the story on your own.

praying mantis

 

praying mantis

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Even if you find spiders a bit creepy (which I don’t), you can’t help but admire the beauty and artistry of their webs. This spider, which I think is a Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia), went a little crazy with its zigzag pattern this past weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Most of the time the webs of these spiders have a single zigzag pattern that leads to the center of the web. This spider, which seemed smaller than many of the others of this species that I have seen, for some unknown reason decided to repeat the pattern multiple times, which helped me to spot the web more easily.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you think about your photographic subjects one at a time? That’s the way that I tend to operate. One of my blogging friends, though, likes to organize photos of others around themes that transcend the boundaries of individual species. In this posting, Liz of Exploring Colour focused on the theme of Predators and Prey with photos that capture this reality of nature without becoming gruesome. Be sure to check out her other wonderful postings too that include her own photos as well of those of some other awesome photographers.

Exploring Colour

The reality of the natural world is that some creatures eat other creatures to survive. Nature photographers spend a lot of time outside and sometimes capture dramatic moments in the struggle for survival. Their photos and stories may shock us but we can learn so much from these encounters – animals seem capable of much more planning, strategy and applied knowledge than what most of us humans ever give them credit for.


** Click on any photo to view large-size version **

Note: Each photographer’s website/blog is listed at the bottom of this blog-post.


snake2_fish_blog

Mike Powell | Snake catches catfish | 20 July, 2017

  • Story plus 5 Photos showing the snake in various positions holding his catch, all the time in the water, until all of a sudden the snake somehow ingests the large fish and the last photo shows the snake with only the fish tail sticking out of…

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As I was loading camera gear into my car on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I noticed that I had a tiny hitchhiker—a crab spider that looked ready to embrace me with open arms. After photographing the cute little spider, I released it into a grassy area, where it seemed more likely to catch something to eat than on the roof of the car.

I do not have much experience with crab spiders, but think this one might be a Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia). As always, I would welcome a correction or confirmation if you are knowledgeable about spiders.

crab spider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Although some folks find spiders to be creepy, I look at them as wonderfully creative architects and artists and I was thrilled to capture this image of one in its web that I spotted early yesterday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I have found that early morning is the best time to get shots of spider webs and they tend to show up best in shots that are backlit, which is to say that light is shining from the front. In this case I tried to frame the shot carefully for maximum effect and did not have to crop the image at all.

web art

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When a Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) traps a prey in its web, it often moves so quickly to wrap it up completely that it is difficult to identify the prey. That was not the case with the damselfly that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge as it was being encased in a silken shroud.

The damselfly looks to be a bluet damselfly and if pressed, I’d guess that it might be a Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile) or possibly a Big Bluet (Enallagma durum). The spider seems to be experiencing the same kind of problem that I encounter when I am trying to wrap an awkwardly-shaped present at Christmas time—it is hard to be neat and tidy, the process uses up lots of wrapping material, and the package always end up irregularly shaped and easy to identify.

spider and damselfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

 

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