Monday, July 14, 2014

Arachno-Drama In My Backyard (WARNING: Contains spider images)

Two long-jawed orb-weavers in my garden.
This week I was privileged to watch a small drama acted out in my bee balm.  The flowers grow close together, creating a diverse and compact set of micro-environments. A quick glance won't reveal much, but if you sit still and let your eyes shift their focus thousands of small lives start to appear. 

The plot is only about a square meter, but these plants provide habitat and hunting grounds for numerous orb-weavers, jumping spiders, and funnel-web spiders.  It's a treat to find an argiope or a goldenrod spider in these places.  They may be deadly to insects, but they're a beautiful part of the ecosystem.

In the first photo you can see, in the lower left, a long-jawed orb weaver.  If you look to the upper right, you'll see another.

Here's what happened: a small biting fly landed on my leg while I was watching the spiders, and it bit me.  I flicked it off, and it landed on this web.  For a moment, the spiders did nothing while the fly tried to disentangle itself. I couldn't help thinking of karma.

One spider rushed in to seize the other when it went for the fly.
After a second or two, the spider in the lower left dashed out to seize the fly.  This much could have been expected, I think.  What came next surprised me, though.  The second spider dashed out and seized...the first spider, as you can see in the second and third photos.

In the third photo you can see that the spiders are entirely engrossed with each other, while the fly is being ignored by them. The two spiders remained tangled like this for a while, without moving.  Eventually, I was being bitten by too many flies and so I left.

Half an hour later I came back with my camera to see how it had gone.  I was sure the spider that built the web would be dead, since it appeared to have been at a disadvantage in the fight.

Here they are ignoring the fly and grappling with each other.
Surprisingly, I found the fly gone, and both spiders had returned to their previous positions, as you can see in the fourth photo.  I suppose this could have been a territory fight, or mating, or competition for prey.  I don't know.

The best part of this is discovering something new that was going on in my own garden about which I know next to nothing.  Since then I've been poring over books and doing web searches when I have spare time.  If you know more about this species and what was going on here, I'd love to hear from you.

And then they returned to their earlier positions.