...said the spider to the lady beetle. And yet, nothing happened. This morning before work I went out and, as usual, was taking pictures of whatever I could find in the yard. I found this lovely Southern Sprite damselfly (first of the season): Gasteracantha cancriformis, commonly known in south Florida as a "crab spider," although most naturalists call it the spiny-backed orbweaver to avoid confusing it with the "true" crab spiders like the one above). The true crab spiders are so called because their front pairs of legs are drastically elongated, much like the pincers of a crab. It's one of the largest spider families, with over 2,000 species worldwide. There are at least 130 species in 9 genera in the United States, so identification to species level is left to the true spider experts, the araneologists (as distinct from the arachnidologists, who study arachnids in general, which includes arthropods from other orders such as scorpions, mites, ticks, and chiggers, in addition to the Daddy Longlegs, which aren't true spiders at all). While I was taking pictures of this unusual flower-trapping arrangement (normally I see the petals of the flowers curled down, rather than up), I noticed a wee little lady beetle about to become breakfast: And then the strangest thing happened: the spider just remained motionless while the beetle climbed on the spider's back, tumbled off onto the disk portion of the flower, and then scurried away out of sight! I wasn't able to snap a picture of the scene as the beetle left, but I was certainly surprised to see what I assumed would be a typical predation scenario turn into nothing at all. In case you're curious, the lady beetle looks very much like the "metallic blue" lady beetle, Curinus coeruleus, although it's by far the smallest one of them I've ever seen. References Marshall, S., & G.B. Edwards. 2008. Florida’s Fabulous Spiders, 4th ed. Hawaiian Gardens, CA: World Publications. Ubick, D., P. Paquin, P. E. Cushing, & V. Roth (eds.). 2005. Spiders of North America: An Identification Manual. Keene, NH: American Arachnological Society.It's always a pleasure to see these relatively rare damselflies. (Odd, too, how abundance is so tied to locale: Everglades Spite (N. pallidula) is considered very rare, while Southern Sprite isn't, and yet I get dozens and dozens of the former over several months and very very few of the latter. I guess being near the Everglades is conducive to the occurrence of Everglades Sprite? While most people across the range of these insects are not near the glades...) When I was finished with the sprite's photo session I wandered over to the patch of dune sunflower I have growing along the drive. I noticed one flower had two petals sort of curved upward toward each other, indicating, most likely, the presence of a hunting spider. (That is, a spider that hunts without using a web.) It had tied the petals together with a strand of silk; you can see them curling up toward the camera in the photo below: Thomisid spiders are commonly known as "crab spiders" (not to be confused with
The Rambur's Forktail damselfly (Ischnura hastata) is one of the more widespread and common damselflies in my area, and across the southern part of the country, really. Its range even extends into Hawaii, according to the sightings map from Odonata Central: 1 which means wide open lens. Adding flash to that means the pictures were almost solarized. Good thing digital processing is so powerful; you can at least see the action! Here is a bit more about the species, for those who are interested. Like the range map above, this is from Odonata Central:There are a couple of reasons this damselfly has such an extensive range. One is that they are fairly large, dwarfing their relatives, especially the tiny Citrine Forktail (I. hastata) or the equally dainty Everglades Sprite (Nehalennia pallidula). Another reason might very well be that they are badasses! I was sitting on the couch one lazy afternoon while the wife and kids were at the library when I noticed an Everglades Sprite drifting near the doorknob of one of the French doors that lead out onto the pool deck. I ran into my office to get my camera, but by the time I got back, a female Rambur's had taken notice of this Everglades Sprite as well. And here is what ensued! The first two pictures were overexposed because I had left the camera in "bird" mode,
Rambur's Forktail is the most widespread forktail of the New World, ranging as far north as Maine, southward to southern California, Mexico, Central and South America. . . . It also inhabits the Hawaiian Islands, where it was introduced in 1973. . . . As widespread as this species is, surprisingly little has been written about its biology. Both sexes will remain close to the water and although males are not territorial, females are known to be highly predaceous and often cannibalistic. Males often do not release females from the wheel position for several hours, and sometimes as many as seven, to secure their genetic contribution. Red females will sometimes attack males, but more often curl their abdomen downward while fluttering their wings in a refusal display.I bring to your attention the relevant bit from the description above: "females are known to be highly predaceous." As the Everglades Sprites attempting to get their mack on just a few feet away might say, "tell us about it!" References Odonatacentral.org Paulson, D. (2011). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP.
After my post a couple of weeks ago where I lost track of a pair of damselflies in tandem before I found out whether they actually attained the wheel position I've been hoping for another chance. Today, the first sunny day after what seems like a week of rain, I got my wish. In spades! This evening there were more Nehalennia pallidula than I could shake a stick at! Everywhere I looked was a male looking for a mate, a pair that I accidentally separated with my clumsy walking through the tall grass, or a pair actually mating! I managed to latch onto one pair that seemed to know which end was up, and I was able to follow them without scaring them to separate. I even managed a few "in-process" pictures. Here is one of the puzzles from last time; I simply couldn't figure out how the male grabs onto the female and THEN transfers the sperm from his primary genitalia at the tip of the abdomen to his secondary genitalia on segment two. Well, here is how he does it: may not be abundant in the wild*, but in the urban wilderness of my property, I would guesstimate, just ticking them off on my fingers, that there were at least two dozen individuals today: 8 in the tall grass behind the shed, 5 or 6 more under the canoe, at least 6 more in the front yard, and probably 10 more on the other side. These are conservative guesstimates. These numbers are just for the Everglades Sprite; I didn't even mention (until now) the Fragile Forktail or two that I saw, or the Rambur's Forktail pair I saw mating earlier today. Don't know where all the Citrine Forktails have gone (a month ago they were present in numbers similar to those of the Everglades Sprite today), but their position in the ecosystem has not gone unfilled! Spring may be almost over, but it sure is still la saison d'amour here in my yard! Go odonata! *I know no one ever clicks links anymore, so I'll just tell you that its status is "Near Threatened" on the IUCN Red List for 2011.2.