Saturday, June 13, 2009

Witness to Waspslaughter

Yeah, yeah, I went looking for native wildflowers today.  And sure, I found a bunch.  I'll post my list at the end of this blog.  But first I want to show you the little drama I witnessed today.  

I'd gone looking for Great Angelica, a giant Parsley Family plant that grows in damp spots, and sure enough, I did find it.  Just where I found it last year.  But hmmm, look at these dead bugs lying on one of its leaves:

Seemed kind of odd, I don't often find dead bugs just lying there.  Intact, as far as I could tell.  Then I looked up and saw who was lurking among the Great Angelica's flowers:  the bloodsucking ambusher and camouflage artist, the Goldenrod Crab Spider.  Those bugs on the leaf must be what's left of her sucked-dry prey.

Actually, she wasn't very well camouflaged today.  I've seen these spiders turn a kind of yellow green to blend in with the plants where they're lurking. (Check back through my blog archives to Feb 12.)  How can she fool any prey, I thought, with those bright red stripes on her creamy-white body?  And along came some possible prey.  I wondered if this wasp (fly?) would spot the spider and keep away.

Nope.  Walked right into the trap!  And man, did that spider move fast!  She grabbed with her barbed front legs and chomped right down on the wasp's head with her jaws and held on tight, even though the wasp buzzed and flailed, kicking its little white-tipped legs and thrashing its long skinny abdomen around.

The struggle went on for what seemed to me a long, long time.  I stood watching for over 15 minutes.  The spider clutched the wasp tighter, turning it upside down, and I think I saw the spider's mouthparts moving, but mostly she held very still while the wasp kept kicking its legs. After a while, the kicking slowed, and then, it finally stopped.   What will the spider do now, I wondered.  And I waited.  Waited.  Waited.  The spider didn't move, didn't chew up the wasp, didn't wrap it in silk, didn't drop it.  Was she sucking out its bodily fluids?  How long would it take?

Well, I never found out how long the spider would grip the wasp before dropping it.  Thunder was rumbling and rain started to fall and I was late, anyway, getting home to start supper.  So I left the spider alone to enjoy her meal, while I went home to prepare mine.

Quite an exciting end to an already pleasurable day.  I visited several of my favorite flower "hot spots" -- Congress Park in downtown Saratoga Springs, Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa, and a swampy site near Ballston Lake.  Here's my list of what was in bloom today (native species only, though many other flowers were blooming, too).

American Basswood
American Brooklime
Bladderwort (Common)
Bunchberry
Bush Honeysuckle
Cattail
Cleavers
Common Milkweed
Dewberry
Frostweed
Great Angelica
Moonseed Vine
Ninebark
Staghorn Sumac
Viburnum, Maple-leaved
Virginia Rose
Winterberry

Postscript:  My fellow blogger from SwampThings has suggested the spider was feasting on an ichneumon wasp.  There are some thousands of ichneumon wasp species.  I Googled a few and found one that looked exactly like the one pictured above, except it was four inches long!!!  Our little wasp, not counting her ovipositor (that needle-like  thing sticking out of her rear) was barely half an inch long. 

6 comments:

Bird said...

What a SPECTACULAR series of pictures, thank you for sharing the drama! I'm fond (if that is the word) of watching spiders ambush their prey, but I don't think I've ever witnessed such a striking animal hunting.

soup33 said...

You have captured a moment that few walkers ever get to see ... it's a time of year to stop and be still once in a while, and see what flies into view ... or crawls..
great shots !
what did YOU have for dinner after that ?

Woodswalker said...

Thanks, Bird and soup33. I, too, was amazed to have happened upon this scene, to witness an actual ambush. I thought that fly would NEVER approach that spider. But it did! I do have another photo of the Goldenrod Spider gnawing on a bee (go back through archives to Feb. 12), but I did not witness the actual capture. That spider was actually camouflaged with a greenish coloration. I wonder why this one kept her flashy red stripes?

I can't say watching this spoiled my appetite. But it did mess up my eyes for a long time after focussing so closely and intently for at least 30 minutes. Remember our moms used to warn us not to cross our eyes for fear they would "freeze" that way? Man, that's what it felt like!

Ellen Rathbone said...

Very cool event - "Nature red in tooth and claw", eh? BTW, I do believe it IS a wasp, and I'd even wager a female. The skinny "waist" and long abdomen are good clues, and the long bit sticking out the end looks like an ovipositor.

Jens Zorn said...

As others have said, these photos with the text are wonderful ---- and if the descriptor hadn't been so overused in recent times, I'd say "awesome!" ( Maybe "awe-inspiring" is not yet a cliché. )
What a treat to follow your blog--
Jens

Woodswalker said...

Thanks for your comments, Ellen and Jens. It pleases me no end you guys stop by. In some ways, this blog and comment back and forth is even better than hiking together in a group. When I'm alone, I'm more apt to spot these fascinating events, certainly more likely to spend 40 minutes staring at a spider! And then, with this blog, I can share what I saw. Thanks for letting me know you are looking at it.