Yesterday I went for a hike on a portion of a woods trail that I started decades ago and have been working on improving ever since. The woods, however, were getting so old that the hypermature ones were dying and falling over at a fast enough rate that I have been having to make ever more detours around them each year. Last fall we decided to have it logged so we can watch it rejuvenate in years to come. Almost the only remaining part of my trail skirts a little wetland meadow, and that’s where I hiked yesterday. I was very happy to see that the blue flag iris (Iris virginica shrevei) were in bloom and, though I didn’t have my tripod with me, and had only my 70-300mm zoom lens on my camera, I decided to make a few portraits of them.
As I wandered a little farther I came across a group of a dozen or so, and a splash of yellow-orange caught my attention. Upon closer examination, I saw that a Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor) had perched at the mouth of one of the flower’s caverns and was delicately sipping at the delights within. I sat down at the closest distance at which I could focus my longish lens (a little less than five feet), steadied myself with my elbows on my knees, and settled down to see what I could do with the opportunity and the equipment at hand.
The Skipper advanced deeper and deeper into the mouth of the flower, emerging only occasionally and only very briefly, its head disappearing from view far more often than not. After a few cycles of this behavior, during which I was able to see its head for only a few seconds out of each minute or so, the pattern stopped and it didn’t seem to move for several minutes. A small cadre of mosquitoes took gleeful advantage of my careless inactivity and started feasting on my wrists, but I kept my eye glued to the camera so I could spot-focus on the butterfly when it emerged again.
When it finally did, it fell from the flower about six inches, but was stopped by so fine a thread that it was nearly invisible, and hung there in mid-air, its wings fluttering feebly. Suspecting an episode of predation, I took a really close look and found that a tiny crab spider, probably a young Goldenrod Spider (Misumena vatia) had been lying in wait within the flower’s depths and had struck when the opportunity arose and the Skipper approached closely enough. It had found a soft enough spot in the insect’s head to penetrate with its miniscule fangs, and it was not letting go.
It took another several minutes for the fluttering of the Skipper’s wings to stop so that the spiderlet could manage to haul its enormous prey laboriously back up to its lair in the flower. I find myself imagining the tiny hunter celebrating a successful hunt beyond its wildest young dreams.