The Little Beauty and the Wee Beastie

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.

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About krikitarts

Welcome to Krikit Arts! I'm a veterinarian; photographer; finger-style guitarist, composer, instructor, and singer/songwriter; fisherman; and fly-tyer. Please enjoy--and please respect my full rights to all photos on this Website!
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18 Responses to The Little Beauty and the Wee Beastie

  1. Frank Wallace says:

    Quite a story…and nice shots.

  2. seekraz says:

    Wow…how crazy is that?! What a capture…I can’t imagine that witnessing something like this would happen again in a lifetime unless you spent a significant portion of that lifetime lying in wait yourself for such an event. How fortunate for you…and us (while being so unfortunate for the poor moth/butterfly). Incredible shots, Gary. Thank you for sharing.

    • krikitarts says:

      I feel very privileged to have been witness to such a melodrama in miniature. In spite of the mosquitoes, something told me I should sit tight and wait to see what might happen. I have learned to follow these hunches when time allows, and I’m really grateful that this was one of those times.

  3. Nice blog. Enjoyed the story….loved the images. Woodland are areas that people think manage themselves but the reality is that you have to plan well for its future with sometmes tough decisions as to what to remove have to be made. Good luck and think hard!

    • krikitarts says:

      Exactly right, David. When we assume stewardship of such things, there’s a lot of responsibility, and intelligent management is sometimes quite a challenge.

  4. MikeP says:

    Gary… I am still amazed at how that spider, small in size can pull that moth up. Really nice find!!

  5. krikitarts says:

    It’s one thing for a small spider to snare a much larger prey in a web, but all alone and unassisted like this–I think that’s the most ambitious catch I’ve ever witnessed. And the butterfly must weigh 15 to 20 times as much as the little hunter. Quite a feat, indeed.

  6. Finn Holding says:

    Wow! Superb series to depict this natural drama. The spider was punching way above his weight there.

  7. Adrian Lewis says:

    Gary, that is a truly astonishing set of images – absolutely incredible, and very well photographed! I’m going to reblog it. Adrian

  8. Adrian Lewis says:

    Reblogged this on FATman Photos and commented:
    Here is a truly astonishing set of pictures from Gary Bolstad – very well photographed and with incredible subject matter – but look away now if you’re at all appalled by predation in the natural world! FATman

    • krikitarts says:

      Adrian, I fear I am tardy in the extreme in acknowledging and thanking you for reblogging this post. Just too much other stuff going on, as I’ve said. I truly appreciate your friendship, support, and inspiration. I wish I’d had a real macro lens and a tripod!

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