Recently, I was admiring the white blossoms on our red Ninebark bush. They are a delicate cluster of even smaller white flower units, each with their own petals, stamens and pistils.
I bent down to get a closer look and turned the flower towards me. It looked even more beautiful up close, but then I noticed an anomaly. Sticking out from the pattern of curves created by the small flower heads, I noticed an angular bit of white the same colour as the flowers.
When I looked closer, I found a tiny, white spider. I must have startled it, because it moved down the flower stem and then stopped. At first, I didn’t think this little thing could actually see, but its behaviour indicated otherwise.
I had never seen a spider like this before. I got my camera, set up and, using a macro lens, proceeded to take its image.
This is when it started behaving in a strange way—for a spider that is. Every time I set up to take a photo, it moved around to the other side of the stem. No matter at which side of the branch that I put my camera, it quickly moved around to the other side. It seemed to be able to tell where I was and, I presume, moved around to get the stem between itself and me.
I finally fooled it by putting my hand on the side opposite to where my camera was which caused it to move in front of my lens.
Looking at it, I was reminded of the thousands of tiny sand crabs on the west coast beaches that, when approached, stop, get on their back haunches and raise their tiny crab claws in a defence stance. I’ve always found that amusing.
This little white spider was doing exactly the same thing and had its front legs/arms spread out wide in a defensive stance. I noticed several black spots between its extended arms and learned later that those were its eyes.
I got the photographs I wanted, but was curious, so I searched the internet to look for ‘small, white spiders’. I was able to identify the spider that I had in my garden as a Goldenrod Crab Spider. This is what I found out about it:
The Goldenrod Crab Spider is a species of colour-changing flower spiders that are common in North America . These creatures do not spin webs, but use silk to capture the prey or hold its own eggs until they hatch. They are known to have good vision and are chance predators of pollinating insects such as small bees, smaller wasps, butterflies, grasshoppers, and flies. They are mostly seen during bright and sunny summer days, the time when pollinators are present.
The two pairs of front legs are longer than the others. All the legs are spread out from the two sides like a crab, which has gained the family its name. They use these long, front legs to hold onto their prey just enough for them to inject their venom. That paralyses the prey almost instantly, but doesn’t kill it. They then settle in to feed. By virtue of their highly potent venom, they can even catch larger prey than itself.
Later in the day I decided to go for a long walk, but before I left, I looked again at the flower where I had seen the crab spider. Initially, I couldn’t find her, but when I looked carefully, there she was—buried in the whiteness of the flower blossom, with her front legs outstretched and her beady little eyes looking straight at me. The camouflage was perfect, but I thought, “What an optimist. How can she have a chance of getting something in this location?”
I returned a couple of hours later and inspected the flower where she had been hiding. There she was with a victim, a small bee, paralysed, and her feeding away. I couldn’t believe it.
I quickly set up my camera again and started taking photos.
As I was watching this through my macro lens, suddenly, another, smaller black spider came scurrying quickly along the flower crown, up to the back of the feeding female goldenrod, and wrapped its legs around its abdomen. That was a male Goldenrod Spider and it was mating with the female. I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be witnessing all this through my camera lens.
The male spider then came around and sat on top of the female. I could then see the differences and similarities between the two. The male was smaller, had a black cephalothorax, yet had a white abdomen, the same as the female, but much smaller. It also had the same but smaller markings on the side of its abdomen. I wondered why the male was staying nearby, because the female will often paralyse the male after mating and then eat it.
For the next couple of days I searched for the white spiders, but couldn’t find them. I presumed the female had laid her eggs on the underside of a leaf somewhere and was guarding them.
That was the arachnidian event I witnessed and I’ll not forget it. Talk about being at the right place and the right time….