THE SPIDER AND THE FLY
‘Will you walk into my parlour?’ said the Spider to the Fly,
”Tis the prettiest parlour that ever did you spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show when you are there.’
‘Oh no, no,’ said the little Fly, ‘to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.’
by Mary Howitt
See the white blob in the middle of the pink yarrow. When I first saw it, I thought it was a petal until it moved. Upon closer inspection, I saw it was a white spider, a rather large white spider with dark pink stripes down its sides. Of course I was fascinated, took more pictures and walked away. I came back a couple of hours later to see if it was still around. Here is what I saw…..
So of course I had to know more about this spider. It is a Goldenrod Spider a species of crab spider also known as Misumena vatia or goldenrod crab spider or flower (crab) spider. It is the largest and best known flower spider because you can find it hunting on flowers especially goldenrod flowers. They are commonly found in North America including southern Canada.
When you see these spiders they will either be yellow or white, depending on the flower you find them on. They choose flowers that are heavily visited by pollinators such as Joe pye, daisy, milkweed, Queen Anne’s lace, dandelion, black-eyed susan, goldenrod, echinacea and yarrow to name a few. They say the spiders are virtually impossible to spot on yellow flowers. And these spiders can stay motionless for long periods of time as I have witnessed.
Males in early summer are quite small (5mm) and easily overlooked, but females can grow up to 10 mm (excluding legs). The female is the one most often seen with red streaks on her abdomen. The male is dark reddish-brown, with a whitish abdomen and dark red streaks. I had another chance encounter a week later where I saw the male and female together (picture right).
These spiders have good eyesight and use it when changing color. They do this by secreting a yellow pigment into the outer cell layer of their body. If the spider stays longer on a white/pink plant, the yellow pigment is then excreted. It takes the spider much longer to change to yellow, because it has to produce the yellow pigment, usually 10 and 25 days. Changing to white takes about six days.
Goldenrod Spiders do not build webs. They walk forwards, backwards, or sideways. Their legs are uneven, the two front ones being bigger than the rest. Even though this species of spider uses camouflage as its primary defense, it will bite as well. Its bite is not harmful to humans but can produce irritation.
When I spied a female a week later on a different pink flower, I suddenly saw a smaller brown spider with a small white abdomen, the male. Before I knew it they were mating. The male searches many flowers until he finds a female. He then climbs over her head onto her underside to inseminate her.
After mating, female Goldenrod Spiders will spin a silk sac to hold their eggs, bend the leaf over the sac and wrap more silk around it. I have yet to find this sack close to where the 2 spiders mated.
The female usually dies before the young spiderlings hatch, and they are then on their own from the moment they are born. The young spiders reach the size of 5 mm by autumn.
Goldenrod Spiders eat their prey by hunting on the ground, or by ambushing them on a flower. They especially like bees,wasps, moths, yellow jackets, hornets, hummingbird moths, cabbage whites, clouded sulphur and painted lady butterflies and flies found visiting flowers. They also will attack grasshoppers and other plant-eating insects. Wish they ate Japanese beetles. They are said to be helpful to gardeners, and spiders in the garden are a sign of a healthy garden.
These spiders have small jaws which contain venom allowing them to attack prey much larger than themselves. It will grab its prey with its front legs and inject the venom. It then sucks all the body fluid from its prey. The outer body of the prey is left looking undamaged; just a stiff lifeless shell.
Goldenrod spiders do have predators. Birds, frogs and other insects hunt these beauties. Some of the predators include: rabid wolf spider, garden centipede, Carolina chickadee, Leopard frog and Downy woodpecker.
I do love these impromptu encounters in the garden. This eight legged chance meeting continues to fascinate me as I search for more of these spiders throughout the season. If I ever do see a yellow one, I’ll be sure to post a picture.
Watch the busy spider,
He’s helpful as can be,
Eating insects all day long
Now they won’t bite me.
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