Fall: More Fall Color in the Field


Not all the yellows you see dotting our meadows and prairies are the various sunflowers in bloom.

Goldenrods are also making a stunning appearance these days. While they may not look it, they’re also a member of the sunflower family.

There’s a large number of different species of goldenrod -- more than 60. Some are common, several of our local goldenrods are rare.

For insects, there’s danger lurking among those flowers.

Goldenrods are common hosts for small crab spiders that camouflage themselves and lurk among the flowers. Crab spiders don’t use silky webs to capture their prey, which can range from ants and wasps, even some butterflies.

They hold their legs out to the sides – crab-like – and hide in wait among the tiny florets, slowly changing color to match the surroundings. They wait for insects to pass, ambushing their unsuspecting prey, holding it in their jaws and using tiny fangs to inject a toxin that’s effective even on larger insects.

These tiny crab spiders have the remarkable adaptation of relocating themselves and travelling great distances by ballooning. Research has revealed that ballooning is more than just a crab spider casting itself randomly to the wind in hopes of finding food and opportunities for mating.

To ensure that it doesn’t take off prematurely a crab spider will anchor itself with a strand of silk. Research has determined that prior to takeoff these tiny spiders are capable of sensing when the combination of wind speed, direction and other conditions are favorable, At the right time, the spider will turn its abdomen in the wind direction and launch a kite-like array of silk, sever the anchor, and rise into the wind.

There are times in fall when so many crab spiders have ballooned that a meadow will appear to be blanketed in silk. Look for them when the sun is low in the sky and its rays are skimming across the open landscape.

The method is remarkably successful. Some spiders have crossed oceans on their strands of silk.

Remarkable seems like too small a word to describe it.


Photo By: Art Weber: Crab spider on Goldenrod.  


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