Friday, June 1, 2012

Hanging by a Thread

Identifying a spider to the species level based on its colors and markings from just a photograph can be difficult or impossible, even for an expert. It's pretty safe to say this glossy female, about 15 mm long, is a Foliate Orbweaver (Larinioides cornutus). She looks like she's gravid and ready to lay eggs any time soon.

There's enough detail in the next image to see the eye pattern and determine that the spider is a Ground Crab Spider, genus Xysticus. And it looks like she's bagged another Ground Crab Spider, perhaps a different species, or maybe a younger version of her own kind.

This female is about 8 mm in length. Size and the patterning on the abdomen suggest Xysticus punctatus, but without having captured the spider and examined its anatomy in detail, its impossible to say for sure.

The best we can say for certain as to the identity of this tiny spider, only a few millimeters long, is subfamily Erigoninae (Dwarf Spiders). The webs these little spiders were weaving looked more like something an Orb Weaver would make rather than the typical sheetweb. This is strictly guesswork because there are a few look-alikes in this group – the closest match in terms of species seems to be Hypselistes florens. Finding a mating pair would go a long way toward confirming this hypothesis because the males are very distinctive ... photo of Hypselistes florens by Tom Murray at BugGuide.Net.

A mug shot of a male Long-jawed Orb Weaver, genus Tetragnatha. The name "long-jawed" sort of fits, doesn't it?

A pair of mating Long-jawed Orb Weavers – the male and female have locked those impressively toothed jaws. Presumably the purpose of this to restrain the female, as spiders are born predators and her hair-trigger killer instincts impel her to eat her prospective mate.

The same two spiders after they've separated. This is the male, and he was in a hurry to disengage after mating but having difficulty doing so. Was this due to the spider's teeth and jaws being entangled, or because the female was trying to attack the male?

The more robust female.

Sexual dimporphism in spiders can be pretty dramatic, as demonstrated by these female and male Flower Crab Spiders (Misumena vatia), the much larger female is eating a Soldier Fly. When I first encountered these two, the male was on top of the flower. When he moved underneath to avoid me, this happened ...

There might be a mating in the offing but the female sure didn't seem to like what was happening and she was trying to brush the male off of her backside with her hind legs. Considering the difference in size it's lucky for the diminutive male that his prospective mate was preoccupied with her dinner, because otherwise his life might indeed be hanging by a thread.