Midwestern Wanderlog

2016-08-23 – Thistles and crabs

A fiercely breezy day today, with a brightly-painted sunrise.  I kept having to grab the camera tripod to keep it from tipping over.  (I really need to get working on some ideas for stabilizing the legs.  Sure, there’s sandbags, but do I want to be lugging fifteen extra pounds up this hill daily?  I don’t think so.  So I was leaning toward the thin metal tent pegs; push them into the ground and hook their ends onto the feet of the tripod.)

Sunrise Stats!
First light: 5:53 AM
Sunrise: 6:24 AM
Daylight: 14 hrs, 41 min

The thistles are blooming, bright pale purple poofs atop silvery-green foliage.  Despite their prickles, they’re really quite pretty plants – especially the flowers.

Believe it or not, they’re members of the aster family too!  I think this one is the Cirsium, the common thistle.  It’s more appropriately called a plume thistle, with feathered hairs on its achenes (fruit with a hard covering that looks like a seed, like the pips on strawberries).  When the thistles ripen and go to seed, they can draw in goldfinches, which are always a pretty sight.

And, apparently, they can draw in unusual spiders too!

This little girl is a Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia).  They’re an ambush hunter, sitting down in the middle of a flower – generally a goldenrod.  They can actually change color to match the flower they hunt from, though, particularly the younger females.  So they might be on a white flower, too!  The color change depends on their vision – spiders with their eyes painted lose the ability to alter themselves.

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The goldenrod crab spider can grab and hold prey much larger and heavier, like butterflies or bees collecting pollen.  They hold on with those long, strong front legs and then bite the prey to immobilize it.

Learning about them now, I’m wondering if the two I saw duking it out on top of a Northern Primrose flower were actually two males of the species, which are smaller and slenderer than the female.

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