Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Arachnid life and [not] death

with 25 comments

Click for greater clarity.

During my reconnoitering through Great Hills Park on May 2, about half an hour before I encountered the green anole that graciously put on a display for me, I noticed a funnel web in the low vegetation next to the trail. Not knowing if a spider was waiting inside the funnel to pounce on any small prey that ventured onto the outer portion of the web, I knelt to have a look. When I did, I could see that there was indeed a spider in the narrow part of the funnel, but then to my surprise I noticed that there was also a dead spider at the top of the outer part of the web.

———-

Update: In a comment below, Spider Joe explained that what I took to be a dead spider was actually the cast-off exoskeleton of the live spider in the funnel. See his detailed comment for more information.

———-

For the technically minded, I’ll add that this forested part of the trail was pretty dark, so I turned on my flash and stopped my macro lens down to a small aperture for extra depth of field.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

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Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 9, 2012 at 5:55 AM

25 Responses

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  1. Disgusting but very cool at the same time :). Nice shot!!

    photosfromtheloonybin

    July 9, 2012 at 5:58 AM

    • Some people (probably many) are repulsed by spiders; a few people really like them. With this picture I’ve managed to send you into both camps at the same time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 9, 2012 at 6:09 AM

      • Yeah, like me. I agree with Loonybin. Nice shot. Even with the flash (I shy from mine).

        Shannon

        July 9, 2012 at 7:55 AM

      • I generally prefer natural light, too, but this site was too dark for that, especially because I needed depth of field to keep the spiders in focus at different distances. If I remember correctly, I used my ring flash, which has the advantage of minimizing harsh shadows.

        Steve Schwartzman

        July 9, 2012 at 8:21 AM

  2. Whowwwhh, toll!!

    Mathilda

    July 9, 2012 at 6:02 AM

    • Danke, Mathilda. (I’ll add that the German word toll is used as an interjection similar to wonderful, great, neat in English.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 9, 2012 at 6:28 AM

  3. Belle photo, mais brrrrr, araignée un peu trop grosse pour moi ;)

    lancoliebleue

    July 9, 2012 at 7:03 AM

    • A vrai dire, cette araignée n’était pas très grosse, mais pour ceux qui n’aiment pas les araignées, elles sont toutes trop grosses!

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 9, 2012 at 7:19 AM

  4. My wife can’t look at this photo, but i really like it.

    oneowner

    July 9, 2012 at 7:35 AM

  5. This is one heck of an awesome photo! However, that isn’t a dead spider in this picture. That is the molt of the very spider actually pictured. Spiders have to periodically molt out of their exoskeleton as they grow. Each time they molt is sort of like the process of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. They pull themselves out of the old exoskeleton and then pump hemolymph (bug blood) from the abdomen into the cephalothorax (head) and the legs before they dry. This shrinks the abdomen while increasing the size of the cephalothorax and legs. Once the new exoskeleton has hardened, they are essentially a bigger spider. They just need to have a meal to bring their abdomen into the right proportions. Funnel weavers chew their prey, and the exoskeleton depicted here is intact, so it’s clear that it wasn’t a prey item.

  6. Really nice and unusual shot, Steven! I rarely come across a dead spider and you’ve come across one live one and one dead (same type, I think) and made a great composition!

    cindydyer

    July 9, 2012 at 8:06 AM

    • Thanks, Cindy. My experience is similar to yours: I occasionally come across a dead spider, but seldom a dead one and a live one together. The scene was unusual enough that I took a bunch of pictures from slightly different angles. Like you, I’m assuming the two spiders are of the same species.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 9, 2012 at 8:26 AM

  7. Oh wow, I like spiders just like in the photo…. in the photo. Neat picture. I would have missed it if I’d been walking. Thanks.

    Nancy

    July 9, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    • In the dim light I did initially miss the cast-off exoskeleton and the living spider. It was the funnel web that attracted my attention, and only when I got close did I make out the other two things.

      I often wonder what things I’ve walked right past without noticing them; there must be many.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 9, 2012 at 3:12 PM

  8. Just goes to show, things are not always what they seem! Good post today!

    snowbirdpress

    July 9, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    • I’m glad you like it. After years of taking pictures in nature, I’ll second what you said: things are not always what they seem!

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 9, 2012 at 3:17 PM

  9. Really fascinating. Imagine – there are soft-shell spiders! And that web’s cool, too.

    shoreacres

    July 9, 2012 at 3:42 PM

    • I often spot these funnel webs while I’m walking around in nature, but only occasionally do I catch a glimpse of the spider hiding inside the funnel. In this case I was doubly fortunate.

      Your reference to soft-shell spiders (on the pattern of soft-shell crabs) reminds me of a conversation I heard last week in which a person talked about having tasted a cooked tarantula. It seems there’s almost no kind of animal that isn’t eaten by humans in some culture somewhere.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 9, 2012 at 4:00 PM

  10. What a fantastic shot – the web looks like a vortex. Didn’t know that spiders shed their exoskeletons, fascinating.

    composerinthegarden

    July 10, 2012 at 8:15 AM

    • Yes, these webs do look like vortices.

      One good thing about a blog like this is learning from the comments of people with specialized knowledge.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 10, 2012 at 9:45 AM

  11. [...] Okay, so this wasn’t a rose but a Texas thistle, Cirsium texanum. On it was a caterpillar rather than a worm. The time was day and not night, and although there were clouds there was no howling storm. The color of the flower wasn’t crimson but pale pink. I’m sure you’ll grant me poetic license and overlook those little discrepancies. The fact remains that the caterpillar had curled itself over the top of this thistle and had eaten its way into the dark secret interior of the bud and destroyed at least a part of its life. I don’t know what kind of caterpillar it was*, whether it was still alive, or what those tiny dark bundles on the green bracts of the thistle were. I do know that the date was May 2—five months ago today—and the place Great Hills Park in my northwest Austin neighborhood; this was the same productive walk that led to a picture of a green anole displaying its dewlap and a spider in a funnel web beneath its cast-off exoskeleton. [...]

  12. […] I never knew that funnel web spiders have theme parks. I guess it gets boring to be a funnel web spider, what with molting and eating […]


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