The wonders of nature are right under your nose. You need only look.
Many years ago, I saw a nature documentary on TV that showed a kind of spider that lives on goldenrod flowers. I don't remember whether the documentary was about flowers or spiders or camouflage in general, but that spider really struck my attention. It looked as if one of the florets of goldenrod had sprouted legs and taken the form of a spider. It looked as if the flower itself lay in ambush to prey on the bees and other insects that came to pollinate it.
What really struck me was that I saw goldenrod all the time, and had been seeing it all my life, yet I never saw these spiders.
So, the next time I brought my family to Shenandoah National Park, I decided to take a closer look at the goldenrod. We stopped at a roadside turnout on our way to the campground. While the kids ran off to look for blueberries, I took a close look at a stalk of goldenrod.
Nothing there but flowers. I looked at another. Just more flowers.
On the third goldenrod I examined, there was a spider, just like the one on TV! I watched in fascination for a moment as the spider sat motionless. Just like on TV, it could almost be called a spider-shaped piece of the flower. It was exactly the same color as the flowers, and its body had an irregular fuzzy texture, like the tiny florets of the goldenrod. Only the golden-yellow legs looked out of place, and even they were not very conspicuous.
Of course, it could have been dumb luck to find one so quickly. It was possible, though very unlikely, that there was only one goldenrod crab spider in that entire meadow, and I had stumbled upon it in less than a minute.
So I continued looking. Yes, in less than another minute, I found another one!
Within three minutes, ... my wife and kids were eager to move on to the campground. I let the spiders wait.
For the next couple of years, every time I went to Shenandoah, I always took a few minutes to examine the goldenrod. And I always found spiders.
Since then, I've done a little more research. They're called goldenrod crab spiders (Misumena vatia), and they live everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere where there is goldenrod. They even live on other kinds of flowers, and they are able to change color from yellow to white and back again, depending on what kind of flowers they find themselves living on.
And since I left Virginia and moved to New Hampshire, I continue to look for spiders on the flowers. And I find them once in a while, although it usually takes me longer to find them in the White Mountains than it did in the Blue Ridge. Don't quite know why, but they appear to be much less common up here than in Virginia. And although there is plenty of goldenrod right here in Nashua, I've never found a goldenrod crab spider here. I'm still looking.
I have also seen other spiders living on flowers. Just once, near Binghamton, New York, I saw a huge spider, nearly two inches long, hiding in the trumpet of a yellow touch-me-not (Impatiens pallida) catching bees that came to feed on the flower. I don't know what kind of spider that was. It may have been in the crab spider family (Thomisidae), but it was certainly not the tiny Misumena vatia.
I've seen pictures of goldenrod crab spiders in their white form living on the flowers of yarrow. Yarrow is not uncommon in the White Mountains, especially around Elephant Head, Saco Lake, and in the big meadow just north of Crawford Notch. But I've never found a spider on a white flower. Yet.
As often as I've seen these little spiders, there is one crucial combination of factors that hasn't happened yet. I have not had all the following all at the same time:
- A camera capable of a decent close-up
- Said camera actually in my hand
- With some charge left in the batteries
- When I thought to go looking for goldenrod crab spiders
- And actually found one.
I'll try to put a picture with this story this summer.
But rather than wait for my pictures, go look for some yourself!