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Crab spiders hunt on daisy blossoms

An adult female white crab spider catches and feeds on a small butterfly, a skipper. (Photo by Larry Weber)1 / 2
An adult male white crab spider, much smaller than the female, on a daisy, seeking a mate. (Photo by Larry Weber)2 / 2

During the last week of June, anyone traveling in the region is going to notice the abundant and diverse display of wildflowers blooming in the open spaces of fields and roadsides. The growth offers us a look at many kinds of flowers and also a range of colors. Though lots of the flora in these sites are non-native, they still show a varied bouquet. Yellows and whites seem to be the most common. Yellows appear in the yellow hawkweeds, buttercups, golden alexanders, birdsfoot trefoils, goatsbeards and sweet clovers. Whites abound with the daisies, Canada anemones, yarrows, fleabanes, dogbanes and the large cow parsnips.

Giving more diversity and brightening the scene are the blue-purple lupines, red clovers and the very common orange hawkweeds. This last one is frequently called Indian paintbrush, though I find that this name is also applied to a plant with bright orange leaves, not flowers, and it is more likely to grow in the prairies.

Whether we appreciate or not these widespread early summer growths in the open spaces, we do notice them. If we get out and take a closer look, we'll see that we are not the only ones to take note of these plants. Bees, wasps, flies and ants come by for visits as well. Mostly they are seeking nectar and pollen meals.

A bit larger are the various colored butterflies. It is easy to see 10 kinds or more in such a setting. Orange-black monarchs, yellow-black tiger swallowtails, checkered fritillaries, yellow sulphurs, cabbage whites, blue hairstreaks, brown ringlets, red admirals, white admirals and the tiny yellow-orange skippers are all out here taking advantage of the free floral food. Their cousins, the moths, arrive as well, but since many of these flowers close in the darkness, they need to be day-flying types.

Anytime there is such a growth of flowers and feeding insects, there is sure to be the opportunists to feed on them. Looking around this floral grouping, I also see various dragonflies that have come by to hunt the insects. With large eyes and quick flight, they are formidable predators.

And there are always different kinds of spiders. Their webs out in the fields may secure larger insects like butterflies, grasshoppers or even fellow predators, the dragonflies.

But I'm here today searching for another eight-legged hunter: the crab spider. And sure enough, as I walk through this colorful scene, I find some white crab spiders on the daisies. Blending in with the flowers, they may be overlooked by visiting insects that end up becoming dinner. Anytime a patch of daisies is present in June, there will be some crab spiders.

When it comes to catching food, usually insects, spiders basically fall into two groups. Many are web spinners, constructing snares to catch and subdue the passing insects. The lives of these webweavers are mostly sedentary; they sit at home and let food come to them.

Other spiders are very active in their pursuit of prey. Wolf spiders run over the soil, fishing spiders tread on water and jumping spiders use large eyes to locate and pounce on prey.

Crab spiders make use of both styles. Though they make no webs, they are largely sedentary. What crab spiders do is locate a flower, sit there with outstretched front legs — the reason they are called crab spiders — and wait for insects to come by.

I cannot go into these fields without finding crab spiders. Even with their camouflage attire, they show up on the daisies. These crab spiders are often called goldenrod crab spiders since these flowers will be a hunting site later in the season. White on the daisies now, they will be yellow on the black-eyed susans and goldenrods later. For now I see a white spider with two pink stripes on a large abdomen. Regardless of the white or yellow colors, they are patient hunters.

More than hunting for meals goes on among the daisies at this time. As I look at these white flowering rays with the yellow discs, I see another, tinier crab spider. Only about one-fourth the size of the other white one, this small white-black spider with very long front legs is the male. He is not here for a meal but for a mate.

Even with his small size, he is able to approach and mate with the much larger female. Soon an eggs sac will be placed on nearby plants. As always, there is plenty going on here with the insects and spiders among these flowers of the fields and roadsides in late June.

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o

Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o