Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) is one of our earliest spring wildflowers. Sometime in April or May the creeping, leathery, evergreen leaves of this plant suddenly come alive with white or pink tubular flowers. While they are delightful to look at, their fragrance is what truly sets them apart from many other plants that flower this time of year.
Because there aren’t that many insects about this early, nor flowering plants, insect predators can have a challenging time finding prey. The pictured crab spider chose its perch wisely: bumble bees are the main pollinators of Trailing Arbutus, and queens are out scouting for food as they begin to establish their colonies.
Some say crab spiders derived their common name from the way in which they move sideways like a crab. Others liken their first two (longer) pairs of legs to those of crabs. Still others feel their short, wide, flat bodies resemble those of crabs. Whatever the source of their name, this group of spiders consists of ambush predators. Instead of stalking their prey, or catching them in a silk web, crab spiders tend to stay put (often on flowers), and blend into the background as much as possible in order to pounce on unsuspecting prey.
In order to meet with success, crab spiders camouflage themselves extremely well. Some resemble bird droppings, while others look like fruits, leaves, grass, or flowers. The Goldenrod Crab Spider, a fairly common white or yellow crab spider with pink markings, is capable of changing its color from white to yellow over a period of days, depending on the color of the flower it is on. (Crab spiders often remain in the same location for days and even weeks.) The likeness of the pictured crab spider to one of the Turtlehead’s buds is surely not coincidental.
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Miterwort (Mitella diphylla), also called Bishop’s Cap, is named for the resemblance of its two-peaked fruits to the hats (known as miters) worn by bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. This spring wildflower produces miniature five-pointed snowflake flowers that beg to be examined with a hand lens.
Gnats, small bees and syrphid flies all seek out Miterwort for its nectar. Because its nectaries are located just below the stamens, the flower is pollinated by the mouthparts of the pollinators which brush against the stamens when collecting nectar and the inadvertently-gathered pollen is transported to other Miterworts. Predators such as the Goldenrod Crab Spider (pictured) know that potential meals are plentiful near these delicate flowers.
All of a sudden we are besieged by Rose Chafers, those tan beetles that feed on roses and peonies, as well as the foliage of many trees, shrubs and other plants. The reason for their sudden appearance has to do with their life cycle.
Adult Rose Chafers emerge from the ground in late May and early June. (Because the Rose Chafer prefers sandy soil to lay eggs, plants located on sandy sites are most likely to be attacked.) Adult beetles feed on plants for three or four weeks, generally until late June when they mate, lay eggs in the soil and then die shortly afterwards. Two to three weeks later, the eggs hatch into small, white grub‑like larvae which feed on the roots of grasses and weeds. The larvae spend the winter in the soil below the frost line before pupating and emerging as adults in the spring.
Rose Chafers contain a toxin that can be deadly to birds, but apparently not to crab spiders, at least the one that was photographed drinking the innards of a Rose Chafer it had caught. As testimony to their drive to reproduce, a Rose Chafer, minutes after this picture was taken, mounted and attempted to mate with the Rose Chafer that was being consumed by the crab spider.
Red Baneberry is most noticeable in mid-summer, when its flowers have developed into bright red (poisonous) fruits. At this time of year, its delicate white flowers look very much like those of its close relative, White Baneberry (which eventually bears white poisonous fruit). The easiest way to differentiate the two species at this time of year is to notice the shape of the flower cluster. Red Baneberry’s cluster is more or less spherical, whereas White Baneberry’s is more cylindrical.
A Goldenrod Crab Spider, capable of changing color from yellow to white or vice versa, depending on the color of the flower it’s on, perches on Red Baneberry flowers waiting to pounce upon an unsuspecting pollinator.