This is a a story about a spider and a skipper.
The garden spider lies in wait, its head down, clinging to its real estate, an enormous sticky web. A male skipper flits from Tithonia to Tithonia, sipping nectar. Then the skipper makes a fatal mistake; it tries to pass through the nearly invisible web.
If you combine a very sticky web with a very hungry spider and an inattentive butterfly, the results are not good for the butterfly.
It's over within seconds. The spider bites the skipper, paralyzing it with its powerful venom, and then wraps it for a later meal.
The drama all unfolds in our "bee" garden but today it's a "spider" garden. Predator vs. prey. The spider eats today.
On his website, UC Davis butterfly Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, describes the fiery skipper as "California's most urban butterfly, almost limited to places where people mow lawns. Its range extends to Argentina and Chile and it belongs to a large genus which is otherwise entirely Andean. Its North American range may be quite recent. Here in California, the oldest Bay Area record is only from 1937. At any rate, it is multiple-brooded, and appears to experience heavy winter-kill in most places; scarce early in the season, it spreads out from local places where it survived, gradually reoccupying most of its range by midsummer and achieving maximum abundance in September and October.
The fiery skipper "occasionally colonizes upslope to about 3000' in the Gold Country but does not seem to survive the winter; strays have been taken to 7000' and on the East slope," Shapiro says. The butterfly breeds mostly on Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) and "the adults swarm over garden flowers such as lantana, verbena, zinnias, marigolds, buddleia. And in the wild they're quite happy with yellow starthistle."
As for the banded garden spider, BugGuide.net offers this identification: "Pale yellow, carapace has silver hairs, abdomen is striped in silver, yellow, and black...Its legs are spotted."
Yes, they are.
Praying mantids are, oh, so patient.
They perch on a flower, their spiked forelegs seemingly locked in a praying position, and wait to ambush unsuspecting prey.
A green praying mantis recently did just that on our cosmos.
Usually we have to hunt for the mantids because they are so camouflaged or concealed.
Not this one.
This one was as visible as a green elephant in a field of snow.
Despite its conspicuous visibility, the attempts of this lean green machine proved fruitful. First, a honey bee. Then a fiery skipper.
His prayers were answered.
Our buddy, the resident praying mantis, appears to be in perfect form.
Crouched beneath the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), he glistens in the early morning light, as honey bees, long-horned bees, Gulf Fritillary butterflies and fiery skippers search for food. The flower is his beach umbrella, colorfully shading him but also stealthily hiding him.
Finally, he makes his move. He slips up and over the petals and perches on the head of the blossom. As he does, he swivels his head 180 degrees, checking out the photographer and the camera. No predator, no problem, he apparently decides. He assumes the position, folding his spiked forelegs.
A fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) floats by, almost touching down next to him. The praying mantis leaps, just as the startled butterfly spins away. A near miss.
A Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) flutters by in his air space, unaware of the "no fly zone." The mantis lurches forward as the butterfly soars. A wide miss.
Praying Mantis: 0.
Sometime a miss is as good as smile.
In the entomological world, we call that a "two-fer."
Two insects in the same photo.
Sunday morning we spotted a fiery skipper butterfly (Hylephila phyleus) on an artichoke leaf. It was warming its flight muscles, maybe to flutter over to the lavender for a sip of nectar.
Next to it--we almost missed it--was a damselfly, apparently doing the same thing. Or maybe it was waiting for an aphid or a gnat or ant to come along. They eat small, soft-bodied insects.
The skipper: a member of the family Hesperiidae, order Lepidoptera.
The damselfly: a member of the suborder Zygoptera, order Odonata.
Two entirely different orders, but both belonging to the class Insecta.
And sharing an artichoke leaf on a Sunday morning.
Have you ever looked closely at a fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) and seen its proboscis, aka tongue or feeding tube?
If you stay still and don't shadow it while it's nectaring, you'll see the proboscis darting in an out of a blossom.
The late afternoon sun lit up its long black proboscis while it was nectaring lantana and African daisies in our yard last weekend.
It's the little things you don't see a lot, but the little things you remember.