The spider failed to snag a butterfly, so it went for Plan Bee.
That would be the honey bee, Apis mellifera.
The bee is usually foraging for nectar and pollen and not that aware of her surroundings, especially a cunning and very hungry spider.
So this orbweaver lies in wait for prey to appear on its "dinner plate." A venomous bite and the bee is paralyzed. And dinner is served à la carte.
It's not what Ernest Hemingway would call a pretty sight. But then again, everything eats in the garden.
Repeat: Everything eats in the garden whether we want it to or not.
It's early morning and the spider is hungry.
It snares a honey bee foraging for pollen and nectar in a patch of Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifola) in a Vacaville pollinator garden.
The spider slides down the sticky web, kills its prey with a venomous bite, and begins to eat.
The spider is not alone. It soon has unexpected dining partners: tiny freeloader flies (family Milichiidae) who did no work but insist on their share of the free food.
Indeed, orbweavers are artists. Wrote Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) in her poem, "The Spider as an Artist":
The spider as an artist
Has never been employed
Though his surpassing merit
Is freely certified.
Today was a good day for an unemployed artist, freely certified, too--and a good day for the freeloaders, certified hungry.
Emily Dickinson? She wrote many poems with references to such arthropods as bees, spiders, butterflies, flies and gnats,
Emily Dickinson's Arthropods
Those passion flowers (Passiflora) are insect magnets.
One minute you'll see a praying mantis on a blossom. The next minute, a Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae. And the next morning, the blossom is an arthropod magnet--the beginnings of a spider web.
Passiflora is the host plant of the Gulf Fritillary, a spectacular orange butterfly with silver-spangled underwings. The Gulf Frit lays its eggs only on Passiflora.
The Gulf Frits know where the Passiflora is. Their predators know where the butterflies are.
The female mantis, Mantis religiosa (below), didn't snag the butterfly. But it did grab and munch on a few Gulf Frit caterpillars.
Ever critter eats in the garden.
A partial solar eclipse is about to happen in Vacaville, Calif.
I am watching the insects: the honey bees nectaring on the African blue basil, an orbweaver spider munching on its prey, an assassin bug poised on a tropical milkweed, and a praying mantis lurking beneath a showy milkweed leaf.
Today (Aug. 21) is the long-awaited Great American Eclipse. The totality path will begin at 9 a.m. in Oregon, and stretch across the country to South Carolina.
Hmm, I wonder, how will the bugs in our pollinator garden react to a partial eclipse?
It won't be drastic, I predict. And it wasn't.
The partial eclipse in Vacaville began at 9:02 a.m. and reached its maximum (70 percent coverage of the sun) at 10:16. It ended at 11:38 am., a duration of two hours and 36 minutes.
The bees foraged before, during and after the eclipse, primarily on the African blue basil, which is usually covered with bees. During the height of the eclipse, however, as the skies darkened, a little more than half remained. After the eclipse, when the temperature increased and the wind ceased, the number of bees returned to normal.
"Honey bees tend to act like night is falling if the eclipse takes out quite a bit of the sunlight," says honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus and president of the Western Apicultural Society. "Then they 'wake back up' afterwards."
Despite the eclipse, the spider kept eating its prey. (Sure hope it wasn't that blue dragonfly, Libellula luctuosa, "the widow skimmer" I saw yesterday.) The praying mantis kept lurking. The assassin bug raised its antennae. And the bees--although fewer of them--just kept foraging.
Two stink bugs opted to procreate on the bluebeard, Caryopteris x clandonensis. A Gulf Fritillary fluttered by and stopped to sip nectar from the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). The assassin bug crawled higher on the milkweed, poised for an ambush.
The spider tugged its prey beneath a leaf, abandoning its web. Well, that's that, I thought.
Not so. The sticky web snagged a honey bee while the spider was polishing off its first prey. Okay, spider, you've already had your breakfast. You don't need a second helping. Not today."
I freed the struggling bee and off it buzzed to forage another day.
A partial eclipse, but a full escape...
Pity the poor honey bees.
They have to contend with pesticides, parasites, pests, diseases, malnutrition, stress and that mysterious malady called colony collapse disorder in which adult bees abandon the hive, leaving behind the queen, immature bees and food stores.
The primary pest of bees? The blood-sucking, virus-transmitting varroa mite, found in probably every hive in the country.
But there are other pests that target the honey bee as well--from praying mantids and dragonflies to birds and spiders.
It's a predator gauntlet out there to make the round trip from their hive to their foraging site and back.
We recently saw a honey bee trapped in a spider web stretched from a honeysuckle bush to a purple salvia. The bee's fatal mistake was taking a shortcut to the lavender patch.
The bee, incongruously bubble-wrapped by the spider for a future meal, twisted in the breeze.
It was not alone. A horde of freeloader flies, family Milichiidae, and probably genus Desmometopa, made sure of that.
It was a bad day for a honey bee but a good day for the spider and the flies.
Just another day for the predators and the prey. And a few square meals in the circle of life.