The allure of decapitation

So what is it with crab spiders? Why must they bite the head off their victims? Other predators are not nearly so insulting: Wolves take a chunk out of the middle, alligators take an arm or a leg, and snakes choke down the whole thing at once. But crab spiders have no tact.

“Crab spider” is a general term for many types of spiders that look and move like crabs, and many of them will eat bees. They don’t target bees specifically but will consume any type of invertebrate they can wrap their legs around.

I’m not a fan of spiders because they have too many legs. More importantly, when a creature’s eyes are arranged in rows, it creeps me out. But crab spiders attract my attention because I’ve watched them pluck foraging bees right out of the air and eat them, head first, with no social grace whatsoever.

The spiders in the photos below are Misumena vatia in the family Thomisidae. This species is able to change color from yellow to white to match the flower on which it sits. The great camouflage allows them to easily snare a meal. When the spiders remain white while sitting on a flower of a different color, such as the one on the California lilac below, their coloring is thought to mimic bird droppings and, as such, they appear to be harmless.

The crab spiders don’t spin webs, but ambush invertebrates when they visit a flower. They paralyze their prey with a venomous bite and then consume it at their leisure. The eight small eyes allow it to detect the slightest movement. True to their name they can move crablike forward, sideways, and backwards. When prey comes close, their forelegs rise up to strike in crab fashion. I photographed both of these smarmy creatures in my garden.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

White crab spider in California Lilac.
White crab spider in California Lilac.
The crab spider finally catches a small native bee.
The crab spider finally catches a small native bee.
Yellow crab spider in a dandelion eating a honey bee—<em>my</em> honey bee.
Yellow crab spider in a dandelion eating a honey bee—my honey bee.

Comments

Tom
Reply

What great photos. You spent lots of time to get these!

Rusty
Reply

Tom,

Thanks for noticing! I love getting a good pic.

Bill
Reply

Rusty,

I have yet to see a spider of any kind decap the head off anything, let alone a bee. They just don’t have the mouth parts for it. They bite and then suck out the inners. Nice photos!

Bill

Rusty
Reply

Bill,

I have no doubt you are absolutely right as I know nothing about spiders. But that’s what it looks like to me from my api-centric point of view. Besides, it makes a good title.

Btw, “biting and sucking out the innards” sounds even worse—like losing your brain through a straw.

Chelsea
Reply

I love spiders almost as much as I love bees. Almost. Very cool photos!

Sarah
Reply

I love the picture of the spider eating the bee on the dandelion. The spider blends so well!

Toby
Reply

I love macro photography, and I imagine you had to be very patient to get those pictures. Can’t wait for you to share photography secrets.

Rusty
Reply

Actually, Toby, I haven’t forgotten. I’ve been taking notes (I have many pages) so now I have to work it into something readable.

Rusty
Reply

Bill,

Great photo. The spider crabs seem to like dandelions for hiding out.

Rich
Reply

Rusty,

You should search for these pictures periodically on the web. They are great and will probably get lifted by someone.

Rich

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