Danger is everywhere for a bee. We tend to think of mites, beetles, wax moths, and viral diseases coupled with pesticides and other environmental hazards, but they are only part of the story. Birds swoop out of the heavens and snatch them on the wing. Frogs lurk at watering holes, launching themselves at passersby. Badgers, skunks, minks, and bears are home invaders. Beewolves and robber flies stock their pantries with bee entrées, just bite and serve.
Except for my dog (who eats bees like peanuts) my favorite predator to watch is the crab spider. I know, I know, I shouldn’t enjoy a bee predator. But honestly, the little crab spiders are skilled at what they do, and I love watching an artist at work.
Unlike the orb weavers, crab spiders do not spin webs. Instead, they lie in wait. They are patient, strategic, alert, stealthy, quick…and did I say patient? I’ve seen them sit for days on a single bloom, motionless and calculating, just waiting for a dinner guest to arrive. The guest of course is dinner, something I need to think on, since I’ve had many guests I’d rather eat than feed.
Like other bee predators, crab spiders are not choosy when it comes to species. They will take most any kind of bee as well as flies, beetles, moths, and butterflies. As soon as the prey is in reach, the spider lunges forward and chomps, injecting a paralytic chemical.
The common name “crab spider” is used for many different species, but usually it refers to spiders in the Thomisidae family. The ones I like to watch are in the genus Misumena and are capable of changing color to camouflage themselves among the flowers. When a suitable insect comes close, they ambush the hapless creature, which is why they are called ambush predators.
I don’t know how crab spiders select their vantage points, but whenever I leave colorful fabrics outside—a jacket, bandanna, sweatshirt—it usually attracts a crab spider that waves its appendages at me when I go to shake it off. Apparently, the little guys will bite a human, but most are too small to penetrate our skin.
In honor of the these little spiders—and because I like to photograph them—I’ve started a gallery called Bee Fwellington. Bee sure to have a look!