This is how it goes

So, are you considering becoming a nature and wildlife photographer? Then let me tell you a little story, but I’ll caution you not to consider this typical.

Last night, while examining the dog fennel plants for photo subjects, I came across a few dead ants and a wavy-lined emerald moth caterpillar trussed up in a small web, and began examining the surrounding area for the arachnid responsible. I was sidetracked by a jumping spider who actually dropped directly in front of the camera while I was looking – I knew this was a red herring, since jumpers don’t make webs to capture their prey, but I take whatever subject I can get. On returning, however, I did find the culprit, a tiny black spider about 3-4mm in body length, and managed a few pics even though it was shy and avoided posing (unlike the jumper.)

On unloading the card, I discovered something curious, which was that the spider had abdominal scaling that reflected the strobe almost exactly like mother-of-pearl. I returned for better pics, but in trying to flush out my model I panicked it, and it scrambled around agitatedly before escaping from my sight – when working at night by flashlight, it’s easy for something to hit the shadows and get under cover while you can’t see it.

I forgot about it until tonight, and went back out with the intention of capturing it and doing a ‘studio’ shoot in controlled conditions. Alas, it was nowhere to be seen, so I chased a few other subjects instead. After returning inside and unloading the memory card again, I was showing some of the images to The Girlfriend when I felt something walking on my arm, and lo and behold (you have to employ archaic phrases like this every once in a while or they’ll freeze up,) there was the spider I’d been searching for. I’m guessing it was curled up in hiding someplace on the fennel, and when poking around for other subjects I had brushed it off. I quickly popped it into a film can (ask your grandfather what this is) and set up my studio. If a subject comes to me, there’s no way I’m going to miss the opportunity.

I set up a white box, which I’ve never tried before, and did a few test shots, not really liking the results, so I went with more direct flash again. I stuck with the box since I knew my subject would scamper for cover and might go anywhere, so being within the box would limit its escape routes. The first setting, a sprig of fennel held in a soldering jig, proved not to work, since my eight-legged model simply ran down the fennel and across the jig arm, seeking shelter in a crevice. I then switched to the bug moat, again with the fennel, and this time managed to capture a fine selection of identifying images.

This is not to say that I’ve identified it yet – BugGuide.net is being balky right now, and what do you search on? Black & mother-of-pearl spiders? So I’m still looking, but if anyone knows, feel free to enlighten me. As I said, body length is roughly 3-4mm, and the web appeared to be of random strands, not an ‘orb’ or ‘net’ style. If it helps, it seems to have a habit of carrying along ants attached to its spinnerets, which it had even retained while on my arm, but lost when I ensnared it within the film can.

[Update 10/05: Found it! This is almost certainly a female Euryopis, probably Euryopis funebris.]

After my session, and after confirming that I’d gotten enough decent images, I popped my subject back into the film can and started out to release it. At this point The Girlfriend pointed to the floor and, somewhat less than calmly, inquired what that was. The front door doesn’t seal too tight, and a fairly sizable wolf spider had come inside and was scampering across the living room. The exchange of instructions and exclamations that ensued would have been quite entertaining to any spectator, but suffice to say that the spider was safely enclosed under a cup without loss of limb or too many accusations.

I took it outside and released it into the grass, then stalked it with the camera (believe me, doing a studio shoot was out of the question unless I wanted to sleep outside myself.) After a bit of dodging the spider paused, and I went in close for some introspective portraits – I was still using the reversed Mamiya 45mm and could do the serious closeups. This specimen was roughly 30-35mm in leg spread, probably about 12mm or so body length, which translates to appreciable size, though not as large as some that I’ve chased. The dewdrop above one eye was gained in its flight through the grass.

So, I have to say that having subjects come to you this directly is something you probably shouldn’t count on; in fact, get used to the opposite. But perhaps if you start a blog, they’ll figure they can obtain their fifteen minutes of fame by seeking you out.

Which might not be the best incentive for starting a blog…

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