But what about third spring?

So last night, when the weather was reasonably warm, I went across to the nearby pond to see what I could find. I had two primary things in mind, knowing they were likely stirring by this time: frogs and fishing spiders. With the possibility of water snakes. Of the first and third, I saw no signs, but the fishing spiders were available.

A quick note: The easiest way to find spiders by night is with the help of a bright light mounted very close to the eyes, and LED headlamps, the kind that shine from the center of your forehead, tend to work the best. Finding the battery life to be an issue with my original lamp, which used three (rechargeable, in my case) AAA batteries, I’d sprung for a new one that used two 18650 rechargeable batteries, the same kind used by my LED focusing lamp and a tactical flashlight that I have. These are powerful cusses, and I figured the headlamp should be plenty bright and long-lived. The model I got had multiple lighting options, which was good – I’d had white, red, and green options for my old one, and they worked well for not ruining night vision (red) and for low-power unobtrusive path finding (green.) I couldn’t find a similar set of options, so I settled on one with yellow flood and blue options, as well as a focusing white LED as the main lamp. This turned out to be much better than anticipated, and the same unit I purchased can be found here (at least for a little while, until the Ebay listing changes.) First off, the battery life is great, and the focusing white lamp is very handy, able to be set for path width or sharp bright ‘pinpoint’ beam. But it was the blue lights that held the most surprise. Brilliant blue and good for finding a path but not too bright to trash night vision, it turns out they also shine significantly into the ultra-violet range, which means they can be used to spot things that fluoresce. Last night, I located a curiously reactive bit of fungus, until I determined it was actually a chewed-up piece of fishing bobber…

But on to the night’s finds. With the help of the LED headlamp, I soon located a smallish six-spotted fishing spider (Dolomedes triton) floating in a small pool off of the main pond. It was a little ways out onto the water, not too far but a little farther than nice, close macro work requires. And I digress again, because one of the projects I have slated for the good season is a post, or perhaps a video, on the huge variety of body positions and shooting angles that macro work entails – the photographer’s positions, mind you. This one was no exception. First, the image itself:

small six-spotted fishing spider Dolomedes triton floating on pollen-stained puddle
gumball seed pods from American sweetgum Liquidambar styracifluaTo get the above shot, I had to be sprawled flat on the bank of the pool, extending out as far as balance would allow over open water (not deep, but not, you know, ideal for camera equipment.) The biggest issue was the thicket of ‘gumballs,’ the seed pods of the American sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) that overhung the pool, some seen at right. These are not quite as hard as pine cones, but not far from it, and so quite far from the ideal thing to be lying prone upon. The spider, of course, waited until I was plastered across these before it decided to switch positions to something less photogenic, and I was forced to scrounge around for a small twig to reach out and try to guide it back into something useful. The moment the twig touched the water in front of it, the spider darted forward and seized the twig briefly, suspecting it to be prey – not the first time I’ve seen this aggressive behavior from fishing spiders. You’d think with eight eyes they could confirm at least animus…

Regardless, I achieved a couple of frames of the spider that met with my exacting criteria for position/angle, and was able to detach the gumballs from my chest [now there’s a sentence that doesn’t do well without context.] I feel the need to point out that the water isn’t as murky as it looks, but instead stained with the onset of pine pollen season here – you’ll see more of this later on.

extremely early or very resilient molted exoskeleton of dragonflyThe pond itself yielded no target finds, but as I was looking around I did spot a couple of legs poking out from the underside of a leaf, and I gently turned it up to see what was beneath. Instead of another spider such as a long-jawed orb weaver (this being a favorite haunt of those,) I found the molted exoskeleton of a dragonfly. Now this has me quite curious, because this seems extremely early for them, especially with the number of cold spells (and outright snow showers) that we’ve had this ‘spring.’ However, I also find it hard to believe that this has been present since last year’s molting season, which is generally late spring throughout the summer. Has this been sitting there all this time, or is it evidence of a very early emergent from the water, where dragonflies spend their larval period? I suppose I could do some carbon14 testing to determine its exact age, though I haven’t the elaborate equipment for it and it would only tell me in a range of dozens of years anyway…

But getting this image was part two of the test of Al’s flexibility, because the exoskeleton was on the underside of a leaf, right on the shore of the pond. So this time, I was lying on my side on the ground, head pressed against the pine needles aiming the entire camera rig at an upward diagonal to see the bottom of the leaf. No gumballs this time though, and I chased off a minuscule wolf spider so it wouldn’t get crushed, because I’m me.

suspicious legs from underneath leafJust so you know, this is all that was visible from any ‘normal’ position, and those legs are a few millimeters in length, the entire leaf being about the width of your finger – pretty subtle, in other words. All those pale specks on the surface are pine pollen, beginning to get all over every damn thing because it’s that time of the year. You don’t see them in the image above because that’s the underside of the leaf.

While I have seen several examples of green treefrog already, and one specimen of green (aquatic) frog, I haven’t seen any of the Copes grey treefrogs that also abound in this area. One tree near the small fishing spider pool has been a source of photo subjects over the course of a few years, and so I was obligated to examine it closely to see if the greys were out yet. That search proved fruitless, but on a neighboring tree, a much larger fishing spider was plastered right at eye level, simply begging for its photo to be taken. Okay then.

fishing spider Dolomedes tenebrosus posing helpfully but boringlyThe leg span of this Dolomedes tenebrosus was approximately 8cm, so, not a small specimen, though I’ve seen larger. But ‘top-down’ shots are boring, even conveniently at eye-level, so a different perspective was in order. Especially since this is nowhere near menacing-looking enough.

fishing spider Dolomedes tenebrosus portrait
Okay, camera with 80mm macro and extension tube attached, makes it about 30cm in length. Working distance of maybe 8-10cm, a mere leg-span away. The spider, as seen, was in a head-down position on the trunk, so this required a half-crouch, twisted upwards position tight against the trunk (again, that’s me) in order to get this image – too high to kneel of course. I’ve gotten pretty mellow from my original arachnophobic days, which is good, because I was sitting directly underneath the spider in an awkward position that would have made leaping away virtually impossible, should the spider have decided it needed to pounce on this impertinent human. Not to mention that, at this magnification, there would have been no indication of where it went, just its vanishing from focus should it have moved anywhere. Spiders, however, don’t pounce on people for any reason, though occasionally when disturbed they might simply jump away in a direction that may bring them briefly into contact, but this is entirely accidental. I knew this one would likely just sit perfectly still, since I had no twigs to offer it, but I did get to see it tapping gently with its pedipalps, as if idly drumming its fingers. I took this to mean that it was aware of my presence (rather than, as is often the case, simply blinded by the lights that I was using.) And yes, if you look closely you can see some pollen on its carapace on forelegs, though the overall lack tells me that the spider had not been out very long that evening.

Back in the front yard, I shone the light around and picked up more eye reflections, and followed it down to a little wolf spider. This one wasn’t particularly hard to shoot, simply requiring being sprawled on the ground without any painful debris… except for one thing.

wolf spider Family Lycosidae and earwig Order Dermaptera in tense standoff
Almost immediately after finding the wolf spider (Family Lycosidae) on the right, I spotted the foraging earwig (Order Dermaptera) on the left. I thought, Okay, here’s where I get the sequence of a spider’s capture, and waited, aware that I have very few images showing any such activity – I usually just have something from after it’s happened. And you would think that my position wouldn’t be an issue, but I still had to hold the camera in a way that I could aim and focus, and keep the headlamp on the pair, so I was propped on my elbows with head raised (so, thrown back a bit) – and waiting patiently. Even mildly awkward positions soon make one aware that muscles that aren’t used this way routinely get fatigued really, really quickly. Meanwhile, the earwig was poking around without moving much from position and the spider seemed oblivious (which my searing bright LED light was likely not helping in the slightest.)

Then the spider moved a little, turning to face in the earwig’s direction. I waited.

Then the earwig moved a bit closer to the spider, getting within easy range. I waited.

And then, finally, the spider darted forward, just within contact range of the earwig though it wasn’t clear if it had actually tried to pounce. The earwig gave a sharp convulsion and whipped those pincers upwards defensively, hacking at the air above its body, while the spider beat a hasty retreat even before the defensive reaction had completed. It looked to me as if the spider realized this was an earwig and thus unpalatable, though I’d never heard of such a property, so I have a little research to do. I would have thought the spider was large and adept enough to handle such prey, but it was demonstrated otherwise, so what do I know?

Anyway, I have a few more shots that’ll appear in another post, while the weather reports are threatening more cold weather, with a slight chance of snow again, for the end of the week. This is really getting tedious – I’m going to have to get a winter home in central America or something.