I was hoping that Super Crop Challenge #2 would prove a little more difficult than the first one, but first responder Troy Bartlett quickly sniffed out the correct answer – the top part of the abdomen of the marmorated orb weaver, Araneus marmoreus. As the first correct responder he earns bonus points. Dennis also came up with the same answer after temporarily being led astray, and Colton got it right as well (once he realized the challenge was here and not over on FaceBook). I might be justified if I deducted points for misspellings in the genus and common names (if there is any field unforgiving of spelling errors, it’s taxonomy); however, I’m watching a Christmas movie with my family and am feeling the holiday spirit. That spirit extends to Dave as well, who earns pity points for refusing to believe that I would offer consecutive spider challenges (actually the first Super Crop Challenge was an opilionid, but the ID challenge before that was another spider, making this the third straight arachnid challenge I’ve posted – it wasn’t by design).
The crop I used for this challenge was taken from the above photo – not the best of the series, but it had the most symmetrical view of the dorsal abdominal pattern that some think looks like a face. This is just one of many color variations exhibited by this most variable of North American spiders – see this BugGuide page for a pictorial summary of the extraordinary amount of variation found in this species.
My friend Rich and I encountered this individual – a female – in an upland oak/hickory forest while hiking the lower North Fork Section of the Ozark Trail in extreme southern Missouri. These spiders normally hide in a retreat during the day (usually a curled leaf) and spin a new web at night – I’m not sure why she was out during the day, as it didn’t appear she was recycling the web, tattered and torn and probably still remaining from the previous evening. When I first approached, I accidentally brushed against one of the support lines, which sent her scampering up into her retreat. I figured “tapping” on the leaf might cause her to drop back out – Rich was skeptical, but after a few taps, the spider not only dropped out but obligingly went right back down to the center of the web and stayed in place long enough for me to get a few shots of the ventral surface. (I couldn’t suppress a smug chuckle as Rich muttered in exasperated disbelief!) Moving around to the other side disturbed the spider again, and she once again took refuge in her retreat. This time, rather than fight it, I carefully uncurled the leaf that formed her retreat, working gingerly to avoid disturbing her, and took a series of photos of her attractive dorsal surface as she sat in the retreat.
Photo Details: Canon 50D w/ 100mm macro lens (ISO 100, 1/200 sec, f/16), Canon MT-24EX flash w/ Sto-Fen + GFPuffer diffusers. Typical post-processing (levels, minor cropping, unsharp mask, etc.).
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010