Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Zebra jumping spider’

Macro Monday 31st August 2020

Wishing you a happy Bank Holiday Monday if you’re actually able to have one because you’re either English, Welsh, Northern Irish or not having to work through it.

Back in the garden, after last week’s infidelity, it’s quietening down big time. I feel that autumn has come early in my garden. However, I was delighted to be visited by what we all at first thought was a hornet (come on, admit it) but turned out to be a hoverfly.

This is a hornet-mimic hoverfly with the scientific name Volucella zonaria. There’s a helpful guide to them here. These flies lay their eggs in the nests of social wasps, with their patterning probably helping them to fool wasps into thinking they’re also related.

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This kind of mimicry is fairly common across the insect world, with all kinds of flies and beetles that mimic the yellow and black patterning of stinging insects like wasps and hornets. There’s even a hornet-mimic robberfly which is quite rare and found on heathlands like Thursley Common.

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My parents once again have the ability to lure interesting insects into my garden when they visit, which end up headlining the Macro Monday stage on this blog. The main thing here is that this is a stunning insect with a fascinating ecology which I can only tell you a little bit about.

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One arthropod that I spend more time with is my zebra jumping spider neighbour. This spider popped up during a garden lunchbreak. I’ve featured what could be the same spider several times this year. They are fiendishly difficult to get in focus and are much smaller than you might realise. I took about 100 out of focus pics of this spider before I got an injury time winner.

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The spider was basking on the rim of a seed tray. It was only later that I saw the reflection in the plastic. It wasn’t a wet day, in fact it was quite sunny and warm. I was relieved to get at least one photo of this beautiful animal in focus to share here.

I’m away next week so may miss out on a post, but hopefully I will have something to share. I always have a macro lens with me wherever I go! Only a little one, mind you.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 17th August 2020

*Warning*: as you may have guessed, this post contains spiders. Some people may find some of these photos unpleasant, but it may help you to learn to overcome your fear. I am not a spider-psychologist so this is not professional advice, as ever.

Here are frequently asked questions about spiders if you want to dispel any myths!

Well, what a week that was. Very high nightime temperatures and unbearable heat through the day. I barely spent any time outdoors, let alone in the garden. I really struggle in temperatures over 30 degrees. Most of the images this week come from the post-heatwave days towards the end of the week.

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One evening, after the heat had largely dipped, I noticed some odd behaviour from a zebra jumping spider.

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It was hanging from the leaf of a climbing rose we have growing from a terracotta pot on the front of our house.

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I noticed there was another, smaller, zebra jumping spider (ZJS) lower down on the pot. I think this was some kind of territorial or even courting behaviour. Eventually the ZJS made it down to the terracotta.

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It was running around on the edge of the pot, looking for the smaller ZJS. It was a total nightmare to get in focus.

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There was also some time to clean its legs while it tried to find out what the other ZJS was up to.

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I’ve seen these lovely spiders all throughout the spring, but much less so in the summer. It was nice to see them again.

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I also noticed this crab spider floating in midair on its silk. There is something quite weird about this image I think. The limbs look a bit like human or robot arms. This was a pure fluke of hoping it got into focus, even then you can’t really see the spider properly.

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I’ve noticed far fewer insects in my garden, probably because the plants we have are largely over. I need to get some late-summer to autumn flowering species like stonecrop to keep things rocking and rolling. I had a look through the hedge while having an afternoon break after the storm took the heat away. I noticed this spider tucked away down in a bunch of leaves in the hedge. The silk is there to help catch prey but also it will react to movement, triggering the spider to attack.

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I visited my family home for the first time in 6 months last weekend, a really special experience after such a long time away. My parents are avid readers of this (perhaps that should say, the readers) blog and my mum pointed out to me that there was a big spider in the bath that I might want to include here! YES MUM!

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Now there have been several times this week when I’ve noticed out of the corner of my eye a shadow moving across the floor. This is something a lot of people are very unhappy about! But it’s the time of year when giant house spiders are becoming more evident. They are fiersome looking things yet they are harmless. They are more afraid of you than you are of it. They have every right to be afraid, because people will likely try and kill them when they see them, out of misplaced fear.

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That said, they are a bit scary to look at and those mandibles are massive. I had my small mirrorless camera with me and a macro lens. The images are quite harsh and grainy because the light was so dank and the flash is a pop-up one without a diffuser.

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The spider didn’t actually mind me at all. It was trying to remove some spider silk from its legs by running them through its mandibles.

Far from wanting to harm this animal, I am pleased that we can have such close encounters with big insects like these. If you let them go about their business, there’s no problem. No spider in Britain is venomous. This is not Australia!

Thanks for reading.

Photos taken with Nikon D5600 with Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens and SB-700 flash. Giant house spider photos taken with Olympus EM-10 MIII with 60mm f2.8 macro lens.

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Macro Monday 25th May 2020

Happy Bank Holiday Monday to British readers. Recent weather has been hot, with strong winds coming in on Friday, blowing macro out of the equation. I’ve kept to my routine of garden and local walking.

Last week I said the bumblebee workers were beginning to appear, and this week I’m keeping up to my promise.

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I took lots of photos of bumblebees visiting flowers but they are very difficult to get in focus because of the shallow depth of field that macro lenses have. Therefore, the only decent photos I got were the header image and this here. These open spiked flowers are excellent for bumblebees, similar to foxgloves.

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I had better luck with the solitary bees such as this mason bee visiting a cranesbill flower. I’ve noticed that our bee hotel is now quiet and the early spring activity has ended. But the mason bees are still active. I wonder where they’re spending their time?

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A few weeks ago I mentioned a mason bee that was giving me the right royal runaround. I think this is the same bee. I can see it from the window upstairs as it find the same place to bask on a sleeper that separates our garden from the brick patio.

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Here he or she is again up close. I love the golden sheen of its head, it’s almost like something from an episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

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This is a new bee for my garden list and a species I haven’t seen before. It’s a relative of the hairy-footed flower bee which is a common early spring species. I think it’s a four-banded flower bee, Anthophora quadrimaculata. They nest in buildings. There’s plenty of dodgy mortar around where I live to provide them with a home.

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Moving on from the bees, despite what this hoverfly may have wanted, many species pretend to have the look of a wasp or bee. This is an area of evolutionary biology I’d like to learn more about (if you know a good book, please let me know). This is a bee-mimicking hoverfly. This one is mimicking a carder bumblebee with its ginger thorax (I’ve got one too).

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It’s not just hoverflies that mimic bees and wasps. One afternoon I noticed there was a wasp beetle sitting on my window ledge. In London I’ve seen these beetles on yellow and black things that help them to camouflage. I once saw one on the pedestrian road crossing box which is black and yellow. Urban insectlife at its best.

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In the bug world I found this mirid bug posing on the lamb’s ear (which, by the way, is so close to flowering). It had a lovely orange glow to its body and eye, merging with the green.

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When I was a teenager I can recall insects crash landing behind the TV on summer nights when we had the window open. The culprit was almost always a hawthorn shieldbug smashing into the lamp. This week one tried to join me at my desk while I worked from home. Perhaps this was the same bug that I originally met on the garden fence.

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Having spent time trying to find jumping spiders, they are now coming to me. Eating lunch in the garden, I have found jumping spiders exploring my arms and legs. They’re really very sweet arachnids. I’m not sure if it’s producing this spider silk or just crossing it.

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This was another chance encounter in the lamb’s ear, where all the cool invertebrates hang out. I couldn’t resist keeping the background bokeh in the crop.

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I accept that some spiders are less cute and fluffy. But this yellow crab spider was incredible. It was hanging around the lamb’s ear seeking its prey. It didn’t really mind me getting close with my small mirrorless camera. I know many people are missing hugs right now, but this probably isn’t the hug you’re looking for.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 11th May 2020

Stay alert, for insects that is. We’ve seen some hot weather in the past week and it’s brought the insect life back out after a cool previous week. With the physical distancing measures still in place, it’s not possible to do any meaningful macro work away from home. I have been on my official walk from home with a macro lens but it’s not the time. Despite this, the one thing I am reminded of again and again is, with macro I get my best results in my garden. It’s a small patch in a network of open gardens in an urban location, but it gives me the chance to focus on small areas.

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The winner of this week’s challenge is thyme. If you want to support pollinators, plant this. Scatter seeds amongst brickwork and it can also come through. It’s also a wonderful herb for cooking and other purposes.

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This week it provided forage for a mint moth, a species I snapped a couple of weeks ago on my car. This is a beautiful and quite common day-flying moth. I can only imagine what other moth species might be visiting this under dark.

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They are real charmers and should also help to educate most people in England who have been misinformed that all moths eat your clothes. They don’t, and they need you to give them plenty of thyme.

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The thyme also attracted a new species for me (not necessarily a big deal) in the form of a five-spotted club-horned wasp. I was unsure whether this was a bee or a wasp. I thought it looked fairly close to the Lasioglossum bees due to its long, thing shape and long antennae. On Twitter I got an answer from Lukas Large that it was in fact a wasp. They’re cleptoparasites of mason bees, which we have plenty of in our bee hotel and other parts of the garden.

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On that same sunny lunchbreak I found what I think is probably a yellow-legged mining bee. Here you can see its pollen cache scattering onto the surface of the leaf.

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A sign that the countryside is tantalisingly close is this dungfly. There are over 60 species of dungfly in the UK so one shan’t trouble one’s self with an ID. I’ve only ever seen these as visitors to gardens or in grasslands grazed by cattle. They are quite hilarious on cow pats. Had to be there.

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On a greyer afternoon I took a compulsory visit to the lamb’s ear patch and, as ever, there was something hanging out in its fluffy world of leaves. This is an oil beetle.

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Many thanks must go to this beetle for being so chilled in front of the camera. He/she has the potential to go far as a macro model.

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Condragulations are due to another species this week. Zebra jumping spiders are regular visitors to just about every wooden surface in my garden. I find getting their eyes in focus really very difficult, as I’ve said before. With this beautiful spider I only noticed later that the sun cast a long shadow, making it look far greater than it is. It’s like the old proverb ‘fear makes the wolf bigger than he is‘. Really this spider is so harmless and cute it could help people who have an irrational fear of them. Maybe not.

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The moral of how much ‘better’ my photos seem to be at home played out again. I had just been on my ration of walking and not really managed to get any photos I was happy with. Then I came home and this zebra jumping spider walked over and looked right up at me. Bear in mind this spider is about as big as a couple of grains of rice. The look it gives are either an eye-rolling, here we go again, or a, just take the photo and leave me alone.

Whatever it was thinking, I was happy.

Thanks for reading.

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Planthoppers on a sage leaf

Macro Monday 4th May 2020

This week I’m going to get my excuses in early. The weather in West Sussex has been cool and wet over the past week. The insect life has was shoved back into March, with April ending as many would have expected it to start. This is not good for fairweather macro photographers.

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Working from home for 40 hours a week doesn’t help. Lunch breaks are spent trying to make food, rather than having it ready to eat. This is also the time in the day when the insect life is most active – that is not necessarily a good thing because they’re too quick and the light can be very harsh. Last week it chucked down all kinds of rain during my lunch breaks. Saturday was much better though and the time for the flowering of lambs’ ears gets closer and closer. The image above shows my main studio.

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Up close you can see how attractive the leaves are for planthoppers. They look warm and easy to attach to. This planthopper had its own window through which it could look out onto the world.

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I noticed far fewer bees this week, though the bumblebee colonies are open for business. This fly was resting on a raspberry leaf.

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We have inherited most of the plants in our garden and I am waiting to see what these flowers are. For the past few weeks ants have been feeding on the leaves as they open, no doubt producing nectar or something that is useful to them.

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Zebra jumping spiders are one of the only species I ever see in my garden but for maybe one other. I’ve actually had one in the bathroom sink. At last, I managed to get one with its eyes in focus.

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I am very fortunate to be able to walk to the countryside from where I live. I haven’t driven or travelled to any green space other than on foot or by bike for six weeks. I believe very strongly that people should not be taking the piss at the moment. Also, the guidance from the police is massively confusing and I know it is acceptable to drive a short distance away if you need to for exercise. This is a nature reserve on the edge of the River Arun that I visited at the end of the week. My garden is small and in an urban location with little connectivity with wider green spaces. Here however there was much more going on.

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In 2014 I went to the Czech Republic at this time of year and there was a ‘plague’ of St. Mark’s flies. I have never seen so many insects as I did then in Czechia, they were in the towns and the countryside. I enjoy how chilled this insect is here.

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The hazel hedges are now fully in leaf. I found this species of lacewing with a beautiful jade eye and black and white markings to its body.

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I really have no idea what this fly is, perhaps a dancefly. That is a proboscis you don’t want to meet in a dark alley. It’s obviously used to suck the life out of something.

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This is a lovely time of year. I love when the trees flower. This is possibly the biggest clutch of oak flowers I’ve ever seen on one branch. If you can find joy in new things like this, you’re winning.

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The oak saplings are leafing in the grasslands, where people probably don’t want them to be.

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The first clovers are now coming into flower. Starting this weekly(!) blog in March means that now there’s a chance to look more at flowers. It will be very sad to miss the chalk downlands this year because it’s too far from my home to get to. One thing this time should teach us is how important green space is for our health. If this situation does not lead to greater protection for green space and the drive to provide more of it, then what will?

Thanks for reading.

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