Sunday, September 11, 2011

Spider Catches Butterfly

Buckeyes are currently the most common large butterfly species at Blue Jay Barrens. Swallowtails and Fritillaries, usually very common during the summer, have been almost nonexistent this year. I’m thinking that the never ending spring rains may have been partially responsible for this absence. Buckeyes, being migrants that move into the area from the south each summer, would have avoided any local springtime catastrophe. As a species they have thrived, but this individual met with disaster in the form of a crab spider.

It’s not unusual to see butterflies being held by crab spiders. This was a special event, because I was able to witness the action of the capture. The spider was hiding in the flowers and grabbed the butterfly when it stopped to nectar. The butterfly initially seemed stunned. A second later it suddenly took wing and pulled the spider from its perch. The spider held tight and played out line in the form of spider silk to cushion the jerking struggle of the butterfly. The event looked much like a fisherman playing a huge marlin. The pair spun circles and zipped back and forth for many seconds.

Even if it had broken free, the butterfly was finished. Upon initial capture, the spider’s first act was to inject the butterfly with paralyzing venom. After a short but violent struggle, the butterfly was subdued.

With its prey secured, the spider began to reel in line.

Once back to the flower, the spider let the line go free. It then began to arrange its prey for consumption.

The spider’s final act before settling down to feed was to conceal its body in the flower cluster. A capture like this is a common event in the prairie, but it’s not one that you very often get to witness from start to finish.


  1. Hi Steve...all right that was not nice hahahaha
    That was a teaser ..from the thumbnail on my sidebar it looks like a post of a lovely butterfly ...I should know by now to be aware of you and your post that make my skin crawl...hahaha!
    Have a great day

  2. ...really interesting, Steve! I always thought insects flew into webs, became entangled, and then were paralyzed and devoured. I had no idea spiders would reach out and grab insects too... So much to learn...

  3. Hi, Grace. I led with that photo just to throw people off, but I thought the title would give it away. I'm sure if you see enough of these cute spider pictures you'll start to really like the little guys.

    Hi, Kelly. I'm sure you've looked at a few flowers that contained camouflaged crab spiders. Most yellow colored flowers are full of them this time of year.

  4. This SO cool! What an amazing series of pics! I've tweeted and facebooked, it had to be shared!