Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

August 1, 2011

Damsel in Distress

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 6:42 pm

I’ve always wanted to use this title – Damsel in Distress – in reference to Damselflies, but never came upon a natural situation in which to apply it.  It would have to be a situation where one of the insects was either in obvious impending danger or past the point of danger or death. Sure, I could have locked a damselfly into a playset fortress tower or tied one onto the tracks right in front of a toy train.  I might’ve considered gluing a tiny handlebar mustache onto a praying mantis and posing him next to the hapless “damsel”, however, all this certainly would have backfired.  Sure, a kid could get away with such a thing and it would be viewed as cute. If I did it, well, it would be considered borderline creepy or as a sign that I myself am in some sort of mental distress. So, I waited until a real distressed damsel came along.

Yesterday morning a spider nabbed a Damselfly right in front of me and I was handed my opportunity. I did not witness the initial grab, although it was obvious that the event had just occurred. The Damsel  – aka the distressee – was a female, based on her pale coloration.  I don’t know the species name and not sure it matters in the case. She was still alive when discovered. The spider – aka villain – was also probably a female (based on her size and the presence of an egg case on the stem next to her). She was a Long-jawed Orb Weaver. Both creatures were spindly looking things and the whole affair looked more like a battle of the stick figures.

The orb weaver apparently took advantage of a chance to sample some day food. As per their name, weavers make net webs to capture prey. They rarely get an opportunity to eat diurnal flyers because they weave their stringy traps at night and retreat to cover during the day. Mayflies, midges, and moths are their most likely fare. I’m guessing that the damsel landed on the stem next to the resting spider and the spider immediately opted for some “take out.”  Since a resting Long-jawed Orb Weaver blends in seamlessly with the lines of a grass stem, the damselfly would never have suspected the presence of the spider.

It was a one-sided contest from the get-go (watch some of it on this video). It was actually no contest at all. The first step was for the spider to throw a few silk lines around the Damselfly and secure her wings. Then it was up to the mini-dragonfly’s thorax to deliver a venomous bite. The damsel put up a struggle (if you can call wiggling your abdomen a struggle), so the Orb weaver resumed throwing on a few more tie lines until even this feeble movement stopped. At least one loop pulled up the damsel’s abdomen into an un-natural bend as if putting the victim into half nelson.

Now, I suppose that I could have been the gallant knight at that point. It would have been so easy to pull her out and chastise the evil spider (“rats, foiled again”).  The damsel, her large brown eyes full of tears, would throw her tiny hairy arms around my thumb (“my hero”).  I would then say something like “twas nothing  my fair maiden– it beith my honor, and blah blah blah…”  But, no, I left things as they were. The spider returned to her biting pose on the damsel’s thorax and sunk her long jaws into her prey. It was over.

Hey, who am I to mess with nature (and, not to mention, risk looking creepy and borderline distressed)?

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