The Spider and the Caterpillar

I was stalking through the chokecherries and lilacs on a mild July afternoon, seeking perched spreadwings and meadowhawks to practice improvement of depth in field when using a macro lens. It is easy to focus on a dragonfly head and forget about the tail, only to be disappointed when running the result through Photoshop. It’s a perennial challenge, as whenever the light is poor the photographer is lead to open the lens wide open, only to forfeit the depth of the field in which all bits are in focus.

I am certain there are smarter people out there who have mastered this challenge, but, as will be seen in some of the attached photos, I have not.

One never knows which small creatures may inhabit our large lot filled with trees and bushes, but I have been frequently finding a variety of spiders. They make attractive and challenging subjects for photography, too, so I am rarely disappointed to find one.

On this July afternoon I found a spider which had taken on a much greater challenge than had I.  This enterprising spider, with a body about 3/8-inch in diameter and legs quite a bit longer, had surprised a 7/8-inch caterpillar on a branch, wrestled the caterpillar off the branch and rappelled down eight inches of silk, there to put on the brakes and kill the caterpillar in mid-air. Clutching the silk with one pair of legs, clutching the wriggling mass which greatly exceeded the spider’s weight with the rest of them, the spider set about trying to finish off the caterpillar.

The caterpillar was not going down without a fight. Hanging from the spider’s fangs sunk into its head, the caterpillar repeatedly tried to curl its body back up and around the spider. I was surprised to see that the sheer weight, plus the wriggling around, was not too much load for the spider’s joints to take.  This looked very desperate for all.

My first set of photos with ambient light required shutter speed too slow to avoid blurring the combatants. Lacking time to order a set of lights and a backdrop, I defaulted to the flash.  That took care of the shutter speed but the lens was shooting wide open, which meant that parts of the critters were in perfect focus and other parts were not. If that dang caterpillar would just stay still.

The spider was fearful of committing too many legs to the grasp, apparently aware that the caterpillar could get the right position to wrench some of them off. This was a gritty drama playing out beneath the chokecherries. I watched for 30 minutes, but it remained a draw. That was a gutsy spider to tackle that big prey.

I toyed with the idea of borrowing from this death struggle to offer some lesson of current political or social significance, but I decided this would trivialize a fight to the death between a wildly ambitious spider and a valiantly resisting prey. No posturing, no slogans, no antics; this was life and death.

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  1. Thank you for not trivializing an incident so vital to both participants. Being left for what it is, allows us to draw our own conclusions.