Chameleon spider

When I was out picking raspberries the other day the other day, I found a pretty little white spider waving its long front legs at me.

Flower crab spider, Misumena vatia

This little crab spider waving its front legs should look like a tempting morsel to a bird.

Getting closer, I see that this is a crab spider, an ambush predator that sits and waits for prey to come near and then reaches out to snare them with its long front legs.

Flower crab spider, Misumena vatia

Crab spider in ambush mode with front appendages spread to snare unsuspecting prey.

Flower crab spider, Misumena vatia

Spines or spurs at the ends of those long appendages help snare the unsuspecting prey.  Maybe a Japanese beetle will land close by;  there are plenty of them on these raspberry plants.

Japanese beetles eating raspberry leaves

There are plenty of these little beasts chewing up my raspberry bushes, but I don’t know if the spider is even interested in them.

I’m intrigued by the strawberry colored marking on the sides of this little spider, which should make it easy to identify.

Flower crab spider, Misumena vatia

A Google image search suggests this is a flower crab spider, or goldenrod crab spider.

Usually, these flower crab spiders are well camouflaged by matching the color of the flower, yellow or white, on which they are sitting.  The white-flowered raspberries have finished blooming, however, so this crab spider stands out against green leaves and red fruit.  Time for it to move to the back yard and start hunting on the yellow oxeye, black-eyed susans, and yellow coneflowers.

Goldenrod crab spider capturing a wasp.  From Wikimedia Commons

Goldenrod crab spider capturing a wasp. From Wikimedia Commons.

In its yellow form, the crab spider blends perfectly with its background on the flower, but how does a white spider turn yellow?  By secreting yellow pigment from the top layer of cells in its outer covering into the white, pigment-containing cells below, flower crab spiders can be chameleon-like, changing gradually over a period of 10-20 days from white to yellow.  Yellow spiders that move to white flowers excrete their yellow pigment and transform into white spiders in a mere 6 days.

Flower crab spider, white morph, Photo from Wikipedia

Flower crab spider, Photo from Wikipedia, by Luc Viatour,

Visual input is highly important in stimulating and achieving the spider’s color matching to its background; spiders whose “eyes” were painted over lost the ability to change color.

Apparently, only the females are the chameleons of this species; males which are a small fraction of the size of the females, are yellow-brown and cannot change color.

5 thoughts on “Chameleon spider

  1. I have seen these critters & also those in Florida that are shaped like crab shells. I respect spiders & the good work they do & tried to conquer my great fear of them – & scorpions (arachnophobia) when I lived in South Florida. I never got past it with scorpions & I’m glad I didn’t meet very many. I leave spider webs, except those blocking the steps or paths & look forward to seeing some white & yellow ones in the late summer & early fall garden coming soon. Thank you for featuring them today & reminding us of their existence among us.

  2. Thank you Sue! I grinned throughout the entire read. You share such wonderful details and beautiful images. I truly appreciate your beautiful work. Spiders are so cool, and crab spiders are stinkin’ cute! I too thank them for their service like jmcheney and am so glad to have conquered my fear and turned it into fascination. Very grateful to live in a state with few poisonous creatures to threaten my love of nature.

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