October 02, 2016

The Fishing Spider

 I saw the commotion from about 40 yards. Lots of wing flapping and movement. I took a break from trout fishing and quickly approached the action. My camera was out and I started taking photos from 30 feet out. When I got closer I saw a huge dark-colored spider in a battle with a big butterfly.

The spider was having its way with the butterfly. The spider was so large I was afraid to get close to it at first. It looked very busy trying to consume this butterfly so I took my chances and got a couple close-ups of the death match. The butterfly was really struggling and I felt sorry for it and gave the spider a nudge with the end of my rod and it quickly retreated down the stalk of vegetation it was on.

The butterfly sat there for a while putting itself back together. The spider made a couple more runs up the stalk to try to resume the battle but I blocked it each time. The butterfly flew away. The HUGE spider then went on with its search for food. They hunt on the surface of still or slow moving fresh water. They row themselves across the surface supported by the surface tension, and can also sail across on the wind.

Initially I believed the spider to be a wolf spider. I went on the internet to search spiders and narrowed the type of spider to either a wolf spider or a fishing spider. The eyes were what made me think it was NOT a wolf spider.

 I sent away the photo to an insect specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Five months after my query I got an email back and the professor identified the spider as a female fishing spider. He also said the butterfly was a question mark butterfly.

 The fishing spider can go under the surface and trap prey such as minnows in its front legs.  They can get up to three inches in body length.   They have unique lungs that are almost like accordions that trap oxygen in them.  This allows them to stay under the water to hunt much longer than you would expect.

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