How the Bumblebee Lost Her Buzz

I spied a very quiet bumblebee sitting near one of the lupines yesterday. Odd behaviour for midday.

I looked closer. Ooops. The bumblebee had stumbled into the clutches of a large goldenrod crab spider.

Caught

Crab spiders are ambush predators. They wait for insects to visit flowers in search of pollen and honey.

They blend in well which makes them successful hunters. Using pigments in their body they can even change colour, from white (often with pink stripes or blotches) to yellow and back again. According to the Encyclopedia of Life it takes 10-25 days to turn from white to yellow but only about 6 days to turn from yellow to white.

So: Bumblebee arrives. Spider grabs it with her outstretched legs. Injects venom through her fangs. Paralyzes bumblebee.

Predator and prey

Once the prey is subdued the spider injects digestive enzymes into (or onto) the victim’s body, liquefying the insides. Then it slurps up the liquid. Nothing like a high-powered  protein shake for lunch.

Death among the flowers

How long did it take from start to finish? Hard to say. When I first discovered the bumblebee she was pointing head-first into the flower. When I checked again about 30 minutes later the spider had manoeuvred the bee around so that its head was pointing more to the front. Was this so she could better access the body fluids?

Manoeuvring her prey

Later still I discovered that the spider had finished her meal. I checked for bumblebee remains — in the flower stalk, on the ground, among the leaves. Nothing. Where did it go? A mystery.

I checked the lupine again today. The crab spider was still there. A moment later I stood transfixed as a fat bumblebee landed on the flowers, just petals away from the spider-in-hiding. Would she catch this one too?

Too close for comfort

Luckily for the bee she buzzed off to another stalk. As for the spider? She crawled out in full view, stretching out in the sun, legs poised, waiting …

The watchful waiter


Goldenrod crab spider   Misumena vatia
Bumblebee   Bombus spp.
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6 thoughts on “How the Bumblebee Lost Her Buzz

  1. Despite my natural sympathies for the bumble, it’s fascinating to see a good predator at work. I’ve seen a few crab spiders, but none have had that colored patch. My first hunch is that it’s because I’ve seen a different species: probably Mecaphesa spp., or the yellow crab spider.

    Have you read the passage in Pilgrim At Tinker Creek about the giant water bug and the frog? The creatures were different in her tale, but the process was the same. Slurp!

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    1. Ah, Annie Dillard. One of my favourites. I didn’t recall that story so trundled downstairs and dug out my ragged copy of Pilgrim. (Bought Feb 26, 1976 according to the inside flap.) So I shall read again. One line from this book has stuck with me all these years, a description of mountains in winter — “The mountains’ bones poke through, all shoulder and knob and shin.” Beautiful. Altho’ she was talking about how mountains look in winter once leaves are gone from the trees, the image to me seems even more suited to the mountains of southern Arizona where the bones are always visible. Now, off to read about the poor frog.

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    1. Me neither — there’s such a size difference you’d think a ‘bee could fight the spider off. I guess speed is of the essence: Do it fast and do it right. The paralysis-causing chemical must act so quickly that the bumblebee’s struggles are for naught.

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    1. Thanks, Brian. It was quite an eye-opener. Looked for the spider today and I think she has pulled up digs and moved on. (Or maybe something bigger than her took her to lunch!) 🙂

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