Hiding in plain view

Hiding in plain view is essential to many animals large and small, from the leopard who changed his spots, to the jumping spider I wrote about on this blog a couple of days ago, to the butterfly in the middle of my lawn recently:

Yellow butterfly in lawn grass
Now you don’t see him, now you … do?

The Lemon Migrant still surprises me by how well it blends into greenery. Its real colour is a strong pale yellow with only a tinge of green, but it’s a colour which reflects the green of surrounding grass or leaves very strongly and makes it quite hard to spot.

Here’s a closer look at the same butterfly:

Lemon Migrant, Catopsilia pomona

In retreat

Jumping spider
Cute to people but a terror to tiny bugs: jumping spider, about 6 mm long.

If you are a little pale jumping spider, the smooth pale bark of a Poplar Gum is a pretty good hunting ground: you’re fairly well camouflaged and there is a steady parade of prey passing by (Gotcha!). But you have to remember that you might be prey yourself (like your relative here), and be sure of a place to hide.

Most of the year that’s not a problem, because there are enough bits of loose bark to hide your whole family a dozen times over. But once a year, the tree sheds all its bark to expose a fresh new layer that is as smooth and bare as Red Square (not that you know about Red Square). Where do you hide?

You make a retreat. You find a dimple in the bark and roof it over with a taut span of silk, leaving at least two inconspicuous doorways (a retreat with only one entrance can become a trap, as you know). Then you’re okay. The roof is almost the colour of the bark, and is an even better match after it collects a bit of dust, and it lasts for months.

Jumping spider retreat on poplar gum trunk
The retreat, with a couple of un-roofed dimples for comparison
Jumping spider half out of retreat
Is it safe to come out?

For the record: The spider is the Flat White Jumping Spider, Arasia mollicoma, Salticidae – thanks to Rob Whyte (do not follow the link unless you like spiders!) for the ID. I see these spiders regularly on the poplar gum trunk. This retreat is by no means unusual: half a dozen are made on the bottom couple of metres of the trunk after each time the bark is shed.

I am not a spider

Don’t look at me. I am a totally uninteresting bit of dead plant …

brownish lump hanging under a leaf… a seed pod maybe? Okay, it’s a bit odd that I’m stuck to the underside of a leaf, but if I was alive I would surely have moved when you turned the leaf upside down …

different view of brownish lump … and flashed bright lights at me. But I didn’t move, did I? So I can’t be alive. Maybe I’m a broken bit of twig. You can’t see those little sparkly spots that are actually my eyes, either – can you? But I wish you you would stop twisting the leaf around …

brown lump on tip-toeOops! I think that was a bit of a giveaway, going up on tip-toe like that. And now you have poked me with your huge finger – it must be time to bail out …

Brown spider on pebbly twiggy dirt.Right, I’m on the ground. And I match it so well you can’t see me unless I move, so I’m not going to move. In fact, you will forget that I’m even here.

What? Lights again? You haven’t forgotten? Okay – absolute last resort – dash for cover …

spider on ground, facingNow that I am safe, I can admit that, yes, I am a spider of course. People call me a Twig Spider, Plotys species (though even the experts aren’t sure which species). I make an orb web at night and pull it down again each morning, spending the day (well, most days) sleeping peacefully out of sight and out of mind. That’s the way I like it. Today was not a good day. Today was scary.

Brown honeyeater

Brown Honeyeater in bottlebrush tree
Brown Honeyeater in bottlebrush tree

We have a lot of birds in our garden, attracted by the constant supply of flowering plants and the tangles of shrubby plants to hide in. Hibiscuses provide both, year round, but the bottlebrush is also a great refuge for shy little birds like this Brown Honeyeater, Lichmera indistincta (Meliphagidae), and we have a resident population.

I find the birds harder to photograph than the insects, because they are warier. A longer lens would help, and I have just borrowed a 55 – 250 mm zoom to see how much better it is. Expert bird photographers like Ian Montgomery would rarely use anything as short as 250 mm, of course (‘Start with a 400,’ he told me when I raised the question once, if I remember correctly), but I’ll work my way up gradually.