In August of 2017 I began to photograph and identify flowering plants at Cuixmala and the Fundación Ecológica de Cuixmala. To help with identification, I relied heavily on two area plant lists to narrow down the possibilities. Both of these were produced by the preeminent plant taxonomist for the Chamela-Cuixmala area, Dr. Emily J. Lott.
Initially I used her list found at the Estacion Chamela website (http://www.ibiologia.unam.mx/ebchamela/www/flora.html) but later used the more recent and extensive one she published in 2002 in the book Historia Natural de Chamela (HNC). Nevertheless, in the course of identifying what the HNC list suggested would be about 10% of the species present in the area, I had already found 4 species “new” to the area (Funastrum bilobum, Hibiscus colimensis, Nama jamaicensis, and Solanum angustifolium).
Also, while doing the identifications, it was apparent that there had been numerous taxonomic changes. Many of these were the result of revolutionizing molecular phylogenies published since 2002.
Consequently, I decided to update Lott’s HNC list, at least for the “traditional dichots”.
In June of 2015, below the ostentatious facade of Casa Cuixmala and amidst the property’s exotic cast of zebras and impalas, my daughter and I were privileged to witness something truly elegant and special on an otherwise obscure liana (Paullinia fuscescens) growing along one of the trails:
Scarab beetle (Euphoria leucographa) and two ants (Neoponera sp.)
Two Orange Banners (Temenis laothoe), fly, ant (Neoponera sp.), and fly (Family Ropalomeridae)
Fly (Family Ropalomeridae), scarab beetle (Euphoria leucographa), ant (Neoponera sp.), and fly.
Fly, fly (Family Ropalomeridae), small beetle, two flies (Family Lauxaniidae), and ant (Neoponera sp.)
Ant (Neoponera sp.) and scarab beetle (Euphoria leucographa)
Paper Wasp (Polistes carnifex) and flies
Neoponera ants and the vast majority of paper wasp species are powerful insect predators., Such seemingly placid interactions between them and their potential prey might initially bring to mind the idyllic scene foretold by the Old Testament prophet Isiah :
The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox…
Doing a morning walk in Cuixmala on the trail along the Pistia-filled lake near Carretera 200 (across from the fundación), I came across something “floating” in the air in front of me. Usually this is a caterpillar hanging by one of its silken threads. As can be seen in these photos, that wasn’t the case here:
Crab spiders (Family Thomisidae) are incredible in taking on larger and seemingly dangerous prey like this paper wasp (Polistes dorsalis) without the assistance of a web. Instead, they hang out motionlessly and frequently camouflaged at flowers or on leaves with fallen flowers. Here, they pounce on their prey and hold them with their first two pairs of legs while biting and injecting venom. Crab spiders are not dangerous to humans but you have to think that their venom is pretty powerful.
What happened here? While paper wasps don’t collect pollen to feed their offspring, they do occasionally visit flowers to feed on their nectar. They also search plants for caterpillars and other insects that they feed their offspring. For whatever reason, this one got too close to a crab spider.
While crab spiders don’t build webs, they still make and use silk. Normally eating their prey where they catch them, this one shot a line of silk out and left its perch with the wasp in its chelicerae (jaws). We can’t know exactly why it did this but perhaps a large ant or some other dangerous animal or potential predator got too close.
While the crab spider in the photos is holding the paper wasp by the base of its head, this doesn’t mean that’s where it delivered its deadly bite. Crab spiders prefer to feed from the head where they inject digestive enzymes and then suck up the slurry. What they suck up from the head must be very good. One study of crab spiders feeding on fruit flies showed that they always started at the head and then switched to the abdomen to complete their meal. If, however, a new fly appeared while a crab spider was feeding from the head of a captured fly, the spider would prefer trying to catch another fly rather than finish its meal at the other end of the captured one.
Anyway, shortly after the last picture the crab spider fell to the ground with its paper wasp where I presume it finished its meal.