Florida really bugs me

Esteban and I spent a week in Florida last November. It was bliss: We had a wonderful family gathering, lots of beautiful weather — and the ocean was literally right across the street from our hotel.

It became a ritual for me to get up before dawn every morning and watch the sunrise on the beach. I’ll show you those photos some other day, though, because before we can step onto the beach we must first walk through a thicket of mangroves and sea grass. And do you know what lives in thickets of mangroves and sea grass?

BUGS. (Warning: Arachnophobia triggers.)

It was only my second time shooting with my new GX85, in which Panasonic has dispensed with the anti-aliasing filter for even sharper detail resolution. Although I’m still a tiny bit concerned about unintended moiré patterns I was impressed with the added sharpness (though you can’t really tell in these internet-sized images …).

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Upon returning home I learned that there can be such a thing as too much sharpness, though. All of the shots I took of this spiny orb weaver rendered the little critter with a weird, fakey-looking halo.

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Closer inspection revealed the halo as individual hairs. Yes, people. SPIDER HAIRS!

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Although they look creepy with their hard, spiky shell, they’re harmless to humans — and they always make me smile. (Don’t those black dots in the middle sort of look like a smiley face?) Alas, I saw only two spiny orb weavers.

The species I did see in great numbers was the regular ol’ orb weaver, though.

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They’re named (rather unimaginatively) after the circular shape of their webs.

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Looking at it up close I couldn’t help but marvel at the web’s complexity — or the engineering it took to secure it among the vegetation. Isn’t it cool to consider that these spiders hatch with the maps for these intricate designs already encoded in their little spider brains?

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Being alone gave me the time one needs for macro photography. When your focal plane is this narrow — and when the wind keeps jostling your subject — maybe one frame in 50 is worth keeping.

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Also, for good macro photography you must get quite close indeed — which is how this very pregnant, 4-inch-long spider almost ended up on my forehead.

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I imagine my expression looked something like this:

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It all turned out OK, though, as no photographers — or spiders — were harmed in the making of this blog post. And after a while, even the ginormous orb weavers started to look kind of cute.

Orb weaver 1030513 CL BLOG

Alright then, that does it for the Florida bugs. Next up: the beaches!

125 comments

  1. I am simultaneously amazed and terrified of these beautiful creatures. Just looking at these pictures made my heart race a bit faster. I wonder if our fear of spiders is instinctive or learned? Either way, these are gorgeous pictures.

    • I also wonder whether our fear of spiders is innate, Clare — because it does seem almost universal, doesn’t it? In hindsight I wonder if the poor insects were also having little spider-heart palpitations as my lens was hovering above them from a zillion angles. Hopefully spiders don’t have nightmares. 🙂

    • Can you even IMAGINE, J P? I tried not to think about that too much when I saw a couple of flies get stuck in the webs. Although it’s the circle of life and all that, nature still seems unnecessarily cruel (and creepy) sometimes.

  2. You’ve captured a real look of puppy-like, alert intention in that stripy caterpillar eating its lunch. Had it eaten the rest of the leaf somewhere else do you think? Or stripped the leaves off the branch where it’s standing?

    Or had you set it up with a picturesque leaf segment, positioned just so – like a caterpillar wrangler on a Hollywood set?

    That spotty, star shaped spider – the spiny orb weaver- is a thing of beauty, isn’t it? You’re lucky to have them. They don’t live here on our chilly, grey island. I agree with JP Cavanagh though – they’d be terrifying if you were tinier. In a well-dressed Cruella de Vil way.

    • Isn’t that stripy caterpillar a gem? I imagine he had consumed A LOT of leaves already that day — I’m told those little guys are insatiable. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had stripped that stick bare.

      As for that spotty, star-shaped spider: We had them in Peru also when I was a kid, and those things used to terrify me! But once I learned more about them (including the fact that they’re harmless to humans) I came to appreciate their beauty and even charm. It’s that way with so many things in life, isn’t it: Things seem less scary once we get to know them a bit.

  3. I can’t wait for spring to finally hit so I can get out and do my insect and other macro photography. Thanks for sharing yours.

    I have often had our little neighbors almost jump on me, or JUMP on me when out shooting. lol A tip for those who don’t want to run into that situation, but want to get some nice shots, I suggest finding a lens that allows you to fill the frame at 3 or more feet away. Then learn to judge your shots at that distance. Normally the quality will not be quite as good as if you got in close, but you can save yourself some “jumpy” moments. 😉

    Happy shooting!

    • If one of these little neighbors had jumped on me, I likely would have broken the 4-minute mile record, Whiskey Cowboy! LOL. Your tip about finding a nice telephoto and zooming in is a good one. I’ve experimented with that — and also with extension tubes — but on this occasion I had only my all-purpose 24-280 travel zoom with me, so I was at the mercy of the optimal focal distance. But next time I’m bringing the big telephoto for sure. If nothing else, it will cut down considerably on the bug-induced shaky hand syndrome! 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by.

  4. I was waiting for you to say, gators 😱I have this terrible fear that if I move to Florida (something I plan to do) gators will be everywhere frkm ny garage to my yard… I know, this is extreme. Bugs would be a much better fear to have at this point 😔

    • I’m with you 100% on the gator-fear, Lourdes! My grandma had one on her driveway once. It didn’t stay long — just about an hour, because it was warming itself on the asphalt early in the day. But if it had been my house, I probably would have died in that hour, LOL. Thank you for stopping by, and best wishes with your move to the Sunshine State!

    • I’m not super-keen on getting too close either, so I understand your “from afar” qualification. 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by!

  5. Gorgeous! And that’s saying a lot from me – like many, I confess to not enjoying spiders up close. But your photography puts a new vision and exposure to the topic. As you said, the more you looked at them, the more they became interesting individuals with humor, character, and certainly beauty. That said, I’ll still allow you to step forward to this task before me ;p but appreciate the challenge of seeing things with a new light and mindset, always. – Your knowledge of camera equipment and photography is really admirable! In a world focused on using smart phones for pictures (grateful for mine, don’t get me wrong), to have this experience and understanding is even more of a dedicated art than before. Looking forward to the beach photos next!

    • You always make my day — heck, my WEEK — with your kind comments, Lara. I admit I’m rather partial to my camera, only because I know where the knobs are (and what most of them are for). Plus with my phone I would have had to get even closer to the crawlies which would have been … how to say it? … “unacceptable.” 🙂 That said, any recording device can be an outlet for creativity! I know one guy in Paris who shoots only with his iPhone and his photos are admirable. Anyway. Beach photos. Coming right up! 😀

      • Hah! Up-close photos of the spiders via phone use – yeah, no thank you “)) I really do admire your understanding of a real camera and the use thereof. I won’t lie, technology of any kind will make me kind of deer-in-headlights for a while until I get used to using it. Even TV remote controls in hotels often baffle me! Hah ;p I’m better with the technology of bodies. Really looking forward to the next set of photos; love the art form. Love art period. Any tidbits about how the camera works or why you like it versus other cameras would be interesting to hear, anytime you want to share. I have no experience with that world and find anything new engaging 🙂 Thank you for the new blog post!

        • If it helps you feel any better, I can’t figure out how to work the TV-stereo-speaker system my husband has set up in the basement, Lara. I applaud him for not spending big bucks on a “surround sound” system, but the monstrosity he cobbled together from spare parts and old guitar amplifiers is so complicated that I never use it unless he’s at home, for fear of poking the wrong button and accidentally launching the space shuttle! 🙂 As for tidbits about how my camera works … well, that *would* be kind of a fun post, wouldn’t it? I’ll add it to the blogfodder list.

          • “) I’d be interested to read, if you post about camera workings (though you may need to do lay person’s terms 😉 – If I lived with a TV stereo speaker system such as you’ve described, I’d probably just never watch TV again =P That’s how I get around these complications. So you see, sometimes I’m not always progressive, hah:)

    • I’ve seen your photos, Cindy … and something tells me you’ve get some lovely spider shots if the spirit moved you. 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by!

    • Agreed! And I can assure you this particular beholder would find the bugs 100% less beautiful if they were on her, instead of safely occupied with their webs. 🙂 Thank you for stopping by!

  6. Exceptional pictures
    Years ago I was looking for pictures of baby black widows … I couldn’t find any …. I wanted to show them to boy scouts …. I decided to raise some black widows to photograph … the raising project was successful … but the photography was horrible …. I wish I could take your camera back in time …. The babys were pretty … before I could get the photography right those cute little babies ate each other.

    • You RAISED black widows??!! That’s dedication — and also a little bit hair-raising. I commend you for going to such lengths for the Boy Scouts! Though the lesson in cannibalism may have been more than you bargained for, eh? Thank you for your kind words about the photos! I appreciate your stopping by.

      • Thanks
        the black widow project took several months …. I learned a lot about spiders and a little about photography …. so many iksperiments …so little time …when I grow up I want to be a good photographer like you

        • The best thing to learn about anything — even raising spiders — is to just do it, isn’t it? That’s how I got into photography: My dad gave me a camera, and I just got out there and took pictures. And the cool thing is that I’m still learning! So I hope you’ll keep experimenting with your camera too, and looking at sites like Flickr to see what other folks are up to. With just a little bit of practice (and some curiosity about the world) I have no doubt you could become a SUPERB photographer if that’s what you set your mind to!

  7. These are terrific close-ups! Especially the third image going down the page, it’s beautiful. The combination of the bokeh, web and spider make for a superbly-aligned constellation.

    Spiders and I get along perfectly well (even in the house and our place has plenty of hiding spaces) if they observe one simple rule: Don’t unduly surprise me. That’s just not nice and it means kung fu time.

    • Your kind words mean the world, coming from a photographer whose work I so admire. Thank you, TFir! And thank you for the huge laugh also at your last line. I have a similar agreement with the spiders in my own house, except I’m not nimble enough to do kung fu so usually I just make an involuntary squeak and then drop whatever it is I’m holding. Not terribly effective as a survival mechanism, but it amuses my husband. 🙂

    • If I were smart I would keep my distance too, but I can’t help my curiosity! Though the spiders may be more likely to describe me as “nosy.” 🙂 Thank you for your kind comment, Dina!

  8. Your title was captivating, especially since I live in Florida. You managed to make spiders look both interesting and cute…good for you! Awesome shots, BTW!

    • Sorry about that cheekily misleading title, Mrs. P — I’m actually quite fond of your beautiful state! As a Florida resident I’m sure you know what I mean about the sheer number of bugs, though. 😉 Thank you so much for stopping by, and especially for your kind words.

    • Thank you so much, Rochelle! That’s a fine (and welcome) compliment coming from such an amazing and beautiful photographer as yourself. xx

  9. for the first time i like spiders… for their beauty (thanks to you for introducing me to it). otherwise they were only creepy crawly things for me. though i ve always marveled at their ability to knit such intricate yet strong webs. must say you’ve captured them so well with your lens. loved it

    • I’m so honored that my post helped you appreciate our creepy crawly neighbors in a new light! Thank you so much for stopping by, and especially for taking the time to comment.

  10. Very nice! I mean that in the photographic sense….I’m not really a fan of spiders. But that one with the hair was certainly interesting!
    And…..Florida? What happened to the frozen hinterlands of the great ice bowl?!
    Glad you’re back blogging

    • Thanks for your kind note, Jeff — you’ve made my day! Part of the reason I’ve been absent here is because I’ve been traveling quite a lot. But rest assured it won’t be long before I’m back to whining about the frozen hinterlands of the great ice bowl, ha ha! Thanks so much for stopping by.

  11. I am one of few in my circle of family and friends that find spiders absolutely fascinating! Their intricate designs and the speed and agility it takes to create their masterpieces always amaze me. I’m truly facinated at the photos you were able to take. I have a Canon Rebel T6 and hoping to catch such beauty of nature myself. Anyway, I really enjoyed this. Excellent photos and maybe more butterflies for the less squeemish lol!! Thanks for sharing!

    • You are among friends here — because I know what it’s like to be the odd person out among one’s friends and family! I think it’s marvelous that you have such a sense of wonder and curiosity about our little web-spinning friends, though. Your Canon Rebel should be perfectly capable of recording every intricate detail! If your lens doesn’t let you get as close as you like, consider adding an extension tube. They’re quite inexpensive and will get you much closer to the web-spinning action. Oh! And thank you also for the suggestion about adding more butterflies. 😉 I will take your advice next time I do a post about bugs. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  12. Great shots! We have orb weavers here in western Washington as well, and every year during spider season, I swear I will take some shots of them and never do. Maybe this year. Thanks for the interesting post!

    • “Spider season.” What a great phrase, Joe! In Florida “spider season” seems to be year-round, though different species have their heydays at different times of the year. I’ll be eager to see what kinds of critters you get out in Washington if you get some shots during your beautiful state’s upcoming spider season. Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words.

      • The outside spiders die out in the fall (though one has survived the winter so far on my back porch – must be global warming 🙂 ). Then in spring or early summer, the egg cases hatch and there are thousands of tiny orb weavers, about the size of the head of a pin. But they “disappear” (I’m sure they are still out there, just very hard to find after they leave the nest). Later in summer, you start seeing them again as they grow, and by early fall there are orbs all over – that is what I call spider season.

        For the indoor spiders, spider season is year round.

        • “For the indoor spiders, spider season is year round.” Same in my home, Joe! (As long as they stay off the furniture 🙂

    • Aren’t those spiny spiders fascinating, and beautiful in their own spiky, slightly creepy way? They only appear for a few weeks every year, so I felt fortunate to spot a couple. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  13. Very, very beautiful specimens as long as they don’t dangle by a thread over your face while sleeping.
    Great shots ❤ Looking forward to the beaches!

    • I don’t think I would ever be able to sleep again if I discovered one of these little monsters dangling above my face, Hanna! 🙂 Thank you for your kind compliment — and the beaches are coming right up! xx

  14. Thansk for sharing some of your vacation with us. I have to say, seeing that many spiders even if they were harmless would freak me out lol..

    • True confession, Bryce: I was freaked out too, just by the sheer number of the things. It seemed like just a matter of time before I absent-mindedly put my hand (or face!!) through one of those webs. I’m sure the video of “what happened next” would have gone viral. 😉 Thank you so much for stopping by!

    • I will secretly admit to you that in spite of how interesting I found the spiders they were still a bit scary to me, too. 🙂

    • I did spend a lot of time trying to compose my photos and get the light just right, so I greatly appreciate your kind words. Thank you!

      • Well, next time you meet a spider in one of your nightmares… Slip your hand into your pocket and I would have put my hairdressing scissors in there for just such an occasion.
        😊 whip them out and offer that spider a trim. 😊

          • My Daughter used to have bad dreams about skeletons chasing her, I put it into her head one night that they were just wanting to be friends and she could be friends by teaching them to tap-dance. Now the only childhood dreams she can remember about skeletons are dancing ones. 😊

          • THAT IS WONDERFUL. Wonderful beyond words! How lucky your daughter is to have such a positive and ingenious mum!

  15. Beautiful, as always. I’m considering having a sentence saved that I can just copy and paste into these posts – I just keep saying the same thing!
    And great sharpness, even if they are just ‘internet’ photos

    • Ha ha! I would be very honored indeed if you found all my posts beautiful, Terry. Thank you for that! As for the photos — yes, I was quite pleased. It seems Panasonic has outdone themselves again with the little GX85.

  16. You crack me up! Your photos are amazing, I live in Fl and have seen the orb weavers, up close and personal…generally when walking in the early morning and passing through a web! Nothing like a spider dance to get your heart rate up!

    • Ah, yes … I too have done the involuntary early morning “spider dance.” I’m surprised they haven’t added it at the Y, because as you say, it really gets the heart racing! Plus there’s the additional benefit that the spider gets a great workout, too. 😀 But seriously. Thank you so much for making my day with your kind words!

  17. If it’s possible to let go of the scary thoughts when it comes to spiders, they are actually very beautiful as your photos so well shows. Excellent shots I hope was worth having a spider almost end up on your forehead.

    • I’m willing to suffer a bit for my art, Otto, so i can happily confirm these photos were well worth the risk to my forehead. Thank you so much for your kind words.

  18. You’ve captured these spiders beautifully. I find it impossibly challenging taking spider web photos. I end up with blurry spiders, blurry webs, or both. I’m fascinated and a bit creeped out myself, but I’ve conquered my fears over the years. I have a humane bug capture that I’ve taught my boys to use and we all relocate them back into the garden. The wolf spiders always give me a start (they show up around August and I once stood up into a web) and I’m careful in dark corners where the black widows live. I’ve learned through reading that they are shy and reserved and that most bites are accidental. If you’re an adult and not a child or someone with a compromised immune system, you’ll also survive the bite. I’m going in search of my hatching spiders post and will be back to share it.

    • My gosh. BLACK WIDOWS? Those really do freak me out — even with your helpful instruction that they’re reserved creatures, and that their bites can be survived. Those colorful bellies of theirs trigger an almost primal reaction in me to get awaaaaaaay! As for their more harmless cousins in Florida: Do not be deceived by the quality of my photos, dear Alys! There are a couple hundred blurry ones for every sharp one I showed. 😉

      • This might help: Due to the presence of latrotoxin in their venom, black widow bites are potentially dangerous and may result in systemic effects (latrodectism) including severe muscle pain, abdominal cramps, hyperhidrosis, tachycardia, and muscle spasms.[18] Symptoms usually last for 3–7 days, but may persist for several weeks.[19]

        Each year, about 2,200 people report being bitten by a black widow, but most recover within 24 hours with medical treatment (male spiders produce the toxins to help with their own hunting, but they make such a diluted version that they’re not harmful to most people). Also, many people who are bitten develop few symptoms since the spider may not inject its venom. Black widows are not especially aggressive spiders, and they rarely bite humans unless startled or otherwise threatened.[20]

        Contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage, let alone death. Fatal bites were reported in the early 20th century mostly with Latrodectus tredecimguttatus, the Mediterranean black widow.[21] source Wiki

    • WONDERFUL. What a wonderful, adorable, captivating, moving photo! Although I suppose it may be weird to some folks, to me it evoked only a miracle that such tiny, fragile things can survive out in the world. Thank you for the link!

      • And thank you for following the link and leaving a nice comment. I think most things in nature are extraordinary. One of the reasons I continue to love gardening year after year is that it brings me face to face with these opportunities that I would otherwise miss. The world is full of mystery and wonder.

        • “The world is full of mystery and wonder.” With those eight words, you have summed up my entire religion. And you’re right that gardening brings us face-to-face with these opportunities — but it also takes a curious spirit and a warm heart to appreciate them. ❤︎

  19. Wonderful post, great pictures, thank you for sharing. I am relatively new to macro photography and your post has inspired me greatly to get out there and see what you can find.

    • How happy I am to know these photos have inspired you to get out there are do some of your own macro photography, Karen! I will be eager to see what you come up with! 🙂

    • I’m very honored that a spider lover should like my photos! Thank you very much for stopping by, Mrs. Mastermind, and especially for your kind comment.

    • Thank you for your kind words! I’m already looking forward to my next Florida visit in a couple of months, to see how the bugs and the beaches have changed. Fingers crossed hurricane Irma will stay out at sea, though …

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