While the afternoons in July are often hot and breezy, scattered with thunder showers, mornings are cooler by 20-25 degrees, calm and dew covered.
During morning walks, I see plenty of dew-coated plants along the roadsides. Often, they wear the wet threads of spiderwebs and on a normal walk, I find cob webs, funnel webs and orb webs. Though common, the webs are still small, but growing as do the spiders through the season.
Also in the open areas are the summer wildflowers that thrive in warm sunlight. In the dawn’s light, I see that while all are covered with dew, many have closed their blossoms for the night. To observe these flowers of July, I will return to this site in late morning.
Shortly before noon, the fields have warmed and dried and walking here is easy and interesting; I am surrounded by colors. Though flowers here are abundant, nearly all are of two groups: legumes and composites. Two notable exceptions are yellow tall buttercups and white Canada anemone.
Legumes include clovers (at least five kinds): sweetclovers, birdsfoot trefoils, vetches and lupines. They show colors from white to blue to red and grow thickly here.
Among the composites are hawkweeds (yellow and orange): daisies, groatsbeard, yarrow and fleabane, varying in colors of white to yellow to orange.
Composites are more than a simple flower. Typically, they are composed of two kinds of floral arrangements. The circular disk flowers in the center and the surrounding ray flowers. It is these ray flowers that are usually called petals. The colors of these composites get my attention, but also get noticed by myriads of active insects.
Pausing to look around, I see bees, wasps, flies, moths and several kinds of butterflies: crescents, fritillaries, monarchs, ringlets and skippers. Nearly all of these critters are coming to the flowers for nectar.
But as I look, I also see various dragonflies hunting these insects. Flying, hovering and perching, they seek prey. I note four-spotted skimmers, chalk-fronted corporals and calico pennants, among others. Dragonfly relatives, damselflies, are here, too: bluets and ebonywings.
But these winged hunters are not the only insect predators in the field. I stop to take a closer look at the daisies. With large yellow disk flowers and white rays, they are quite easy to see and numerous. They get a lot of activity from insects and so, I find the opportunistic spiders taking advantage of this situation.
It seems like in every patch of daisies, there will be crab spiders sitting in the open blossoms waiting to grasp a visiting insect. No webs for these sedentary hunters. Instead, they rely on a camouflage coloring to be harder to detect.
Now, at this time of July, most crab spiders are white. Later, when daisies get replaced by black-eyed Susans and goldenrods, these same spiders will turn yellow. It is interesting to note that whether white or yellow, these spiders still have pink marking on the their abdomen.
Crab spiders get their name from the pose they use while waiting for insects to come to the flowers: front legs held out like a crab. Like many predators, they frequently do not succeed in catching a meal, but as I wander here, I see some that have caught flies, bees, wasps and butterflies.
Crab spiders of various kinds will be with us for the duration of the summer and if we look at the changing flora of the season, we’ll see that they are here, hiding and hunting.