I almost didn’t see this predator until it was too late!

Our parks might not seem like havens for hungry predators, but they lurk unseen. Behind a bush, around a corner, … or on a goldenrod stem! This ant at Bear Creek Nature Park was probably having a good day, just working hard like ants do. But wait, it didn’t see the spider waiting just around the corner!

An unsuspecting ant...
The unsuspecting ant…

A few more steps and the spider took the ant! I watched the ant struggle slowly for a few minutes, snapping the following pictures.

... and now it is too late for that ant!

… and now it is too late for that ant!

The spider politely waited for me to leave before enjoying its meal. It's not polite to eat in front of guests.
The spider politely waited for me to leave before enjoying its meal. It’s not polite to eat in front of guests without offering them food, and I wasn’t about to share this ant.

Spiders and other predators play an important role as predators in my ecosystems. The famous example you might know is elk and bison in Yellowstone National Park. Without wolves in the park, elk spent more time in open areas. When wolves were re-introduced, elk spent less time in these open areas to avoid their predators. Shrubs in Yellowstone rebounded after wolves were introduced. Similarly, insects that are prey of spiders change their behavior and diet when spiders are present. Predators indirectly affect the growth of plants as they directly affect the behavior of the herbivores feeding on the plants.

These predators may be hiding right in front of us, like the spider in these pictures that was smaller than a dime. Whether we see them or not, predators of all sizes play an important role in keeping our ecosystems in balance. Next time you’re out in the parks, take time to admire the little predators around you!

About Ben VanderWeide

I am the Natural Areas Stewardship Manager for Oakland Township Parks and Recreation in southeast Michigan. I have a doctorate in biology (focused on plant ecology) and I am passionate about protecting and managing natural areas.

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