Stealing candy from barrel fish (the sequel)

After what I thought was my last bug shot of the season a few days ago (a tick which made it back home with me the other day), I half-heartedly brought a camera with me to the town’s garden centre with my wife (end of season sales!) in hope that they might have some active blooms among their outdoor sales tables.

That proved too hopeful. There were indeed some blooms but no activity. While my wife continued shopping for deals, I ducked into their houseplant section inside and started an even more desperate scanning session.

We were just about to leave when I spotted something very tiny on a very small orb spider nest hidden in the back area shelves, full of flower pots.

It was in the range of 2mm or so, and it was dim. All I had was my pocket TG-5, but it was tough to get close enough for a decent shot. But at least it was something!

I went home, had a look at the pics and started my identification effort. Problem–nothing in the local suggestion pool was a good match to my pics. I ended up picking the closest choice I could find and hoped that some zealot Arachnologist would help me out.

I checked back in a few hours later and was surprised that a couple of them were already discussing my find! The problem was – the few known local members of the genus didn’t match. It was looking more an more like a tropical import.

I remembered seeing a display of coconut palm pots (from Florida) nearby, and some pineapple plants. Could this be a stowaway? Hmm.

So today, on my way home from a trip, I suggested to my wife that we head to the garden centre again, and that I had brought my better camera with me. It was a longshot, but… isn’t that what keeps us going?

It took a few minutes, but I found another one. Quite small again, and huddled into a dark corner of a display cabinet. But I was thrilled to be getting a good shot. When I finished there, I kept looking and discovered two more specimens, much larger ones, and started shooting away.

The lovely sales staff at the centre, were pretty amused at my enthusiastic efforts, and laughed when I explained what I was trying to do. Just got back and I’m crossing my fingers. But I did want to share this story with the rest of you.

If everything is looking hopelessly barren, consider visiting your local indoor plant centre. You never know!


I used to hunt Uloborus in garden centers and the greenhouses of the local zoos in my home town in Germany as well and it sometimes started some really fun conversations… they were right at the starting point of my interest in spiders and where probably the first spider species I ever actively searched for… i-natting before the iNat-days :-D


It is wild what you can find after you’ve lost hope on finding what you were searching for. Serendipity is wonderful. I have a related story.
I was returning to an area to attempt to relocate a few Mangora I had observed the day before to get better shots. I only had about an hour’s time because this was during my lunch break and Mangora are really small. Luckily I remembered the tree I found them by, but I could not recall the exact location of that tree. I searched in vain and gave up as time was running short and I needed to travel back or be late (again)…
Disappointed I turn back looking down at my feet as I walk. That’s when I see a web that was only a line with a spider in it. I didn’t know what it was when I found it, but that didn’t stop me from getting excited. I happily trotted home to find out what she was. It turns out that I stumbled upon quite the interesting genre of Uloboridae as well, Hyptiotes, a triangle weaver. Check her out; fresh catch and everything.


Oh, very nice! Look how fuzzy! I’ll have to remember to check out the greenhouse at my local garden center; I know it has resident brown anoles, so clearly they’ve had hitchhikers turn up.

Mind if I ask for tips on getting nice photos of small spiders in webs? I haven’t quite figured out the trick to it, what with them being suspended in the air with nothing around them to get the camera to focus on. Does it come down to manually adjusting the focus?

In a word, yes! With my setup, I have the camera set to manual focus at mid zoom, then I find my target, zoom in to size it to the frame, while juggling the distance and zoom control to a pretty close focus. You just develop a feel for this step.

Then I usually use the focus peaking to nail the focal point. The tricky part with really small stuff is steadiness, and there’s a bunch of tricks for that too. Mostly, finding some way to support your camera (and arms) as much as you can. Like sometimes I keep a stretched pinky on the zoom barrel with a thumb on my chin. Tripods? Monopods? Stacking focus? Sure. Crisper results but… in practice, you’ll miss a lot more shots as it’s just slow to setup. (Just saying.)

Another trick I’ve turned to more and more with the tiny (and/or fast)? Once you have a good framing setup, switch to video. If you have 4k video, the detail is pretty close to a still. I tend to wander a bit with the camera at this stage, slowly moving in and out of focus. On my camera at least (an old Powershot SX-540), the video is stabilized more in video mode too.

Then, when I get back home, I run the videos through a video editor and pick out the best frames.

BTW, this spider shot? The subject was hanging conveniently at my head-height between two shelving units – which also worked great at giving my elbows a place to rest and steady things. (Nope, I don’t always get that lucky!)

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