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A Tangled Web

Starry Orb Web

Many times our attention is first called to the presence of a spider by their web. Indeed, members of the related groups of spiders, will spin webs of the same style.

For example, the last post was about the Golden Garden Spider, colloquially called a “signature spider” because of the reinforcing zig-zag pattern at the center. Because of its morphology it is indeed a member of the large orb-weaver family, a family of approximately 3500 members.

Golden Garden Spider-an orb weaver that signs its work

Other conspicuous members of the family occur locally as well. Perhaps most often seen are the large round-bodied spiders that I call simply orb-weavers. I was asked recently if I knew the pumpkin spider. After discussion we decided that the Yellow Orb-weaver was the spider in question, so I learned of a new name. So here are some of our local spiders that you can search for starting with the orb-weavers.

Golden Orbweaver- detail
Orb weaver cinnamon colored species

Some orb-weavers spin more perfect webs than their cousins. The Spiny Orb-weaver creates very fine, neat parallel spiral lines. These are seen in the fall when

sunlit well above the forest floor.

Spiny Orbweaver
Spiny Orb Weaver web- near perfection

They may stitch a leaf together with silk at the attachment point of one of the

webs supporting strands to use as a hide-away for protection against the weather

and predators, if there is no other crack or crevice to hide in. If disturbed most

orb-weavers will climb to safety.

Orbweaver's hide-away made with stitched together leaf

Others like the Green-legged Orchard spider will drop to safety and hide among the leaf litter. They make a web with amazing detail and fineness, adding extra radii near the center until almost an aquarium net in texture.

Green-legged Orchard spider- note the fineness of the web
Green-legged Orchard Spider

In high contrast to such beautiful, radially symmetrical webs, the cobweb spiders spin a haphazard mass of strands in the corners of your house, barn (Charlotte from

Charlotte’s Web is a barn spider), or under your chair. The term “cobweb” is often incorrectly used to mean any spider web in general but is more accurately used to define a specific type. The most common of these is the Brown House spider. A co-worker of mine told me she had cobwebs in her house but no spiders. (Try to figure that statement out.) The house spiders are harmless, however, some of the most poisonous spiders in the United States are the Widows. Widows are a type of cobweb spider. We have at least two species here locally. I will cover them in a separate post.

Brown Barn Spider- a cobweb spider
Cobweb barn spider-egg cases and spiderlings
Brown House Spider egg cases hatching and spiderlings

As you observe the lawn on a dewy summer morning, sheets of spider silk about the size of a handkerchief or larger, become conspicuous. If you look more carefully at one edge the web appears to be rolled into a funnel. You may even catch a glimpse of the shy Funnel Weaver waiting there for an unsuspecting insect. They are especially sensitive to the slightest vibration of the sheet, and if an insect touches it, quickly run out and catch their meal.

Funnel-webweaver-in Lycopodium den
Funnel Webweaver-waiting for lunch
Funnel Webweaver- can you find the spider
Very wet Funnel weaver during a rainstorn

If you look closely on low branches or in shrubbery, you can find The Sheetweb Spider’s home. These are horizonal saucer-shaped webs about the size of a crepe, often looking like a lace doily. Once again you might pass them a dozen times, but they suddenly show up clearly on a misty morning hike.

Sheetweb Weaver sitting tight
Sheetweb heavy with dew

The Trap-door spider has modified jaws that are used in digging a vertical tube six to eight inches deep. This tube is lined with a silken cocoon. The owner waits just at the entrance for some insect to wander by. Some species build a hinged silken door which can be pulled shut in times of bad weather or danger. I have not seen this type on the Nature Preserve Lands, however, the species with the open tube can be found in dry, gravelly soil along the edges of the woodlands or on the powerline right-of-way.

Trap door Spider - in burrows - neighbors
Trap door Spider tube

The last group that I will cover are spiders which do not build a web at all. These are the spiders that spend their time actively hunting instead of waiting for food to appear. Crab spiders wait on flowers for the unsuspecting fly or bee. Many times they are superbly camouflaged in the same pastel tints of the blossom they have chosen. Another spider, that I am fond of is the jumping spider. As I’ve mentioned before they have excellent 3D, color vision. As they move from place to place, they are feeding out a safety line from their spinnerets. Every few inches the line is stuck to the substrate. If the spider misses a jump or falls, it simply climbs back up. I am intrigued by the way they turn and angle their cephalothorax upwards or to either side to get the best view of the naturalist. Sometimes I wonder just who is watching who.

Jumping spider- turns to watch
Green Lynx jumping spider-lives up to its name
Jumping Spider- detail

ve hunters, too. Although some are intimidating because of their size, the wolf spider is truthfully a wonderful parent, carrying its egg case along with it and replacing it if accidentally lost. Once the spiderlings hatch, they ride on the mother’s back for the first while and she watches over them. If some should fall off, they quickly find her and climb back aboard. Wolf spiders are perfectly at home around streams, pools, ponds, and can walk on water. I have seen them simply climb down emergent vegetation to a spot six inches below the water surface where they can remain for some time. The body takes on a silvery sheen from the layer of air that is trapped within the body hairs.

Wolf Spider- walking on water
Wolf Spider carrying young-one falls off, climbs back on
Wolf spider- creeping closer

Here is a spider adventure that you can enjoy with your child. If you have a bright

headlamp or bright pencil-beamed flashlight, go outside into your yard in the dark

and search carefully, you will see little points of star-like light beaming back at you.

Your light source should be at nearly your eyelevel for best results. If you approach carefully, you will find it is wolf spider eyeshine, that is, light being reflected back to

you from their eyes. This is why the wolf spider has such wonderful night vision. This must be done at a time when there are no dewdrops or rain that also reflect causing confusion. Sometimes on a mild evening dozens of spiders can be located. I have tried to come up with a method to photograph this, with limited success. Hope you enjoy them.

Wolf Spider eyeshine at night
Wolf Spider eyeshine at night

Get Outdoors and Happy Hiking!

Rabid Wolf Spider 2021 barn- 3 inch leg-spead

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