Giant spiders: one more reason I love fall

The other evening, while leaving the library after my writers group meeting, I saw my first Neoscona of the season. She had strung her web between two pine trees next to the parking lot and now hung quietly, beautifully waiting in the center. I was too far away to determine whether she was a crucifera or a domiciliorum, but I doubt I would have been able to get close enough to see in any case as Neoscona are quite shy.

Bedewed Neoscona web in my front yard

Neoscona are orb weavers, spiders who make beautiful, circular webs. The two species mentioned above are found throughout much of the eastern United States. Both are quite sizeable, 1/2 inch or more as adults, with large, round abdomens and distinctively striped legs. In the fall, females gamble that the risks of placing their webs more visibly will pay off in a greater catch of prey; they do not overwinter and will give their all to egg-laying, a la the eponymous heroine of Charlotte’s Web.

I first encountered Neoscona many years ago when I lived in New England. I was house-sitting and discovered that a huge spider had made her web across one of the bedroom windows. Pretty clever, I thought, as I stayed up quite late at night reading and the light was bound to attract a lot of bugs.

Inspired by a Native American story told me earlier that summer, I dubbed my fellow house-sitter Grandmother Spider and came to think of her as a kind of guardian. When strange noises in the unfamiliar house woke me late at night, I imagined her web as a dream catcher, with Grandmother Spider waiting in it to capture any malevolent thought or intruder.

Neoscona sp. (photo by Cindy Dyer)

I was delighted to discover Grandmother Spiders around my own home when I returned from house-sitting and have ever since considered them an omen of blessing and protection. I have watched them build their webs, discovered their hiding places, and marveled to see them take down all but the main anchor lines when it rains, like an old salt furling the sails or a woman taking in her laundry. Their striped legs remind me of brightly striped stockings, which always make me smile, and their appearance is a sure sign that the wheel of the year is turning again to my favorite season, fall.

Seeing that spider in her web the other night, I got into my car with a warm, safe feeling. “Good hunting, Grandmother,” I called to her as I drove away.

Update (22sep10): I found some beautiful photos of my Grandmother Spiders, including the one above, at Cindy Dyer’s blog. She tells a lovely story, complete with pictures, about a Neoscona she observed outside her studio in 2008: “How to frame a spider,” and “Out came the rain and…” Thanks, Cindy, for letting me share your eye for beauty (and your talent with a camera) in my post!

20 responses to “Giant spiders: one more reason I love fall

  1. I’ve always been scared of spiders, not the little ones that crawl in houses, but the big hairy, bright-colored ones that spin their webs in woodlands and sometimes look like the Grandmother in your photo. I know that spiders eat pests and we should be grateful for them. I don’t attack them. I steer clear. The photo is cHiLLinG! Yikes! Thank you for sharing.

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      I was a little hesitant to post the spider photo because I know some people would find it off-putting, to say the least. Moreover, I didn’t find any really good pictures of my Grandmother Spiders — anywhere! — pictures that showed off how beautiful and wonderfully wrought they are. As I wrote, Neoscona are INCREDIBLY shy, and they usually only come out at twilight, when the light is terrible for photography.

      Thanks for braving the scary photo to read my post! 🙂
      (Do you think I should remove it? Maybe I should draw a picture and color it instead.)

      • No, don’t remove it! I enjoyed reading the post and seeing your photos. It wasn’t off-putting at all. They were beautiful photos. I’m not afraid of spider photos, only live spiders in close proximity to me. I liked learning about your Grandmother spider.

  2. ok. Honestly…I didn’t even read this one. I am totally a’scairt of piders.
    I can’t even add the s to their name
    big small doesn’t matter.

    i spied a picture of your pider and had to just…bug out.
    sorry to be a wuss

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      Oh, Jane — I’m so sorry my ‘pider picture scairt you! 😦
      (I was afraid that might happen.)

      It’s not even a very good picture. I may take it off. If I replace it with a drawing, would that be too scairty?

      Thank you for telling me; that makes you very brave in my book, and not at all wussy. 🙂

  3. What a warm and cozy article… about spiders of all things! Thanks, Jennifer.

  4. Pingback: “A’scairt of piders”? « Embracing Myself

  5. I took pictures yesterday that you’ll find on my post that you inspired. Again, a synchronicity. We should meet sometime you and I.

  6. Jennifer Barricklow

    Synchronicity indeed! Thanks, Nancy! 🙂

    Anyone reading this who wants to see some truly lovely pictures of a big spider (Argiope sp., a.k.a. Black and Yellow Garden Spider) should check out Nancy’s blog: “A’scairt of spiders”?

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  8. Hi Jennifer. I saw a link to your blog at Cindy´s.
    What a beautiful and enormous web, I have never seen such a big one here in Denmark. I would certainly study this spider making web, if I could. We also have spiders in the garden now, they are called “The European garden spider” (Araneus diadematus). They make web everywhere, but not at that size!

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      How wonderful it is to hear about spiders in Denmark! I looked up your Araneus diadematus, and they seem to have a lot of the same habits as our Neoscona sp. If Araneus are as shy as Neoscona, your best time for seeing one form her web would be around twilight. (Or on a very overcast day, like the one that allowed Cindy Dyer to make her beautiful photographs!)

      Thank you for sharing about the spiders in your garden, and for visiting my blog!

  9. OMG, I love orb weavers. I’ve had millions (literally) of baby orb weavers in my grasses all summer – little mini universes all bathed in dew each morning. The world is a web, and it is so fun to join in.

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      I love to see all those tiny webs in the grass of a morning, sparkling as though they were strung with diamonds — your description of them as mini universes is wonderful. I believe that will be my thought for the day. Thanks for sharing it with me! 🙂

  10. Well, I am definitely learning quite a bit about spiders. That web is amazing. I can hardly find words to describe it. I had a HUGE spider in my front fountain grass. I took a photo, but could not get any closer with my camera lens. If I can get a close up, I would love to send it to you for identification. Very long with silvery stomach and really long legs. I had never encountered one that large. It frightened yet intrigued me. I will definitely stop back and say Hi! Thanks.

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      I applaud your bravery; huge spiders can be very unnerving. Was yours in a web or just hanging out in the grass? You say it was long — by that do you mean that its abdomen was slender rather than round? I’m intrigued, too; I would love to see a photo! I’m no spider expert, but I’m definitely a fan who would be happy to learn about another cool giant spider.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Pingback: From phobia to philia: A tangled web | The Daily Compost

  12. What a lovely and well written post. Whilie I admit giant spiders scare me to pieces, they are fascinating and their webs (as shown above) can be beautiful.

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