Tag Archives: Grandmother Spider

Late summer garden beauties

hibiscus in septFor the sake of arachno-squeamish readers, I’ve begun this post with a photo of my Hibiscus moscheutos — reblooming!

But the lovely lady pictured below made my whole summer when she appeared in the side yard last week. She’s an Argiope aurantia, commonly called a black and yellow garden spider, and the first I’ve ever had in my own yard. She’s somewhat small, only about an inch long in body, but I love that she’s out in her web during the day, which means I get to see her as I come and go.

argiope aurantia 2

(As I write this, I’ve been watching a Neoscona sp. outside the living room window. It’s overcast today and she’s repairing holes in her web in anticipation of better hunting this evening.)

Wishing you the joy of whatever is on display in the gardens around you!

Springtime spiderlings

[Warning to the arachno-squeamish: this post contains photos of spiders.]

I don’t usually post twice in the same day, but I made the most exciting discovery while mowing the lawn: I’m a foster mom!

Remember the marbled orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus) I found outside my window early last October? At the end of the month I discovered she had made an egg case on the hatch cover to our crawlspace. I took photos but didn’t get to post them. She was much slimmer than in her gravid state, and her abdomen had turned from creamy yellow to the vivid orange of her lovely legs, still with the same brown markings. A few days after I took this photo, she was nowhere to be found. I felt much as Wilbur felt in Charlotte’s Web, saddened by her passing but honored to watch over her young.

mama spiderOur furnace is located in the crawl space, and I decided not to have it serviced for the winter out of fear that the egg case would be disturbed or damaged when the furnace tech removed or replaced the hatch cover. I had my fingers crossed all winter that nothing would go wrong. Thankfully, it didn’t.

I’ve been checking the egg case throughout the spring, and today this is what I found:

spiderlings with egg caseI wish I had a macro lens to get a really good photo: each of those tiny cream-colored dots is a baby Araneus marmoreus, dozens of perfect miniatures of their mother, yellow abdomen and all! (I’d need a pretty strong magnifying glass to see if they have brown markings.) Above you see them with the egg case, and below you can see those that had ventured as far as the brickwork around the hatch. I hope some of them stick around, as some of Charlotte’s spiderlings did in the book.spiderlings on brickwork

My, Grandmother, what lovely stockings you have!

A few years ago, I wrote about my affection for large spiders (which I call Grandmother Spiders) and how delighted I am that a number of them see fit to hang out around my house every fall. I thought that being a Neoscona haven was pretty cool, but this year I found an amazing lady outside my window who has me in seventh heaven: Araneus marmoreus, also known as a marbled orbweaver.

araneus croppedAs my photographic skills hardly do her justice, let me describe her: her body and upper legs are bright orange, with black and white stripes at the ends of her legs, like stockings. She has a ridiculously large, very round abdomen, cheery yellow in color with elaborate dark brown markings. Between her vivid coloring and the size and shape of her abdomen, she looks more like some artist’s caricature of a spider, made from a large marble and glass beads on wire.

spider 1Early mornings, I’ve been privileged to watch her repair her web from the night’s hunting before she retreats to a modest shelter of leaves and silk she constructed at the top of the window. Most evenings I find her hanging in the center of the web, as pictured here. (The lighting at these times of day also accounts in part for the photographic mediocrity.)

So now I can check another really cool giant spider off my life list (which I didn’t know I had until she showed up at my window. Thank you, Grandmother!)

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!