Tag Archives: spiders

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!

30 in 30, day eighteen

sept 2017 30-30This list poem was inspired by the large, beautiful spiders that I find outside my home this time of year. I posted early-morning pictures of one in her web the other day, and at the bottom of this post I have a close-up photo of one of her sisters. (I left a bit of space before the photo so readers don’t have to see it if they don’t want to.)

Neoscona crucifera

French arachnologist Eugène Simon authored the genus name Neoscona in 1864.

The literal Greek translation is something like “spinning a reed,” but Simon was only 16 years old at the time and did not speak Greek very well.

His intended meaning was “spinning among the reeds,” since he had seen the spiders living near the water’s edge.

As for crucifera, the Latin translation would be “cross bearer,” from cruci- (cross) and fer- (to bear; carry). This species does have a pale cross pattern on its abdomen.

The spider occupies the hub (center) of the web, hanging head down, during the night; it usually hides during the day, though in late summer or fall it may spend some daylight hours in the web as well.

Females deposit eggs in late summer or early fall; the egg sac is made of fluffy yellow or orange silk, attached to a rolled up leaf or some other protected place.

Spiderlings emerge the following spring and remain clumped together for a day or two, after which they disperse.

Some “balloon” to other locations by riding the air currents, while others stay relatively close to where they were “born.”

Even the spiderlings create a very cute, tiny, orb-shaped web.

 

 

 

 

spider 2

This lovely lady was busy catching flying insects outside my window this morning.

Not a poem: fog

It’s fascinating how fog obscures some things and makes others visible.

web1

A cold Neoscona huddling in the center of her beautiful web.

web2

Same spider and web, different angle.

web3

A different smaller orb weaver in the back yard. (I didn’t get close enough to identify her because I didn’t want to disturb her, but she wasn’t large enough to be a Neoscona.)

web4

Another small (non-Neoscona) orb weaver’s web. This one swayed gently in the morning breeze like a lace curtain.

web5

I regret I didn’t get a shot of the neighbor’s lawn in deep shadow, with dozen’s of tangle webs like piles of diamond necklaces. I saw all manner of webs in trees and shrubs and lawns that I would never have seen on a clear morning.

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!)

Arachnification

This post is something new for me, a photo essay of sorts. I am a rank (as in stinky) amateur when it comes to photography, so don’t go in with high expectations. I do welcome feedback and suggestions, though.

October being my birth month and me being such an arachnophile, I often get spider-themed stuff for my birthday.

birthday This adorable spider balloon, with her fabulous dreds and winsome smile, is floating in my kitchen as I write this, making me giggle every time I see her. The flowers are still going strong, too. The box of cupcakes, barely visible behind the vase, is gone, however.

cupcakes1

(Don’t worry; I didn’t eat them all myself. I shared them with the rest of the family. Really, people!)

lights

spiderlights

I also received TWO sets of spider-themed outdoor lights: a light-up spider web and a string of brightly colored spiders (very much like the spiders in a dream I posted about a while back).

The colored spiders are glittery, so they glow even during the day when they aren’t lit.

Not shown is the giant paper spider protectively hovering over her brood of a dozen smaller paper spiders in the foyer. Her 12-foot crepe paper legs span the entire space. (I tried photographing her from several angles without good result.) When my sister asked if I had had a happy birthday, I replied with glee that I had spent the afternoon arachnifying the house.

But all this is merely a cheap and tacky prelude to the true artistry of Mother Nature, as revealed in this morning’s fog:

box1OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAspirea2tjmumsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My home has been well and truly arachnified.

Geek holiday overload

March 14 is such an exciting day!

1. Pi Day – Today’s date can be written in month/day format like this: 3.14, which happens to match the first three digits of the mathematical constant, pi. People around the world celebrate this holiday by eating pie, reciting as many digits of pi as they can, and talking about both (pie and pi). Happy Pi Day!

2. Albert Einstein’s birthday – The world’s most respected patent clerk was born on this date in 1879. People around the world commemorate the occasion by discussing physics — or at least reciting the equation E = mc (squared) — and wearing fabulously big hair.

3. Save a Spider Day – This is my favorite thing about today, because I love spiders! (See my other spider-related posts for details.) I haven’t seen any since the large jumping spider my son found hiding in his bath towel last month. (I’m not sure who was more freaked out by the encounter, but I’m happy to report that both survived.) I did walk through a bit of spider web in the yard yesterday, though, which I was pretty excited about (once I stopped ninja dancing to get it off me, of course.)

In the spirit of the day, I invite you to eat some pie, tease your hair, and read this winning contest entry by Brandon J., “Spider Day.” A fellow spider dork salutes you, Brandon!

From phobia to philia: A tangled web

Reading Lory Manrique-Hyland’s delightful post on family “pet” Jimmy the Spider brought to mind my own childhood encounters with spiders, including the pet spider I had when I was small.

It may come as a surprise to some readers, but I have not always been fond of spiders. As a child, I was actually quite terrified of them. My mother was rather arachnophobic, and millions of years of primate evolution suggested that I ought to be as well.

I began my gradual transformation the day I discovered a very small spider had made her web in one ceiling corner of my bedroom. I was eight years old, no doubt primed for this experience by the recent release of the classic animated version of Charlotte’s Web. The spider in my room was tiny and far enough removed from my person to pose no immediate threat, and I could lie on my bed and watch her. Although she didn’t do much of anything and was so small that I couldn’t see her in any detail, she was always there when I looked for her, and I found that somehow comforting.

Not long afterward, I read the story about Robert the Bruce and the spider, in which the Scottish hero was inspired to continue the fight for Scotland’s independence by a spider’s persistent web-building. This particular version of the tale concluded by saying that Scots refuse to kill spiders to this day in gratitude for the great service done them by this legendary spider. Having recently discovered that I was of partial Scottish ancestry, I resolved to do the same. My long-suffering mother tolerated my sudden interest in relocating unwanted arachnids, though she stipulated that I had to see to such operations myself.

My relations with spiders remained in a state of detente for many years: I pretty much avoided them and did them no violence when we met, but I still found them rather creepy and horrifying. Then one summer after graduate school, I was unemployed and spending a lot of time at home, an old rental house with an overgrown yard. I seemed to run into spiders everywhere, inside and out. I began to feel anxious and uneasy, my skin always on the verge of crawling.

I went to a conference in the midst of all this where I heard a Native American speaker talk about viewing non-human beings as messengers. Returning home after several days of creep-free living, I took a deep breath and asked myself, “What are all these spiders trying to tell me?” The first thought that popped into my head was, “Stop being afraid of spiders.” The simplicity of it was breathtaking.

I spent the rest of the summer talking to spiders that I encountered. I didn’t try to get all cozy with them; I just said things like, “Hello, there,” and “Since you’re sitting in that chair, I’ll sit in this one.” As I felt less freaked out by the spiders, I started to notice things about them: colors, body shapes, ways of moving. I began to recognize them by type, and because being able to identify something makes it more familiar, I began to feel even a little friendly toward them.

The strength of this new understanding was tested in the fall, when I agreed to house-sit for relatives who were going on vacation. Their immaculate house was spider-free, but when I went to close the blinds the first evening, I found that a very large spider had built a web across the bedroom window. The web was so big that it covered the entire window, and the very large spider was sitting in the center of it. I was startled by this unexpected discovery, and shuddered involuntarily before quickly closing the blinds and resolving to sleep in another bedroom.

When I opened the blinds in the morning the spider was gone, but her web was still there, with several tell-tale holes in it. “Clever spider,” I thought; the light shining through the window at night no doubt attracted all kinds of bugs. When I closed the blinds that evening, the spider was there again, web repaired, ready for her night’s work. I remembered something about manners from the Mowgli stories in Kipling’s Jungle Book and wished her good hunting.

Strange houses make strange noises, especially in the middle of the night. I woke in the darkness, convinced I had heard something amiss. I lay there for some time, heart pounding, barely breathing, unable to decide if it was worse to get up and meet the burglar or wait to be discovered and murdered. After a while, it became clear that there was no burglar, but my fears had been set loose.

The following string of thoughts flashed through my mind: I wish I had a net to capture my fears — a dream catcher traps bad dreams — a dream catcher looks like a spider web — there’s a giant spider web on the other bedroom window — no burglar would come in that window — that giant spider would eat anyone who tried to come into this house. In an instant, the spider had become my protector, and following the incoherent reasoning of the wee hours, I soon fell back asleep.

I dubbed her Grandmother Spider, reflecting both the Native American folk figure and the hyperbolic Gulf War era description “the grandmother of all [fill in the blank].” She was certainly the biggest non-tropical spider I’d ever seen! I looked for her every evening and once again found mysterious comfort in the presence of a spider, of all things.

And that’s how I learned to stop freaking out and love spiders.

(You can read more about my Grandmother Spider, who belonged to the genus Neoscona, in my post about giant spiders.)

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.

http://cindydyer.wordpress.com/2008/08/30/out-came-the-rain-and/

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!

Giant spiders: a dream fragment

A woman notices an enormous spider in the house. It is easily as large as her hand, though it has a body type unusual for such a large spider: huge abdomen, small cephalothorax, and long, delicate legs. Its racquetball-sized abdomen is a ghostly grey, the color of certain dusty-hued pearls. Its legs and cephalothorax are dark, either black or brown.

The woman’s children, who have been taught from infancy to admire and respect spiders, are careful of the creature and not in any way afraid of it. There are other people in the house, however, and she is concerned for the spider’s safety. She decides to find it and remove it to the relative security of outdoors.

She searches carefully through the house, finally spies the spider slipping through a door that has been left ajar. She follows and finds a densely foliated shrub with large leaves. On further investigation, she is amazed to discover that the shrub houses a whole colony of enormous spiders of a different type from the one that led her there.

These spiders are built like tarantulas, with short, thick legs and abdomens in proportion to the rest of their bodies. Unlike tarantulas, however, they are not covered with fine hairs but are smooth with small raised bumps like the exterior of a starfish or a cucumber. Each spider is a single, vivid shade of green, orange, pink, yellow, or red. They remind the woman of huge tropical flowers as they crawl about the shrub. Filled with wonder and delight, she calls her children to come see what she has found.