Friday, October 08, 2010

Tied to the sky

I have been wondering this summer and fall about the scarcity of spiders in our area. Most summers, even my little garden area is home to several dozen big cross spiders, a funnel-web spider or two, big hunting spiders in every corner, and a few house spider webs. Up by the outdoor light, cross spiders build an obstacle course of webs, getting fat on the catch. Not this year. There's a hunter near my door, and a few miniatures in my bowl of rocks; that's about it.

So I was happy to find an alley full of bejewelled webs, each with its glowing amber Araneus diadematus (which, translated, means "Spider with a crown") at the centre, in Crescent Beach. The sun was dazzling, the sky a vivid blue; so was the wall of a shed. A perfect foil for the webs and their builders.

Spider and shadow, If you look closely, you can see the web.

She's fat. Good hunting here.

Long and lanky.

These spiders make a circular web, with 20 to 30 or so (I counted) radiating spokes and a spiral of sticky web filling most of the area, except a gap of a couple of inches between the centre where the spider waits, and the bug-catching section. The web is quite orderly, except for a tangle of signal lines at the very centre; how the spider keeps tab on which line goes to which part of the web is a mystery to me.

Section of a web, new, unbreached, and with no spider at the centre. Unusual. Maybe a bird got it.

Far overhead, and swinging in the breeze. Where the best bugs are. The intense light makes for a two-tone spider.

A large, flat basket of a web. One measly fly, not worth tying up.

I often wondered how these spiders attach their webs to the sky. Look at this one; the spokes of the wheel on the upper part go to nothing but blue sky. The construction of such a web requires a bit of ingenuity and site preparation beforehand. The spider dangles lines from trees and other high vantage points, sometimes rappelling down on them herself, at other times just letting the breeze take them until they make contact with something a good distance away. Lines connect to lines, building a frame in empty space. Once this is done, the spider drops down to her chosen centre, and starts making the spokes. Lines to "nowhere" are actually tied to one of the original frame lines. There is a clear example of this in the fourth photo above.

The spirals come last, then the spider retires to her office to manage her communications centre.

Some of these spiders remove their web every day, eating the leftover silk, then rebuild. Others can't be bothered, and sit in tattered, dusty webs littered with the remains of several days' meals. Just as in human home decor, it's all a matter of taste.

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