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An Ecosystem in a Small Tree.

October 25, 2014

Orb-Weaver Spider

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A couple weeks ago, I got out of the car where I live and noticed some activity around a small ornamental evergreen tree.

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It looks pretty bland and insignificant, until you look closer.

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Flies were around…

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A wasp, too…

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And Yellowjackets were quite common.  They seemed to be attracted to tiny ‘blooms’ on the tree branches.

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All of this activity attracted something that took advantage of the crowd!  This is an Orb Weaver Spider.  This is what many people call the common garden spider, typically having round abdomens and spinning elaborate round webs.

Generally, orb-weaving spiders are three-clawed builders of flat webs with sticky spiral capture silk. The building of a web is an engineering feat, begun when the spider floats a line on the wind to another surface. The spider secures the line and then drops another line from the center, making a “Y”. The rest of the scaffolding follows with many radii of nonsticky silk being constructed before a final spiral of sticky capture silk. The third claw is used to walk on the nonsticky part of the web. Characteristically, the prey insect that blunders into the sticky lines is stunned by a quick bite, and then wrapped in silk. If the prey is a venomous insect, such as a wasp, wrapping may precede biting.

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I’ve been watching this spider over the last couple of weeks- its web was surprisingly complex, with a strand that went clear down to anchor on the ground.  It has caught several insects that have been buzzing around the tree.  It moves around the tree from day to day, spinning new webs.  It is less active when the temperatures are cold.

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Ord-Weavers make up around 25% of all of the Spider species in the world.  If they aren’t in the middle of their web awaiting food, they are somewhere with a leg attached to a ‘signal strand’ of web that lets them know something is struggling in their silk trap.

Many orb-weavers build a new web each day. Most orb-weavers tend to be active during the evening hours; they hide for most of the day. Generally, towards evening, the spider will consume the old web, rest for approximately an hour, then spin a new web in the same general location. Thus, the webs of orb-weavers are generally free of the accumulation of detritus common to other species, such as black widow spiders.

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It would have been very easy to miss all of this- I just happened to notice a couple of yellowjackets buzzing around this modest tree.  It turns out there is plenty going on around us, whether we are aware of such dramas or not.

Update #1: I located the spider’s web, but I couldn’t find the spider.  Since it seems to consume its old web before building a new one somewhere else in the tree, I’m wondering if a bird got the spider…

Update #2 (10/31/14): I found the spider next to his web under a branch today (a rainy day)- still hanging in there!  It’s getting colder though.  Hasn’t changed its web location for days now.

Update #3 (11/1/14): The web is still there but the spider is gone- it is cold and very windy, I can imagine it tucked into a more secure spot on the tree somewhere.  Reading up on the subject- some spiders do survive the winter in sort of an anti-freeze stupor.  Egg cases laid and hidden are the source of many spring individuals.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. keekeepod permalink
    October 26, 2014 9:05 pm

    The spider might have relocated if the catch at the location was not good anymore.

    It’s too late now for predatory wasps. They should all be vegetarians. I’ve seen a wasp turning the tables on a spider once. The wasp landed on a spider web. When the spider came to sting it, the wasp gabbed the spider then did a backward somersault to free itself from the web and flew off.

    Hope your spider is just somewhere nice and safe for the winter.

    • October 26, 2014 9:29 pm

      I was wondering if this spider got in a garage or someplace protected if they would hibernate until spring…or if they just leave behind an egg case, die, and if the egg case isn’t eaten by birds, it hatches in the spring! I know I’ve seen some small spiders who moved into my apartment this month.

      • October 26, 2014 10:08 pm

        Better spiders moving in, than mice 😉

      • keekeepod permalink
        October 27, 2014 3:31 am

        Some adults must stay alive through winter somehow. It would seem odd to have only small, young, and more vulnerable spiders in spring. I’ve accidentally stepped on a few big ones in my house in winter. Come to think of it, there are also ones that seem to wrap themselves in dense web cases then emerge when it’s warm enough. I usually see these things between where the ceiling and walls meet.

  2. October 26, 2014 10:11 pm

    Haha! 🙂

    Ahhh- now that makes sense, Keekeepod. Maybe some hide well enough to survive!

  3. October 27, 2014 12:14 pm

    Fascinating to see all the life that one tree hosts.

  4. November 3, 2014 12:41 am

    I like to watch them, and for a few days avoid getting snagged in a web upon exiting the house. Building near the porch light yields a fruitful web. I don’t like any of them moving indoors!

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