Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

May 10, 2007

Web Browsing

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:42 pm

The obscured environment of this morning’s fog provided an opportunity for me to see some things more clearly.  A soupy fog does turn the familiar into the unfamiliar and substance into shadow, but it also sharpens our concentration and demands full use of our senses. When the edge of the road becomes the edge of the known earth and when faith dictates that the pavement ahead of you is still there, the need for a new opportunity may not be immediately obvious.  If we didn’t have to drive in it, chances are fog would become a thing of beauty. With this idealistic thought in mind, I found that web browsing is a great fog day activity.

I’m not talking about the World Wide variety of web when I mention browsing. No, I’m talking about spider webs. I realize that half of you probably just had a knee jerk negative reaction to the word “spider” while the other half just thought “what is he talking about.” Since there are probably only two of you out there reading this, allow me to take you on a brief web photo safari. You’ll need to go to my photo link to see the “web cam” shots I took this morning. Let’s take a look at a few webs and focus on one skillful little web maker.

Each and every spider web in the landscape was bedecked with jewel-like droplets of dew this morning.  They say there are over a million spiders in every acre of land (there you go again with that knee thing) and this would be the day to prove it. I stopped at 152 1/2, but I’m sure there were a lot more. Of course not all spiders weave webs, so I can only refer to the net spinners.

In the filtered sunlight of dawn, hundreds of classic orb webs were suspended from the upright stems of the cat-tails (see Orb Weaver Web detail).  All were facing in a northeast/southwest direction – something I’ve never noted before. The Orb weavers in this case were probably Shamrock Spiders (‘top of the morning to ‘ya). The makers were hidden away among the stems after a long night of hanging around. From the look of the webs, there weren’t too many catches last night.  A close up look at each thread within each web reveals multiple strings of watery pearls (See Strings of Pearls). Several of these sticky threads are joined together to form roman numerals. I’m willing to bet that these numbers might add up to 1 million should one care to count them, although I have the feeling they would actually add up to 42.

As beautiful as orb webs are, the innovation award goes to the modest little Bowl & Doily Spider. Her works are largely unknown. Known as Frontinella communis by her Roman buddies, this spider creates a masterful three-part web. Today’s conditions brought out this detail in stunning clarity (see Bowl & Doily Spiderweb). 

The name of the Bowl & Doily refers to the unique construction of the web which appears as a rounded bowl over a doily. The “bowl” is only four or five inches across and it sits beneath a tangle of threads. The doily layer is a flat sheet web spread out beneath the bowl, but it does not touch it.  The tiny spider (see Bowl and Doily in Position) hangs from the bottom of the bowl and waits for her prey.When insect prey comes along, it bungles into the non-sticky silk tangle and falls down into the bowl. Our spider then bites the hapless victim through the bowl bottom and eventually wraps it in a silk burrito for later snacking.  Realizing that the predator often becomes the prey, the 3-4 mm arachnid insures her protection by residing in the space between the doily and the bottom of the bowl – preventing birds from picking her off the web.

Finally, take a look at the portrait of one of these marvelous silk smiths (see Showing Her Stripes).  Her boldly striped abdomen is an impressive feature lost on miniscule size.  Often both male and female spiders can be found in these webs, but I didn’t see any of the smaller males today.

By mid morning, the fog had lifted and the sun soon evaporated the dew pearls. Like the rest of the webs, the work of the Bowl & Doily Spiders was returned to obscurity.   






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