Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

September 12, 2008

Another Fine Web Site

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:03 pm

        I’ve never heard it before, but there is apparently an old saying that goes something like: “if there is dew on the lawn webs in the morning, it will be a beautiful day.”  This is basically true. It is a meteorological fact that a heavy morning dew is a good indication that it will not rain during the coming day. The reference to lawn webs has apparently been eliminated over the years due to the arachnophobic tendencies of suburban folk (this is not a fact, mind you, only a conjecture on my part).

  Dew on the grass is certainly enough to provide the day’s forecast, but it is hard to see the droplets without close examination. I would like to suggest that the spider webs should be brought back into the picture. Wet websites can be seen from a good distance away and can provide the immediacy of a forecast much better than a dry internet weather web site can. Still, we’ve got to get over our fear of the webmaster in this case.

  This bit of weather wisdom refers to the flat sheet-like weavings of funnel weaver spiders – a.k.a. “grass spiders.” What fall morning would be complete without the sight of several shimmering dew laden webs laid out on the grass like so many doilies? Funnel Weavers create a thick mat-like web which funnels down into a retreat chamber off the one side. They create their weavings over the surface of the grass, thick shrubbery, fence rails, and window ledges as a means to capture insect prey. Unlike other spiders, they do not destroy their web each evening, but repair or add to it every day. Hidden inside this tunnel lair (see above), or perched patiently at the entrance, the spider itself awaits breakfast in the form of a small stumbling creature.

  I admit this leggy beast can look frightening – even dangerous. They can be up to ¾inch long (you always measure spider body length without the additional leg span) and even somewhat Buick-like if seen in the right circumstance. Grass spiders are brown, boldly striped, and typically endowed with long bristle covered legs.  Their spinnerets, the organs responsible for laying down the silk, extend like long stubby fingers from their back ends and, of course, there’s the thing about having eight eyes.  Even so equipped, Funnel weavers have poor eyesight and rely on touch sensitivity to tell them when “the first course” has arrived.

  Their web is a fascinating structure.  Apart from the funnel, the most distinctive thing about these structures is the tight interconnected knitting of the threads. The silk used in this design is non-sticky and is laid out to function as a foot tangler. Anything that steps onto the mat telegraphs a vibration back to the spider. The weaver then pounces with lightening speed on its victim, injects it with venom, and carries it back to the webmaster home site deep within the funnel. 

  Normally, these shy critters scurry back into their dens at the passing of our shadow and are not aggressive or dangerous to people. Sure they’re venomous, but only to the extent that they can immobilize their tiny prey and that’s it.

  I was puzzled by the sight of an apparently un-fazed Funnel Weaver the other day. Given their skittish nature, I found it odd that this individual didn’t flee as I approached it. This individual stood in the hallway at the junction of the floor and wall and even appeared to be raising a leg in a threatening manner. Closer approach revealed that it was in an interesting predicament, however. This guy was caught in a web. Yes, I said “caught” in a web. It was thoroughly entangled by one leg and was partially hanging from this appendage (see here).

  In an ordered world, spiders aren’t supposed to get caught in webs. This one was a male (you can tell by the two pedipalps that look like an extra set of small legs next to the mouth). Male Weavers tend to wander about looking for, you guessed it, female Weavers and so they frequently are seen away from their own Teflon webs. This one pounced on the original small spider occupant of this house web, sucked it dry (look at the crumpled mass beneath it), and inadvertently got hung up in the tangle of sticky fibers. 

  Noting that he was already missing two out of his normal complement of eight legs, I figured that this wasn’t the first time he’s found himself so situated.  He probably ripped them off while satisfying his particular love of spider juice at an earlier date.  

  It took another half an hour, but the beast finally freed itself. It did so with some loss of dignity, but without loosing a third leg. There must be an old adage among funnel weavers that says something about not getting a leg up on the competition!

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress