Traveling along narrow trails or in the woods this time of year means getting a face full of spider webs. Watch closely and you will find that they are predominately made by orb weavers, small spiders that specialize in that particular niche between 2-6 feet off the ground. The webs are rebuilt morning and evening, suspended from a single silk strand between branches of neighboring shrubs. They are always perpendicular to the ground, perfect for catching small flying insects that are active during those hours.
The most common species on the trails is the Arrowhead Spider, aka triangular orb weaver, Verrucosa arenata. Most spider species are hard to identify, requiring close inspection of their eyes, palps, etc. The female Arrowhead Spider is not only extremely common but quite distinctive with its sharp edged triangular abdomen colored white or yellow, its tip pointing away from the head. The males have no distinctive characteristics, don't build webs, and are only found on the females' webs during courtship and mating. As with other spider species, mating is frequently fatal for the male.
|M. gracilis - Wikimedia|
|Spiny Orb Weaver - Richard Hover|
|CD Web - Wikimedia|
The Spiny Orb Weaver, Micrathena gracilis, is a common species which also builds its web in the 2-6 foot range above the ground. It is also called the CD spider as its tightly woven circular web the size of a CD which can look like one when the light is right.
The spider's large spiky abdominal structure is disproportionate to its thorax and is frequently confused for something that it has captured and is carrying away. Although this growth seems cumbersome and energy wasting, it apparently serves its unknown purpose. The male has much smaller spines, is usually only seen while mating and often ends up being eaten, giving a whole new meaning to a "dinner date."
|Spiny Orb Weaver female - "Does this silk make me look fat?"|
|Other side of the branch - Spiny Orb Weaver being sucked dry by the Arrowhead Spider.|
* More research on V. arenata's head up position and its effect on speed and web construction is at this Pubmed article.
Now photographing their webs has become an obsession. Stop me before I click again.......