Friday, April 11, 2014



Totally spiders :>) Well, almost

NOTE:  Next week I'll be posting a Special Edition on Ott's Exotic Plants Greenhouse and Nursery in Schwenksville, PA, USA.  This is one of my favorite places to go and be renewed in mind and spirit - the ultimate SERENITY NOW place:>)

This post is all spiders.  I promised you I'd give ample notice so those who are spider-phobic can avoid being freaked out. 

Spiders are not insects, but they can properly be called bugs.  The term "bug" came to mean any small creature with legs.

I unscientifically divide spiders into two types - those that build capture webs and those that don't.  Those that build webs make very different kinds, shapes, sizes of webs, while those that don't make capture webs go wandering about looking for pray.  They make sleeping retreats of silk or places for their eggs or spiderlings, but depend on their hunting skills, not silk, for their food.  The wandering spiders generally have excellent eyesight and are extremely sensitive to movement.  Capture web spiders don't have the exceptional eyesight and they depend on feeling the vibrations of insects stuck in their webs.  Many keep a foot on a special line and are telegraphed when prey arrives.  Spiderlings let out lengths of silk to catch the breezes and float away to new homes; this is called "ballooning".  Silk drag lines are used by spiders to help them when they fall or must jump - kind of like the ropes mountain climbers use.  

Orb webs are the most commonly recognized.  These are usually geometrically built from spokes and cross bars and have a shape approaching round, oval, or even rectangular.  Some spiders use a thick, zig zag pattern in their webs called a "stabilimentum".  These structures have been and continue to be studied, but no definitive answer is forthcoming as to their purpose.  It could be to strengthen the web, shine in different color ranges to attract insects, or who knows what.

Spiders have many enemies and it's tough to reach adulthood.  Besides birds, other spiders, some animals and people, there are insects that also kill them.  There are predatory wasps that hunt them, paralyze them, lay eggs on or in them, and the baby wasp uses the spider for food when it hatches.

I found this predatory wasp checking out a curled leaf for a potential spider victim.  If you look closely, you'll see some webbing below the wasp.  No spider was home, however, so after a good search, the wasp flew off empty-handed.
Checking for baby food.
I'll begin with some Harvestmen, also called Daddy Long Legs, because seeing them may not be as bad as a web weaving, hairy-legged spider.  Harvestmen are not true spiders although they are arthropods.  Arthropods are said to comprise up to 75% of all animals on planet Earth, up to one million species with more to be discovered. They live on land and in the sea.

To quote from this website -

"Arthropods range in distribution from the deep sea to mountain peaks, in size from the king crab with its 12-foot armspan to microscopic insects and crustaceans, and in taste from chocolate covered ants to crawfish jambalaya and lobster Newburg. Despite this unbelievable diversity, the basic body plan of arthropods is fairly constant. Arthropods have a stiff cuticle made largely of chitin and proteins, forming an exoskeleton that may or may not be further stiffened with calcium carbonate. They have segmented bodies and show various patterns of segment fusion (tagmosis) to form integrated units (heads, abdomens, and so on). The phylum takes its name from its distinctive jointed appendages, which may be modified in a number of ways to form antennae, mouthparts, and reproductive organs." 

What this says in everyday English is that arthropods are awesome in their diversity covering everything from the giant king crab to microscopic animals not seen by the naked eye.  In spite of the uncountable variations, the bodies of arthropods are reliably similar.  They don't have internal skeletons like us, but they have "exoskeletons" - a hard, protective covering on the outside of their bodies.  They have obvious body segments like a head (thorax) and abdomen, and they have things like jointed legs and antennae.

Spiders are arachnids, air breathing arthropods.  For more general spider information you can visit here -  Most of us can identify a spider as a spider and not confuse it with other bugs. Once a spider reaches maturity after many skin sheds called instars, you can finally tell a male from a female. The males have pedipalps up front that are used to transfer sperm to the female, and many times the males are smaller and thinner.  These "palps" look like boxing gloves.  I'll try to point them out to you when an image shows them.  Females have these same appendages but they are not larger at the tip like the males'.

I am not a spider expert, but my Dad and my brother both studied them and wrote papers about them.  Their powers of spider identification would boggle your mind (it does mine), but I can get many down to genus (a general term for extended family).  My part in the research carried on by Dad and my brother was to spend time in the field collecting and sorting, time on the computer trying to get specimens sorted into some type of order, and to watch spiders mating and take notes - OH, WOW!  Hours of grueling excitement!

Here are a couple kinds of Daddy Long Legs.  There are many types of many sizes and colors!

Harvestman getting a drink
A dainty species of Harvestman
In our area, and because we live in the woods and have a cellar not a basement, we share our house with a spider called Dolomedes tenebrous.  Some people call them fishing spiders because, on rare occasions, they may catch and eat a tiny minnow or a tadpole.  They are better described as woods spiders as they prefer to live under the bark of trees, or under logs and rocks.  We get them in the house because they come into the cellar through the dry stone walls.  They like the moisture and dark, too.  

Females are quite a bit larger than the males and can have a leg span of an easy three inches.  They are beautifully patterned in various shades of brown, kind of fuzzy, and they can jump!  Although they can bite and all spiders do have venom, a bite from these guys is like a minor bee sting unless a person is allergic to spider venom.  I got bitten once when I put my foot in a shoe and the spider was in the toe.  I also once coaxed a female onto my hand (I was terrified but determined to be brave.) to see how she'd react.  She didn't want any part of me and jumped off and ran.

The females carry their egg sacks in their jaws until the spiderlings are ready to hatch, then they stick the egg sack to a vertical surface (like our wall) and create a nursery web for the youngsters to play in.  The females stick around - good mommies!

I need to try to find a picture of the male for you.

Female with egg sack.  they get quite skinny while carrying
the eggs.  It's hard to eat with your mouth full.
Adult female - note the beautiful colors and pattern
Spiderlings and egg sack (on right)
Although the number of babies can be around a hundred, only a very few will survive to adulthood.
Almost any spider can be found in the house, but only certain ones specifically enjoy our company.  You know them best for the cobwebs they leave that catch the dust.  Again, there are many kinds and I only have pictures of a couple.  I am guilty of vacuuming up a lot of them.  Oops - so sorry!

This kind of messy-web house spider (probably a steotode) will breed and
lay eggs all year long.Here you can see the brown, papery egg sacks,
and way in the back (out of focus) are some newly hatched spiderlings.
This is a type of house spider.  They make messy webs.
Spiders are so diverse!  I couldn't choose a favorite type because they all have certain traits that impress me.  All kinds can have color or pattern variations which only confuses me more; I can't be 100% sure of an identification - arghhh.

This one could be called a ghost spider because of the pale color.  It is sitting on a Spirea flower - tiny little thing:>)
This is a wandering spider that prowls for prey.
Here's another tiny wandering spider.  It is on a towel and you can see the size of the loops of the cloth. 
Tiny wandering spider - apologies on the not-so-hot
I like these because of their long front legs and pretty coloring.  This, too, is a wandering spider.  This is a male with pedipalps - boxing gloves in the front.
You may not be able to see them clearly but maybe if you squint???
This is a male wolf spider of some sort.  Again there are many types of wolf
spiders and they all are wandering hunters.  If you look at the front you will
see the "PALPS", the little boxing gloves that say he's a male.
There are a large number of especially small orb weavers or messy-web spiders that I haven't identified.  They are fun to see, however, and I want you to enjoy them.  To find your own you must look in places where a web would be likely to catch prey.  So many spiders are small; you'll need to look closely.

Many araneus spiders hang upside down beneath their webs.

Well-hidden and camouflages to the nth degree - small capture web spider
Tiny messy web spider on spruce or juniper
I think this web could be an upside down bowl shape.  The spider chose to
live on a dried Queen Anne's Lace flower.
Here is an example of a sleeping retreat.  Jumping spiders do this, too, and I find them between boards, in crevices of bark, and places that give them a tight, safe location.  This example is not a jumping spider but another type.

Sleeping retreat in evergreen
Some spiders make their homes in the flower heads of plants.

Spider in grass flower head.  

Thick vegetation with open spaces are favorites for many Araneus types.  These are orb weavers of many sorts and can be anything from minute to huge.  I can name some for you; others remain unidentified except for general type.

Very, very, very tiny spider with a buzz saw kind of web that shone with iridescence.  The web is almost dime-size and was close to the ground in
low weeds.
Small Araneus on forbes (weeds).  I find a lot of these in fields.

This is a spider of the Charlotte's Web kind.  They make large, beautiful orb webs, sometimes building them at dusk and then again the next day.
Sometimes spiders eat their webs and recycle the silk.
A Charlotte's Web kind of orb weaver that reaches maturity in the fall.  I would call them the size of a quarter.
Araneus web in the butterfly bush.  Note that the web is between branches in an open space.
The Marbled Orb Weaver is another of the Charlotte's Web kind of spider.  their coloring gave them their name.  The webs can be large, spanning two feet or more.

Marbled Orb Weaver on sunflower seed head.
We have two kinds of Argiope.  I have pictures of both but can only find the "Banded" ones right now.  Please forgive me as I literally have thousand and thousand of images and I was not good at organizing when I first began taking pictures.  The Argiope aurentia are boldly patterned in black and yellow - large orb web spiders that you'll often find in gardens, especially among the tomato plants:>)  I'll have pictures for next time :>) Although large, Argiope spiders are shy and will drop to the ground if they feel threatened.  They like hanging head down in their webs.

Banded Argiope - They love open spaces between branches and weeds.
Their webs have that specialstructure I mentioned before called
a stabilimentum.  It looks like a heavy zig sag pattern.
These pictures don't show that structure.
The stabilimentum here is on the lower kind of right side of the picture.
About three years ago I discovered a strange, very thick, silken line with a weird set of what looked like egg cases dropping like pearls from the line.  I photographed it and found an expert on this kind of thing and he told me it was the egg cases of an orb weaver called the Basilica (Mecynogea lemniscata).  I know I said I wouldn't use scientific names, but sometimes there are no other names.  This is a rare spider in our area, and this is the far end of it's known range - exciting!  Last year I found a colony of them and got some decent photos.  It's a lovely spider and the egg cases are really unusual.

The thick, heavy line holds the eggs.  The female keeps adding more egg cases
just like adding another gem to a drop necklace.
The web is messy and has a slight upward arc - look beneath the spider.
Here you can see the curve of the web.
I was so pleased to find these.  All the webs were about 3 to five feet above the
 ground and located in openings between branches of cedar trees. 
The group of wandering hunter spiders called Wolf Spiders has many members and I can't tell most of them apart except for, perhaps, size.  They do not use capture webs and count on their sharp eyes and speed to capture a meal.  They are excellent mothers!  The eggs are carefully wrapped into a sack and attached to the abdomen of the female.  She carries them until the spiderlings hatch, then they climb up onto her back and ride until they are big enough to try making it on their own.  Most of them are earth tones in color and sort of fuzzy, not smooth and shiny.

This is a smaller female wolf spider with her egg sack attached.
Here is a female wolf spider with her egg sack still attached and the
youngsters still hatching.
Just look at all the spiderlings already on her back.

This is a courting pair of wolf spiders.  They are making a buzzing noise in the dried leaves and this behavior happens every April.
I think they vibrate their abdomens very fast in the leaves to make the noise,
but it could be stridulation.  Stridulation is when one body part is rubbed
against another to produce sound.  The male is in the upper right of the
picture and, if you look closely, you'll see the palps (boxing gloves)
and you will note the smaller size of his abdomen compared to the female.
She is in the lower mid-left of the photo and extremely
well camouflaged.  I'm including a separate image below of the male.
Male wolf spider - note the small abdomen and the palps.

This is a different kind of wolf spider.  She is a female and you will note the larger abdomen.
Another spider that doesn't make itself noticeable until late summer/early fall is the Micrathena.  They build lovely webs that are just about invisible unless the sun hits them.  

Micrathena web.  We call these spiders spiky autumn spiders because their
abdomens have spikes - makes sense, right?
This is one type of Micrathene - see why we call them "spiky"?  They hang down on the underside of their webs and will drop to the ground if frightened.
They are responsible for giving us the old "web face" when we walk
in the woods in late summer/early fall.  This one is about a half inch long.
This is another kind of Micrathena, another "spiky".  Here is an example of
a spider using that stabilimentum - look above the spider.
Details of a Micrathena web.

These gorgeous neon green and yellow orb weavers are called Leucauge venusta and they belong to a family of spiders called Tetragnathidae.  They are known by the common name of Long-jawed spiders or Ogre spiders.  Again, there are many types but all I see have those long front legs and big teeth:>)  They also have fantastic webs.  Many build their webs in plants that overhang water, and a bit of anecdotal info is that they seem to like building at an angle of 45 degrees.  Maybe that is better for catching flying insects?????

This Leucauge built in the eaves of an out-building.

How gorgeous is this lady!
Same spider, different view
As with all families of spiders, the number of species is mind-boggling.  In the following picture just look at the long legs on these beauties.

This Tetragnathid is on the underside of the leaf.
This one is hugging the underside of the twig.
This one is in the center of it's web in a culvert.  If you look at the head you
can see a couple dark, kind of oval projections.  these are the long jaws.
This is a larger view of the spider's web across the culvert - spider in the center.
Web - could you have guessed?  LOL

Here are five examples of spiders that are common in our yard.

I believe this to be a Clubionidae - Aysha velox
We call these spiders the pale ones or sack spiders and these do have a bite that
can be very uncomfortable.  If you see a blonde or light grey spider with extremely
dark fangs, respect it, don't handle it.  These are wanderers.
I should know this one but can't remember what it is - sorry.  This, too, is a wandering type - maybe a Gnaphosidae.
The funnel web spiders are an interesting group.  Their webs stretch out in front of a funnel-shaped retreat (usually between stones, in a crevice of a tree, or in grass and weeds).  They are easily recognized by the web, but they also have long,
noticeable spinnerets.  Spinnerets are the organs that excrete the silk for the
webs.  Since you can't see this spider's butt, you can't see the spinnerets.
These spiders are extremely sensitive to both motion and vibrations and they
run into their funnel retreats when scared.  This photo took a lot of patience
and time because the spider didn't like me so close and kept running into
his hole.
Here you have one of the "Nursery Web" spiders, Pisaurina mira.  The females carry their egg sacks with them until the spiderlings are ready to emerge.
At that time the Mom builds a "nursery web" and hangs the egg sack
in the middle.  The babies hatch and live in the nursery web until they are
big enough to strike out on their own.  Mom stays with them until they leave.
This is a color variation of the Pisaurina mira and we are fortune are enough to have a few around.  These spiders like to hang down like this.
Crab spiders are a funny group.  They get their name from their side-stepping walk and, I guess, from their appearance.  These are not what I'd call especially large spiders but they have immensely strong gripping power in their legs and very strong jaws.  I have personally witnessed them holding on to a full-sized swallowtail butterfly, fighting like crazy to hang on and control the giant insect it wants for dinner.  The spider won!  Many of these spiders can vary their color to match their surroundings.  Since they are ambush hunters, laying in wait for unsuspecting prey to come near enough to grab, this camouflage is important.  Others just know how to blend in or hide in the shadows.  Some look to me like miniature tanks - strong, chunky, and no-nonsense. Here are a few for you.

Small crab spider on a mint leaf.
These spiders like the mint plants because mint draws loads of small flies, butterflies, bees, and other yummies.
This one always reminds me of the Queen song, "Fat Bottom Girls".  This Crab spider chose to wait in the embrace of a Closed Gentian flower head.
This is another type of crab spider and it has a carpenter ant for lunch.
This is a male, but you knew that by the palps, right?  He's small but mighty - this is a threat posture on the edge of a milkweed leaf.
 Big ol' me didn't scare him!  I think he's Bassaniana versicolor
A lot of spiders are good Mothers.  This crab spider (Bassaniana versicolor) wrapped her eggs, tied them down,and is watching over them until they hatch.
She's on a milkweed leaf.
Fierce female grabs caterpillar!  This is a moth larvae.

I guess if I had to pick a favorite kind of spider, the jumping spider would be it.  They can leap up to ten times their body length, have eyesight sharper than any human, and are adorable.  Their jaws are large for holding prey and beautifully iridescent.  They are curious and I've never been bitten.  They may get on my hand or arm while investigating the camera or me, but they are not aggressive.  I would even call their faces expressive - big eyes, sticky-up hair, pretty colors!  They are magnificent hunters and do not use capture webs.  They stalk and jump on their prey.

A teeny one on a milkweed pod
Really little one with an even tinier fly
Who wouldn't love a face like this?
Their feet are like brushes; it probably helps them hold on to things.
Again with the face!  I'd die for eyelashes like that!
Cute, huh?
This is small - the rose hip is about the size of a small marble.
Do you like green?

This will probably take all week to read, but I figure that spider posts will be pretty far apart since there are some people who have a very real fear of them, even when looking at them.  This is not to be scoffed at and I respect those people.  

For those of you who can enjoy spiders, I sincerely hope this gives you a nice beginning look into their world.

Next week we take a trip to Ott's Exotic Plants Greenhouse and Nursery:>)  

Thank you for coming by and giving this blog a look!