The Itsy Bitsy Spider

grass spider web

Seeing these dew-covered spider webs draped like sheets over boxwood lets us know we are in transition from summer to fall. On wet mornings, dozens of webs can be seen covering a multitude of box, other shrubs, grasses, and groundcovers like pachysandra. The sight could very well freak out arachnophobes.

Sadly, some folks run for a can of  insecticide or a broom or the garden hose to make them just go away. But they should let these spiders be! The webs and spiders aren’t harming a thing and the spider will help out in the garden by eliminating insect pests.

grass spider 2018

We have to look hard to see the webs on a regular day but on a foggy morning or after an overnight dew, the webs stand out hortizontally over plants. It’s not a time to panic. It’s a time to marvel. Just look at the intricate architecture of each web. Amazing! And just wonder how long it took one female spider to spin such a web. I consider it a miracle of nature… really!

Some of the webs are large enough to connect several different plants and a flowerpot.

spiderweb 2018

Others are thin and sparse. Is this spider just beginning her construction or is she finished? Or perhaps she was caught up in the foodchain and no longer exists.

spider web 2018

Some of the spiders find a good location and build webs side by side… neighbors, you might say… with a wall of colorful hydrangea blooms separating them.

spiders 2018

Now we have to wonder who lives in these webs. The funnel on each web is a clue to her identity. Would you like to know who she is?

spiderweb 2018

She’s the shy spider from a group of funnel weavers called grass spiders (Agelenidae). When she feels a vibration, she dashes out of her funnel at lightning speed to capture her prey. Her web is not sticky so she must depend on speed.

funnel spider 2018

Winter is coming and the webs won’t be there forever. She’ll soon deposit her eggs in a sac and die. Her young will hatch in the spring and repeat the cycle, maturing to adulthood over the summer, mate, reproduce and die.

Dewdrops and Spiderwebs

Lately we’ve had temperatures in the high 70’s and low 80’s during the day and at night the temperature drops to a comfortable 65° and below. Those cool night temperatures bring the daytime water evaporation back to earth in the form of sparkling dew.

I love a dewy morning if only to check out the variety of spider webs that festoon the trees, shrubs, grass and just about everything else: cars, mailboxes, doors. Webs that are next to invisible on a sunny day glisten like jewels on a dew laden morn.

A Virginia friend made a small hypertufa planter for me and and it’s perfect for a few hens and chicks. I put it in a hot and sunny spot just outside the door, threw in a few herbs and annuals nearby and let it go.

hypertufa containerThis morning I spotted the dewy web draped like twinkling gauze over one corner. Let’s get a little closer to the miniature world of spiders. The spider is in there but not in this photo.

grass spider

…………………………….Click to see the full effect of crystal dewdrops

Here is its hiding place, his funnel. Who is this little spider who wasn’t showing its face this morning? It’s a grass spider, Agelenopsis sp., a funnel weaver. The web it spins is not sticky to trap insects like the orb webs. Instead the grass spider depends on its incredible speed to nail their prey. Usually hiding inside its funnel, it will often venture out and sit in the opening. But this early morning must have been too wet for this spider so….

grass spider tunnel….I stepped outside again after the sun was high to try and capture its picture. After waiting about a minute, out came our grass spider.

Agelenopsis sp.Easily identified by the black and medium brown stripes on the cephalothorax and pattern on the abdomen, it’s one of over 400 species of funnel weaver spiders in N. America. These harmless spiders are seen more often in the late summer and fall…. and sometimes in our houses. This little fella looks to me like a female with her belly perhaps full of eggs. The adult males are much slimmer.

With the extremely wet summer we are experiencing, I hope our gal catches her weight in mosquitoes daily!

Argiope, The Beautiful Garden Spider

Like many youngsters, I had a huge fear of spiders as a child, but through the years I’ve gotten braver and learned to appreciate spiders and the benefits of having them in the garden.  I still scream if I run into a web but the neighbors no longer dash to my aid. They all know I simply had another close encounter with a spider.

September and October are the perfect months to discover more about the intriguing world of spiders and webs in our gardens.  Step outside in the early morning while dew still covers the Argiope waiting for her mealgrass and be introduced to a silken wonderland of glistening webs festooning the grass, bushes, and trees in a variety of designs from tunnels to chaotic masses, to long threads connecting shrubs and trees, and to the ones that amaze me the most–the giant orb webs.

The spider that spins these magnificent orbs, Argiope aurantia, is said to spin the strongest web in the spider world.  The highly visible female is the largest and most colorful spider in our Tidewater gardens. Her web spirals out from the center and can be 2 feet across with a telltale zigzag line in the center called a stabilimenta, the purpose of which is not completely understood.

The large yellow and black Argiope, aka Writing Spider, hangs head down in the center of her web.  Although fierce looking, she is benign.  If disturbed, she will either drop from her web to escape or she may vibrate her nest vigorously to intimidate, but she poses no threat.   A bite is rare, but should it happen, the reaction will be mild. The best thing for us to do is to leave her alone since she is fast approaching the end of her life cycle.

We fed one argiope moths a few summers ago and she was able to produce 3 egg sacs.

Egg Sacs

At this time of year she will  produce her eggs.  Her abdomen will swell before producing usually one, but up to three, egg sacs containing from 300 to over a thousand young in each, and her life  will end with the first frost. Her babies hatch inside the sac, where they also overwinter  before emerging in the spring looking like miniatures of their parents.

I have witnessed the emergence of the miniature spiders in the spring and it is reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web.  Off they scurry in every direction to begin their own summer journey of life.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester