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Good Bye, Miss Spider

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

ZICK ALERT: If you happen to be in the area this Wednesday evening, October 8, 2008, I will be giving a talk and book signing at 7:00 p.m. at the hip and beautiful Glenwood Retirement Community, 200 Timberline Drive, Marietta, Ohio.

Call (740) 376-0535 for more information.

ANUDDER ZICK ALERT: And, I'll be speaking to the DuPage Birding Club in Glen Ellyn, IL, outside Chicago, on Thursday evening, October 9, 2008, at 7:30 p.m. They meet at Faith Lutheran Church, 41 N. Park Blvd., Glen Ellyn.

Yass, it's crazy right now. Planes and trains and automobiles. And now to our regularly scheduled spider hit:

Perhaps I've been bitten on the neck by E.B. White, but I have a huge affection for spiders, especially those of the orb-weaving tribe that included Charlotte A. Cavatica, the radial hub of Charlotte's Web, who was a grey orb-weaver, Araneus cavaticus. There are several orb-weavers around the yard at the present, and the nice thing is that they are sedentary, so you can make the rounds and visit each lady spider as you perambulate the yard. Here is the slightly crooked, utterly perfect work of an arabesque orb weaver, Neoscona arabesca, who lives in the doorway of our garage, Charlotte-style.

Hello, dear, and how does this cool evening find you?She hangs head-down, perhaps wishing there were a charismatic talking piglet in the garage instead of two smelly cars. She's channeling Charlotte for me. How about you?

Here is another arabesque orb-weaver who lives in the top of a nearby ornamental grass. She is probably Charlotte's sister.I wonder why a bird doesn't just pick these girls out of the air as they hang there, so vulnerable.

I so enjoyed visiting my Halloween orb-weaver, A. marmoreus, the intrepid mealworm catcher of the previous post. So one day, when I noticed that her web had not been consumed and replaced during the previous two nights, I began to worry. She was slowing down, getting tired, her web looking ratty. A Carolina wren had torn a hole in it, and she hadn't bothered to fix it yet. Not a good sign.
I knelt down and peered upward toward the top of the web. There she was, hiding in her rolled birch leaf, and when I threw a mealworm into the web she ignored it. Finally, anxious to make contact, I gently squeezed the leaf shelter and out she dropped.She was so much bigger and fatter than she'd been only ten days earlier, her abdomen almost the size of a nickel.

I always marvel at the solidity and firmness of spiders, crablike in their tough exoskeletons and spiny, spiky strong legs. I don't get to squeeze many spiders, but it was nice to do it through a birch leaf.

If you think her ventral surface is lovely, how about the dorsum? To me, it looks like Hindu goddess, squatting with her hands clasped in front of her.
When I was done photographing her, this gorgeous creature retreated back into her leaf lair. The next day, she was gone, her leaf shelter deserted. Oh dear. I imagine I offended her and she went off to find another hide. At least I hope that is what happened. There is an awfully nosy pair of Carolina wrens haunting that area, and I know they slipped in and stole the last mealworm I'd hung in the web for the spider. I suppose it wouldn't be much of a stretch for a wren to peer up into the rolled leaf shelter, as I did, and find a huge protein package awaiting. Finding hidden spiders is their job, and they are much better at it than I.
I know she was full of eggs. I hope she got to lay them.

I suppose that not many people sit around and worry about spiders that they've come to admire and love. I'm glad I got to share her with you in all her marbled, obese glory.
I hope you are well and tending your egg mass, good spider, somewhere that no one can find you.

I wish to thank Larry Weber (yes, that's his name) for his wonderful book, Spiders of the North Woods, which he gave to me when I visited Chequamegon Bay Birding Festival in Wisconsin two springs ago. Get that book! In Ohio's Backyard: Spiders (Ohio Biological Survey) by my new Ohio friend Richard Bradley, has been a tremendous help in opening my eyes to the beauty and diversity of spiders. Now Richard is buggin' me to paint spiders. Given world enough and time and a serious magnifying glass, I could paint spiders. Photos will have to do for now. Thank you, Richard and Larry, for the illumination. Opening books like these opens a whole new room in your brain.


I met Larry Weber last winter up in the Sax-Zim bog where I bought his "Butterflies of the North Woods." Isn't he a nice guy?

You're not the only one who was bitten by E.B. White at a vulnerable age. I am very fond of spiders, though not terribly knowledgeable about them, and I don't find them scary at all (except if they pose a physical threat, like the black widow).

I hope some day to be able to afford treatment for my spider phobia. They are neat creatures, and I don't kill them, I just mark off their territory with the flags.

I'm better than I used to be...only big spiders scare me now, LOL!

I can't even look at spider field guides! Last time I was out in Nevada I saw a big 'ol female Black Widow...she was sleek and beautiful.

I too hope that this girl has moved on to lay her eggs in safety. I feel blessed to have known her through your words and photos.

Madam Orb (apologies to Thornton W. Burgess), who has lived all summer to the left of the front porch light has disappeared too. I am not a spider fan, but she was a familiar sight for the summer months. Her tatty web is still there, however, her favorite resting spot along the soffit of the house has 2 white bundles snuggled in, under cover from the weather, warmed by the late afternoon sun.
Wonder if her children will take up residence by the porch light next year.

EB White fans...if you haven't found the children's nature books by Thornton W. Burgess, please look for them. They are wonderful to read yourself or to your budding naturalists. They are a 3 generation family favorite.
Caroline in South Dakota

I've so enjoyed your spider posts.
I'm finding them very intriguing--love watching them build webs and wrap prey with a quick and accurately placed silken thread.
So absolutely fascinating.

I'm another Thornton Burgess fan, too, Caroline!
Raised my girls on them and still enjoy them as an adult!

Maybe I'm slowing down as I sit in my mid-thirties, but they don't freak me out anymore. I've absentmindedly placed my hand right next to a fishing spider at the RAPTOR barn, big who-whatzits live right here in the basement where I blog... I guess I just see them for what they are now: Eaters-of-what-bugs-me and also bird food.
: )
The black widow last weekend...well, that one freaked me out.

Just when we think you have done the ultimate spider post, you come along with yet another one. Fascinating. Thanks.

Another E.B. White fan weighing in. I read Charlotte's Web to both my children, and then Trumpet of the Swan, and Stuart Little.

I shared the first spider post with my husband (a biology major in college). He was amazed and impressed with your patience to sit and wait for the spider to come and wrap the mealworm. I'm with him--I am also amazed and impressed.

Honestly? I don't like spiders. Except for the Orb Weavers...they're fascinating and I'm so glad you noticed that female. You've convinced me to go OW hunting tomorrow if the rains subside.

Safe travels, Julie. Talk away :o)

"She never moved again. Next day, as the Ferris wheel was being taken apart and the race horses were being loaded into vans and the entertainers were packing up their belongings and driving away in their trailers, Charlotte died.

The Fair Grounds were soon deserted. The sheds and buildings were empty and forlorn. The infield was littered with bottles and trash. Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all. No one was with her when she died."


Maybe your little orb weaver, like Charlotte, had an unlikely furry friend to entrust with her eggs. Who knows, maybe next year you will find a miraculous spider web message about Chet Baker in a door frame somewhere.

Oh, Possumlady, that just destroyed me. A couple of months back, All Things Considered did a story about Charlotte's Web, and played the recording of E.B. White reading that passage in his wonderfully plain New England voice. For me, sound triggers visual memory. So, as I read your post, I was again driving south on Baltimore Pike early on a summer evening, feeling my chest and throat tighten as I passed the bank, bursting into tears just beyond the Quaker meetinghouse. By the time I got home, I'd completely cried off my mascara.

I've loved spiders and daddy long legs all my life. About 10 years ago, I happened upon a huge garden spider who'd set up house in the cornfield up the road. For weeks, I checked on (and talked to) her every day. Then, not long before the corn was harvested, she was gone. I hoped she'd decamped to a safer locale.

"I suppose that not many people sit around and worry about spiders that they've come to admire and love."

I'm so glad you confessed to that! It means maybe I'm not crazy, after all, wondering what happened to my Fat Momma, if she froze to death or got eaten by a chickadee, and if the spider now living in her corner is one of her kids. I do hope so.

Anyhow, I love your spider posts!

Oh my. Her dorsal side does look goddess like. How beautiful Julie. Thanks for helping us to see her and other spiders as the fascinating creatures they are.

I was looking closely and could have sworn I saw "Some Julie" in that orb weaver's web? :c)

All of this spider-talk reminds me of an old riddle I always enjoyed (actually quite simple, but a lot of folks have difficulty with it):

"Three spiders named Mr. Eight, Mr. Nine, and Mr. Ten are crawling along the Amazon forest. One spider has 8 legs; one spider has 9 legs; and one spider has 10 legs. They are usually quite happy and get along amicably, but today the heat is testing their patience.
"I think it is interesting," says Mr. Ten, "that none of us have the same number of legs that our names would suggest."
"Who the heck cares?" retorts the spider with 9 legs.
How many legs does Mr. Nine have?

[the answer can be determined from the little information given, and there is only ONE correct answer? -- if you can't get it, try it out on a 10 yr.-old child] ;-)

I'm so glad you posted about spiders, Julie. It reminded me of last year when we had a lynx spider in our front yard. And I had posted about it because I found her so fascinating. Unfortunately, we never saw any of her hatchlings this year. (sniff).

I'd love to see a painting showing spiders and birds together--perhaps a tropical boubou snagging a large insect still struggling in a spider's web, as the disapproving spider looks on...

Yesterday, I presented programs on insects for our Environmental Adventure Day. We found a Marbled Orb Weaver under a picnic table, so I scooped her up for the kids to see. A male teacher came over to check out what all the commotion was and when he saw me holding the spider he shrieked like a little girl. I cracked up!

One of my friends mentioned to me that the main pattern on the Marbled Orb Weaver's back looks like a "toe-tapping caterpillar". It kind of does, if you use your imagination. It has a top hat dancing a little jig...

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