Tuesday, October 7, 2008
I found a beautiful big orb web attached between one of our birches and my Gartenmeister fuchsia. I knew it had to belong to one of the spectacular orb weavers of fall, but I didn't know which one. There was a curled birch leaf above the web, where the spider seemed to be hiding. The thing to lure her out was a mealworm, I decided. So one fine sunny morning I flung a hapless mealworm into her web.
It took her awhile to decide to come out. She had been masticating a housefly, and she wanted to be thoroughly finished. When she spit the fly's empty carcass out--ptoo!!--I knew she'd be ready to address the mealworm that had been writhing in her web for a good ten minutes, with the Science Chimp hunkered down, prefocused, waiting impatiently. She dropped on a smooth strand, leg-over-legging to the unhappy mealworm. Oh! A Marbled Orb-Weaver, or Halloween orb-weaver, Verrucosa arenata. I had been expecting perhaps a golden argiope, or garden spider.
First, the paralyzing bite. Must stop the struggles.
And then the silk wrap. She turns the worm like a sausage on a spit, winding silk around and around it, damping down the sines of its struggles.You can see the silk coming out of her spinnerets. Wrap it. Wrap it good.
Now it's time to sever the last strands that connect the mealworm to the web proper.
One by one, she bites them free, until the prey is connected only by two strands.
Then she does the most amazing thing. She hooks thick silk strands to either end of the larva.
She orients herself so the mealworm is behind her, and somehow loops those strands over each of her longest hind legs.
Quickly, she bites the last strands connecting the mealworm to the web, and now it is suspended only from her two legs.
So fast that she's just a blur, she spins around and zips up the web to her leaf shelter, hauling the mealworm like a little trailer behind her.
She zoops up the web so fast, hauling the worm, that it makes me laugh out loud, reaching the curled leaf shelter in a matter of a second or two.
She whips around and somehow affixes the larva to her shelter, and prepares to settle in for a delicious mealworm brunch.
What a privilege to watch her prepare her meal. Worm. Mealworm.