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Orb Weaver Spider
Fall is my favorite season and I love nothing better than tromping down a forest trail
to see what’s up and catch some fresh air. But my morning walks may look a bit strange,
for I’m usually holding a three-foot-long twiggy branch in front of me like some ritualistic
talisman. This is my spider web staff, and mostly it does a good job of keeping the
webs off my face.
Most often these webs are spun by female spotted orb weaver spiders, the most common
garden spider across much of the northern hemisphere. Worldwide the orb spiders are
the most common kind of spider, accounting for about a quarter of all known species.
The spotted orb weaver spiders are mostly nocturnal, but in the fall they have so
much work to do they are at it day and night.
The orb spiders are a large group of spiders that weave round, more or less symmetrical
webs suspended in open-air spaces. The spotted orb weaver spider often builds her
webs from the roof of a house down to a midpoint on the wall. As I write this, one
is sitting patiently waiting on her web outside the office window. The females are
the web weavers and they have a plump abdomen that is variously spotted with rusty-red
or yellow-orange dots. References refer to it as less than an inch long, but I think
size descriptions for spiders refer to the length of the body, not the span of their
All the legs, but especially noticeable on the large hind legs, are alternately banded
in black and yellowish markings. Not being a great spider lover, I consider it kind
of ugly but I see it described on the internet as cute and lovely. Go figure. It is
in no way dangerous but, it might bite if needlessly harassed.
The orb spider spins her web anew every evening and, during the following day eats
the old web, rests about an hour and then spins another web. She starts by sending
out a single silken strand that she lets drift in the breeze until it attaches to
a nearby object. She then goes to the center of that strand and releases another strand,
forming a “Y.” From there she continues spinning non-sticky strands until she has
completed all the spokes. Then she fills in the spiral strands using sticky silk.
It takes her about an hour to spin the web.
The other evening my son Joe pointed out the clouds of gnats that were swarming on
the sunny side of a maple tree at about head height. The gnats, triggered by a recent
and badly needed rainfall, probably had a synchronous emergence from their pupal stage
where the larvae had fed on organic matter in the duff. An orb weaver web in the branches
was just covered in ensnared gnats, so her evening meal was ready.
The female lays her eggs in a roundish egg sac rolled inside a leaf. About 1,000 eggs
are in each egg sac. The juveniles of this species are often caught by mud daubers
wasps and placed in the egg chambers of their earthen nests to feed their developing
So it goes. The wheel of life spins; some individuals win, some loose but the various
parts that make up the whole chug on. I know I should be more concerned about climate
change, mass extinction and all the other ills mankind has caused, but I just don’t
feel it in my gut. Sure, we should try to mitigate the harm we have caused, but getting
an ulcer worrying about what might happen won’t help. Life will adapt, change, and
for a short time, stabilize. Where our kind will fit into a changed world is uncertain,
but what in life is certain?
Gerald Klingaman is a retired Arkansas Extension Horticulturist and retired Operations
Director for the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. After more than two decades of penning the popular Plant of the Week column, he’s taking a new direction, offering views on nature as he pokes about the
state and nation. Views and opinions reflect those of the author and are not those
of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. If you have questions
or comments for Dr. Klingaman about these articles contact him at email@example.com.