Spider Webs

     I had the pleasure of taking a long hike with my friend Kathy in the Shenandoah National Park the other day.   Our hike yielded some fascinating observations.  The sights that most impressed us were the spider webs.

     On no hike had either of us so frequently found ourselves staring into a perfect, circular spider web, suspended, shimmering in the bright sunshine, above the trail at about eye level.  These gleaming webs, each about the size of a CD, shone with hints of the rainbow, a trace of blue here, a glint of pink there.  And in the morning light, it was easy to see the detailed work.  We marveled at the  concentric threads, each straight and uniformly close to the next, from the center of the web to its outer edge.  The precision and neatness of the web suggested the work of a highly skilled ‘craftsman!’  

     As we stopped to examine each web, and as we bent to pass beneath each one without destroying it, we wondered how long it had taken the spider to create this highly functional object that to us seemed a work of art.  And what would happen, we wondered, if a web were destroyed.  Would the spider simply set about to rebuild, all in a day’s work?  Or would the spider’s ability to capture the food it needs be seriously compromised?

     As we walked farther, we noticed another kind of web, many of them here and there along the trail’s edge.  I call them funnel webs.  Unlike the ‘classic’ Charlotte’s Web-type orbs that hung across the trail, these webs have mass.  Their threads are thickly woven together in the shape of a funnel.  At the center of each funnel was a small small hole, a dark entrance to a space beneath dried leaves or to an underground home.  We surmised that this type of spider manages to entrap its prey and work it down into the hole where the spider can devour it.  

     Once back home, I did a little reading about spiders.  In addition to weaving beautiful circular, vertical webs, orb spiders know how to avoid getting stuck in their own web.  These spiders avoid walking on the sticky concentric threads that would capture them, but instead tread only on the “spoke” threads, which are not sticky.  It takes about an hour for an orb spider to spin a web.  But, according to  Mountain Nature:  A Seasonal Natural History of the Southern Appalachians, by Jennifer Frick-Ruppert, it is “a particular hardship” for a spider to take the time and energy to rebuild its web, since it had been fasting while constructing the original web.

     I could find surprisingly little information about the spiders that create funnel webs.  Most of the species I learned about are not native to the U.S.  But having swept many funnel webs from the outdoor stairs of my home, only to see another funnel web appear in the same spot the next day, I know that at least some species of these spiders live in Appalachian forest.  I did learn that while funnel spiders live mainly on insects trapped in their funnel web, they will also eat small frogs and lizards that may also get caught in their web.–April Moore

 

 

an orb spider web suspended over the trail

an orb spider web suspended over the trail

 

 

 

a funnel web

a funnel web

 

 

 

6 Responses to “Spider Webs”

  1. Jim Z. Says:

    Works of art!

  2. Kathy Ferger Says:

    A lovely description of what we saw, April. I would only add that it baffled us how the spider first constructed the lines that suspend the circular orb. Often these lines extended across the top more than 5 feet from one side of the trail to the other, with strong side lines anchored at an angle going down much closer to the ground, and a bottom line linking it all together.

  3. Bruce Says:

    Beautiful web (circular) with pink and blue color.
    Thanks
    Bruce

  4. Todd Says:

    Hi April, I can relate. I often go to great contortions to avoid damaging the beautiful orb webs in my vegetable garden. Not only are they amazing, but their builders are doing me a valuable pest-control service! I picked my tomatoes this evening in anticipation of Earl’s high winds tomorrow. The spiders may all have to rebuild! Be well, Todd

  5. Priscilla Says:

    Fascinating and wondrous!

  6. Judy Muller Says:

    April, your observations amaze me. You see and feel so much. Now I will have to think twice about removing webs from around my patio chair legs, and the little nooks and crannies of my yard. But I do think the webs in my house (well, tells you something about my frequency of cleaning) will have to go.

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