Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Webbed Relationships

I am fascinated by spiders and their webs.  I love it when I find them in the garden, though quite not so much when I literally stumble across one. Watching the way spun silk catches and holds the light can stop me in my tracks long enough to forget where I am and what I was doing.

That said, the attempt to capture a good image of a spider web with my camera is my photographic stumbling block.  I try various techniques, I try in various lights at various times of day, but I rarely get anything I'm happy to share here.

Today I spotted a clutter of spiders and webs all securely anchored to various plants on the left hand side of the walk running through Candy Land.  I figured with all the angles and sizes represented it was a rare opportunity to give my web photography a true workout.

I started with this shot of the far reaches of a web.  Its hard to see I know but once you recognize the pattern your brain will "see it" for you.  It was very fine, moving in the breeze, and twinkling when the light hit it just so.  I tried every angle imaginable but couldn't quite get the edges to stand out.  So I moved into the center for another shot.
The spider in this web was about the size of a spent staple.  Teeny tiny.  I was able to capture a bit of the stabilimentum to show you but nothing I could do would bring the spider itself into sufficient focus.  Too small!
I got closer to a good shot with this slightly more mature, larger version of the little spent staple spider.  This one is still tiny however - those "huge" green leaves in the background are asian jasmine ground cover, barely two inches long.  I could tell these spiders are all some form of orb weavers, with their striking stabilimentum (the technical name for the thickened patterned webbing in the center) especially noticeable in the larger spider's web..  
I had another go at these later in the day, hoping the angle of the sun would help.  Here's another male (I'm guessing) that was just around the corner from the others.
You can't see details on him much better than the others but the web stands out a bit more.  Here is his web in its entirety from further away.  It is a bit tattered, reflecting the natural wear and tear of a day in garden traffic. Aren't these wonderful?  (the spiders and their webs I mean, not my photos!)
The big payoff however, was quite near by.  And when I say big I mean that literally.
Gorgeous, isn't she?  I'm totally smitten.  Though this specimen is an immature female, yet to develop the larger rounded abdomen of a fully mature spider, she is a fine example of a young Argiope aurantia, otherwise known as a black and yellow garden spider.  Her "common" name hardly does her justice.

Unlike the other smaller webs scattered nearby, hers is about 14 inches square, limited only by the space between the anchor leaves she has chosen.  The spider herself has a body about an inch long, with her legs reaching out another inch and a half to either side. Quite impressive. Here's a view of the under side.  I think she's beautiful from every angle.
This large web is in a well traveled area where I'd certainly have noticed if it had been there before today. Reportedly, if left undisturbed, this spider will keep her web in place overnight and will reuse it for the remainder of the summer.  Charlotte (what, you don't name your spiders?) will consume the stabilimentum silk in the center at the end of each day. It is speculated those consumed silk components will then be recycled into a fresh new stabilimentum for each day's hunting.  Or for writing messages, perhaps?

It could be the surrounding smaller orb weaver spiders are immature males of the same species.  They certainly all appeared to set up shop at the same time.  I read that male garden spiders are often two to three times smaller than the females but most of these guys are barely a quarter inch to the female's inch.  There are so many of them, too.  Is Charlotte keeping a male harem?  Will she choose one male preferentially?  I've no clue, but I'm certainly going to keep my eye on this burgeoning little community.  

If the orb weavers stay alongside the path (and oh I hope they will!)  I ought to have plenty of chances to hone my photography techniques.  For now, I'll leave you with one of my favorite spider "quotes", from comedienne Ellen DeGeneres:

“Our egos tells us we're the only ones that have any kind of feelings. We're the only ones with a relationship. We're the only ones with family. You know, I think that if you kill a spider, there is a relationship that you're ruining. There's a conversation going on outside with the other spiders. 'Did you hear about Chris?....Killed yeah....Sneaker. And now Stephanie has nine hundred babies to raise all alone. Well, she's got her legs full I'll tell you that right now. Chris was so kind, wouldn't hurt a fly. It's just been tough for them lately. They just lost their web last week. Those humans think they're so smart. Let them try shooting silk out of their butt and see what they can make.'”

Postscript:  It isn't that I don't believe what I read, it is just that I am curious to see things for myself.  I went back out the next day, after the sprinklers had run, wondering if the spider had returned to her nest and built in a new stabilimentum for the day.  She did and she had.  Here's Day Two's web center:


Tina said...

Wow! I'm impressed with the photography. That you could get anything more than a blur for the spent staple spider is remarkable. They are hard to photograph--I haven't spent as much time honing that skill as I should. The yellow and black spider is gorgeous. I used to have those all over my gardens, but not as much anymore--in fact, that's true of several kinds of spiders. Thank you for the lesson on spiders and photography--a two-fer in the best sense!

Debra said...

Spiders, webs and your photos are gorgeous! NatGeo gorgeous. I've tried misting webs with a squirt of water before but stopped doing that. I think I drowned a tiny male star spider doing that once. I only saw his distress later when I was reviewing the pictures later. oops

TexasDeb said...

Tina: Thank you most kindly. I honestly spent more time than most reasonable people would, twisting and bending and squatting and leaning in, trying to get any better angle without ending up as the largest "catch" in the spider's web.

I'm having to force myself to delete some of the photos I've taken of this bunch. As I go along my standards get higher because who in the world should have 50 plus photos of a spider (except for her Mother, of course!).

TexasDeb said...

Debra: Thank you lady! When I got my very first 35mm camera (decades ago - it was huge and weighed a ton) I took it camping in Utah was hearing the NatGeo music in my head every time I framed a shot.

Aww - that star spider had to be able to live through rainy days so I'm betting while you may have freaked him out with your teeny tiny "storm" you didn't cause him actual harm.

Linda/patchwork said...

Great shots.

I haven't seen this one around here lately, but we have LOTS of spiders. Sometimes I like the webs, sometimes they're a mess. Interesting none the less.

TexasDeb said...

Thanks Linda. I don't recall seeing many (if any) of these larger garden spiders here before but it sure enough is a banner year for spiders overall. This weather must suit them especially well.

I am amused at how some spiderwebs are super neat and "just so" and some of them have webs that are more "this is what is going on today". I suppose all the varying styles serve their purposes well.