Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Itsy-Bitsy Spider

My Florida Backyard is currently without a camera, due to an aqueous accident (i.e. someone spilled water all over the camera). So, I can't post pictures for you of the gulf fritillary caterpillar hanging upside-down from the bottom of the birdhouse getting ready to go into chrysalis, or the black swallowtail eggs on my parsley, or the lantana that finally consented to bloom again.

Instead, I thought I'd share with you a resident we enjoyed last summer in My Florida Backyard - an awesome spider we affectionately named Killer.

When Killer first moved in over our front door, she startled us, to say the least. Though she wasn't large, maybe the size of my thumbnail, she didn't look like any spider we'd ever seen before. She spun absolutely enormous webs, spanning up to 4 feet across, ornamented with little silk "flags" you can see in the picture to the right.

We love to identify new creatures here in My Florida Backyard, so we scoured the internet until we discovered Killer was a Spinybacked Orbweaver, also known as a crab spider. Some theorize those little flags in the webs are to warn birds that the web is there, so they won't fly into it and ruin the spider's hard work.

The thing we found most fascinating about Killer was how long she stayed with us. She and her massive webs were with us for weeks last summer. After each strong rainstorm, we'd think she must have finally been swept away, but within a few minutes, out came the sun to dry up all the rain and there would be Killer, hard at work.

Spinybacked orbweaver females live only until they produce an egg mass, so perhaps Killer was having difficulty finding a suitable mate? It's hard to say. At any rate, one day, she simply wasn't there anymore - no goodbye note, no forwarding address. Her time in My Florida Backyard was done.

We're big fans of spiders in My Florida Backyard. Their webs are amazing works of art, and they love to trap and eat the nasty insects that otherwise like to attack and eat us. Killer was especially welcome, as she herself seemed a fantastic work of art, and when she was gone, our front entry seemed a little empty (although I think maybe the UPS guy was relieved). We had hoped some of her children might make their home here this year, but so far, we haven't seen any.

However, we welcome the spiders we do have, and we're grateful for the important and often lovely part they play in our ecosystem. As Edwin Way Teale said, "The difference between utility and utility plus beauty is the difference between telephone wires and the spider web." It seems nature always has the most elegant solutions.

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