Posts Tagged ‘spiders’

Splendor in the Grass

September 20, 2011

There has been an Funnel Web Spider living in the corner of our bathroom windowsill this summer.  I call her Svetlana, after the one-legged health aid in the “Sopranos”. TV’s Svetlana had nerves of steel and dispensed truth from one side of her mouth while the other was clamped down on a cigarette.  It took me a while to settle on a name, but I decided that in spite of the disparity in the number of their legs they had much in common.

My husband wanted to close the window the other night.  I told him flat out no and explained that Svetlana wouldn’t be able to make it out of her little funnel (which she cleverly built into the channel of the window sill) if we closed the window. John is a champ, and has gotten used to a lot over the years, so he didn’t even bat an eye when I explained I was talking about a spider.  He has even learned to feign interest,bless him, and asked what kind of spider was going to mean wearing a sweater while he brushed his teeth.  When I said, “Funnel Web”, he whooped “Whoa!  Poisonous!  The SAS Survival Guide says they are one of the most poisonous spiders in the world!”  I knew I shouldn’t have gotten him that book for Christmas.  But Svetlana is a NORTH AMERICAN funnel web, not the Australian spider the SAS warns of.  That is not to say, however, that she hasn’t got her own little arsenal of survival tricks.

Funnel Web spiders are sometimes called “grass” spiders, for their habit of making trampoline-like webs in the grass or shrubbery. If you look carefully you can sometimes see a little tunnel leading to who-knows-where in the grass or greens. This is where the spider usually waits for another bug to fall or fly into the web, whereupon the spider scurries out and bites the victim.  The insides of the victim liquify and the spider returns later and drinks him up.  The web doesn’t even have to be made of sticky silk to work perfectly.

Spiders can be quite pretty and FW’s are no exception.  They have stripey legs, and lines on their backs. There are usually eight eyes in rows of four over four which glitter if they catch the light properly. Of course, you can see all of this better and better as the spider molts its exoskeleton and gets progressively bigger, between four and twelve times in a summer, depending on the species.

Spiders are quite versatile, especially the Funnel Web.  This time of year the vegetation has lots of dew in the morning and when I walk in the meadow I can see many of their webs spread out on the grass like so much laundry drying, the shapes made visible by the moisture.  It’s fun but also a bit wicked to take a little branch and disturb the web ever so slightly so you can watch the spider dart out in the hope that a juicy meal has run afoul of her lines.

I made a little movie recently of some webs I found at Hill-Stead, and I added a few frames of Svetlana.  There’s a love scene  even though the whole thing only lasts four and a half minutes.  Don’t get too invested in the romance, though.  It ends badly for the fellow. Some spider brides kill the groom, wrap him up and eat him later. The couple in my movie are orb weavers, but unfortunately for male spiders, the habit is not confined to that species.

Get your popcorn, and I’ll see you on the trails.

Diane Tucker

Estate Naturalist

Advertisements

Assassins

November 25, 2009

Oh, assassin bug, assassin bug,

you really are so dreamy

It’s hard to say which one is best

Harpactor or reduviinae,

A “helping” sort, you remind me of a spider,

You eat the bugs folks can’t abide,

Like crunchy, six-legged sliders!

An arachnid’s an “assassin” too, but not like you,

She doesn’t try to hide it,

Sitting in her silken web, or daintily astride it.

One day it came, the final price delivered,

For grim offence to prior-eaten bugs,

Snared in a spider’s web you quivered.

Assassin bug, oh naive victim.

I watched your end, regrets.

She wrapped you up to hide you,

And when time came to slake her thirst,

She neatly liquified you!

The photographs were taken recently on Hill-Stead’s sunny west wall.  The encounter between this bug and the spider didn’t turn out well from the assassin bug’s point of view.  Apparently size really doesn’t matter.

The assassin bug is an insect (six legs) known for creeping stealthily toward a victim-and pouncing!  They move very slowly until the last moment.  Assassin bugs can jump as well as fly, making them a formidable predator.  Assassins are considered to be a “beneficial insect”, eating bugs that destroy crops and otherwise annoy humans.  The assassin bug falls into the category of “true bugs”-hemiptera.  Further, they are known to be part of a large group of bugs with cone-shaped heads, which mask a sharp beak that delivers a painful bite.  They’ll bite humans as well as their usual prey, sometimes causing a severe reaction.  Assassin bugs occur the world over, and can sometimes take down prey that is much bigger than itself.  The females of the species make better hunters as they need the protein to procreate and to sustain offspring.  After immobilizing a victim, they inject a venom that breaks down the organs of the unfortunate prey. Ironically in view of the photos above, this is precisely how a spider operates, the difference being that the spider waits for prey and the assassin bug pursues it directly.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist