It seems like there are always more spiders at this time of year. You can’t hike down a trail without getting a mouthful of webs! What gives? – JP, Linville
Spiders that were born in the spring are now mature enough to build large webs and mate. This combination makes for some very fun naturalist observations.
I challenge you to find at least four different types of webs on your morning hikes. Depending on the species in your area, you could search for the circular-patterned orb web, funnel-shaped webs, triangular webs or messy cobwebs.
The silk used in web construction is per diameter stronger than steel and more flexible than rubber. All spiders can make silk, though not all build webs. Wolf spiders, for example, hunt and ambush their prey on foot (or feet).
Each type of web allows for specific methods of capturing prey. Orb weaver spiders can easily walk along the non-sticky “spokes” of their web, while the inner lines are as sticky as glue. When prey becomes trapped, the orb weaver runs along the spoke, captures its meal and wraps it in a cocoon of silk.
Funnel webs are not sticky at all. Instead, perfectly placed silk lines knock flying insects into the center of the funnel — where they are quickly captured by the spider.
Web or no web, all female spiders are looking to mate in fall. This puts the usually much smaller males in a precarious position. For many species, the male must first impress a female before mating — through courtship rituals that are akin to dancing. The cost of failing to impress her could be death.
Mated females will spin a protective cocoon around their eggs — which they leave, guard or carry around. Each sac may contain anywhere from two to 2,000 eggs. These youngsters will hatch in the spring, and begin again the amazing cycle of life as spiders.
If you have a question concerning flora and fauna, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. All of your questions will be answered. One or two will be featured next week. See you on the trails!
Amy Renfranz is a Certified Naturalist through the Yellowstone Association Institute and a Certified Environmental Educator in the state of North Carolina.