Pharyngula

They grow ‘em big in Texas

Admit it: if you were walking along and saw this on the trail, you’d stop and turn back, wondering if Shelob was sneaking up behind you.

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Bug girl has the explanation.

Comments

  1. #1 Brett McCoy
    August 30, 2007

    Wow! This will give me nightmares (as cool as I think spiders are…)

  2. #2 Mike P
    August 30, 2007

    Wow, I had no idea there were communal spiders!

    Fascinating AND creepy.

  3. #3 Samphire
    August 30, 2007

    My wife certainly won’t be taking that footpath.

  4. #4 Margaret Buck
    August 30, 2007

    That is disturbing. Very, very disturbing.

  5. #5 Dahan
    August 30, 2007

    Never heard of communal spiders before…great, the solitary ones already creep me the f*ck out. Still, gotta love the crazy stuff out there.

  6. #6 BobApril
    August 30, 2007

    Oh, thanks a lot, PZ. I guess I didn’t NEED to sleep tonight…

  7. #7 Apikoros
    August 30, 2007

    And now… communal willies!

  8. #8 Apikoros
    August 30, 2007

    And now… we’ve got communal willies!

  9. #9 BronzeDog
    August 30, 2007

    At least I’d prefer Texas to be DOOMED by being eaten by spiders.

  10. #10 dhonig
    August 30, 2007

    That’s nothing. Have you ever walked through the Everglades and seen banana spider webs across walking paths? And those are single spiders, not a whole community.

  11. #11 OptimusShr
    August 30, 2007

    Man am I glad we don’t have those in MA.

  12. #12 caynazzo
    August 30, 2007

    It was sort of addressed in the Q&A, but inbreeding among social spiders seems like a huge obstacle for their survival, especially in colonies with only a few dozen individuals.

  13. #13 Eljay
    August 30, 2007

    If I had found that,after screaming loudly, I would have wrongly guessed it to be a serious webworm infection. Being wrong and screaming is never dignified.

  14. #14 Firemancarl
    August 30, 2007

    Great, communal spiders. Wait’ll I tell the Original Missing Link. I wonder if these “spiders” ware tydye, smoke weed and listen to Grateful Dead music. What does a stoned spider look like anyway? Do they all have afros or dreadlocks? Do they name thier children Skye, Earth, Rainbow etc?

    These are important questions that Bug Girls shoulda answered! I am disappointed to say the least.

    BTW, you know what Greatful Dead fans say when they’re out of pot? “God, this music sucks!!!”

  15. #15 craig
    August 30, 2007

    That looks really beautiful, but I’m thinking its probably not so god for the trees.

  16. #16 Andrew Bleiman
    August 30, 2007

    So not only did I just post the story, with the same picture and same reference to Bug Girl, but I also geeked out with a Shelob reference. Talk about being beaten to a punch!

  17. #17 Keanus
    August 30, 2007

    I’m sure the Bug Girl is right, that’s it’s spiders all the way down, but the photo reminds me of web worms on steroids. In fact that was my first impression. And I have seen a few trees that were nearly as infested with web worms as these trees are with spiders. Hail to spiders! May they feast on millions of pestering insects!

  18. #18 Mena
    August 30, 2007

    We are having a bit of an infestation of wolf spiders here, thanks for reminding me! ;^)
    I have already taken four or five of them out of the basement but you should see the ones on the sides of the house! They probably can’t fit through the cracks.

  19. #19 Jim Lemire
    August 30, 2007

    Man am I glad we don’t have those in MA.

    One of the reasons that I love living in MA is that there are many, many things in Texas that we don’t have here.

  20. #20 natural cynic
    August 30, 2007

    Ahhhh, Arachnophobia.

  21. #21 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    August 30, 2007

    Spider invasion? Somebody call William Shatner.

  22. #22 Russell
    August 30, 2007

    Those aren’t spiders. Those are web worms.

  23. #23 Ardsnard
    August 30, 2007

    Firemancarl- here is some footage of spiders on various drugs :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHzdsFiBbFc

  24. #24 Treu Bob
    August 30, 2007

    That’s nothing. Have you ever walked through the Everglades and seen banana spider webs across walking paths? And those are single spiders, not a whole community.

    How about running through a banana spider web like that? Must have done that three or four times when I was a yute.

  25. #25 Mrs Tilton
    August 30, 2007

    Those spiders are seriously cool…. unlike Shelob!

    For those of you who didn’t know there is such a thing as social spiders, click through on that link from natural cynic @21. Not sure that’s why s/he is linking, but the spiders in that film are a species of big social sparassids (“giant crab spiders”) from Australia and NZ. They’d pretty much have had to be a social species, wouldn’t they? Or else the filmmakers would have needed a lot more 8-legged stars…

    Apikoros @8/9, I hope that’s not a veiled Larry Craig reference.

  26. #26 SEF
    August 30, 2007

    Somebody call William Shatner.

    Or Doctor Who.

  27. #27 bug_girl
    August 30, 2007

    Those ARE spiders, Russel. They were verified by a leading arachnologist. Not Webworms.

  28. #28 Firemancarl
    August 30, 2007

    Re Banana Spiders.

    I live in the Daytona Beach area and every summer those damn things come out. They can create super huge webs and they look very evil, almost as evil as an evilutionist!

  29. #29 Firemancarl
    August 30, 2007

    Ardsnard#24

    Holy SHit that was very fuckin’ funny!

  30. #30 Jim Thomerson
    August 30, 2007

    That’s similar to what oak leafier moth caterpillars can do here in Central Texas. No problems this year or last; but the two years previously we could not go out our front or back doors because of jillions of silk strands down across the sidewalk from the liveoak trees. Had to go in and out through the garage door. The caterpillars consume the new oak leaves and then spin a silk bungie cord down to the ground, where they pupate. Moths lay eggs in the oak trees. We have had a lot of small birds working the oak trees the past couple of years, picking up the moth eggs, I think. The caterpillars will competely strip one tree and the next tree over will be uninfested. Lot of people spray for them, but we did not.

  31. #31 Jeremy Henty
    August 30, 2007

    Forget Shelob, have you read Web by John Wyndham?

  32. #32 steven pirie-shepherd
    August 30, 2007

    I, for one, welcome our new arachnid overlords.

  33. #33 Fastlane
    August 30, 2007

    I encountered some very large spiders when I lived in Okinawa. The spiders that live there are probably comparable to banana spiders.

    For those of you who were thinking you’d get through this without any nightmares….

    ….I found a dead bird in one of those spider webs….it was a small bird, but still…..

    Cheers and pleasant dreams!

  34. #34 Graculus
    August 30, 2007

    here is some footage of spiders on various drugs

    That one is even funnier if you are Canadian, trust me.

  35. #35 Graculus
    August 30, 2007

    testing, testin, sciblogs is sending me to moderation again…

  36. #36 Curt Cameron
    August 30, 2007

    Hail spiders!

    Regarding the comment about whether it’s good for the trees, I know at least with web worms which actually eat the leaves (my guess is that the spiders don’t), the web worms are not particularly harmful, because the infestations take place late in the season when the tree has already benefited from its leaves. They sure are unsightly though. Here in Texas the web worms love pecan trees, but the trees don’t seem to suffer for it.

  37. #37 Arnosium Upinarum
    August 30, 2007

    EXCELLENT! I just love the smell of that musty odor in the morning!

    Arachnids are most elegant contraptions…right up there with cephalopods on my list of faves.

    If we ever see complex biological alien lifeforms (intelligent or otherwise), chances are their basic morphology will be at least as different as these are to humans. Nature probably visits every physically permissable means of “making a living”.

    Personally, I can’t wait for the blessed contact event: it will cause the conceited head of every religious fundamentalist to spontaneously implode.

  38. #38 Crudely Wrott
    August 30, 2007

    I remember the banana spider from my years in Florida. Also known as the Golden Orb spider for the color and style of their webs. I used to see webs in excess of ten feet in diameter spun between, say, a telephone pole and a palm tree. Mighty impressive. And yes, I have collided with them. Strongest known spider silk.

    The spider is quite a wonder to behold. I was always taken by the white and black stripes of hair girdling each leg. They are really quite inoffensive, even seeming to have a deliberate bias for places that are not often visited by puny humans. And they are not aggressive, in my experience. I once carefully stroked one under her abdomen. Very gently and carefully with my fingertip. She did not flinch but seemed to relax slightly at my touch. I have never observed such behavior in an arachnid before or since. Except the cockroach that did a double take that one time.

    Then there is the house spider. They come out of your furniture at night and hunt on your walls. They move in an eye blink and vanish at any light or movement. Their legs span four to six inches. You will hardly ever see one, but they are there, oh yes, in ur howze.

  39. #39 Mrs Tilton
    August 31, 2007

    Crudely @40,

    where are you now? (Not Florida, I infer.) But are you in Oz or NZ? What you describe sounds like a huntsman (sparrassid).

    “House spider” is not a scientific name, of course. I believe that, in America, it’s used for a common theridiid (comb-footed spider). Over here, though, it refers to large hairy spiders of genus Tegenaria — large, but but quite as large as yours, I think. They are agelenids, or funnel-web spiders (NB no relation to the infamous Sydney funnel-web spider). They don’t hunt on walls or anywhere else, and if you see one off its web, it is usually a male lookin’ for the ladies. They are among my all-time favourite arachnids.

    We saw one — T. atrica and, yes, a male — in our foyer this morning, just in front of the door to the cellar. I tried to whoosh him down into the cellar, where he’d be likelier to find what he’s looking for. He’d also be safer. Due to the very mild winter we have a big crop of Pholcus phalangioides cobweb spiders this year. We tolerate them in the house, because they take a huge toll of mosquitos (and, emm, because they are charming and pretty animals). But Shelob help the Tegenaria who brushes against a Pholcus web. Though the house spider is much larger and stronger, these contests usually end only one way, and that way is not good for the bigger spider. A couple of Pholcus have their webs in the nook in front of the cellar door; not a healthy place for a house spider. Alas, our specimen did not want my help, and off he ran. Very fast, too; though they can’t keep up that speed very long, I have no idea where he got off to before he stopped.

  40. #40 YuppiTuna
    August 31, 2007

    From #13 “It was sort of addressed in the Q&A, but inbreeding among social spiders seems like a huge obstacle for their survival, especially in colonies with only a few dozen individuals.”

    Anyhow, inbreeding and a general lack of genetic diversity is actually perhaps one of the reasons the spiders became communal. Refer to the kin selection article on wikipedia The more closely related the spiders are (r), the smaller the amount of reproductive gain (B) needed by the “helped” spider to make a sacrifice by a “helper” spider (C) beneficial to itself as well.

  41. #41 tikistitch
    August 31, 2007

    I think we arachnophobes are gonna need a warning now before we click on this bloggie. I was expecting to be greeted by some friendly tentacles, not creepy crawlies. *gah*

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