Name That Orb Weaver!

Since Labor Day weekend has passed, it's time to put away those white shoes and to take note of the late summer orb weaver spiders.

Orb Weaver spiders are members of the Araneidae family. These include the ubiquitous yellow and black garden spider and familiar genera such as Mangora spp. and Araneus spp. When my kids were little, they referred to the more common Araneidae as "Charlottes" after E.B. White's Charlotte's Web.

Chimp Refuge field observers, Dawn & Bobby, recently shared a photo of an Araneidae arachnid that has set up her shop behind their house:


This is a pretty spider to be sure, but what genus and species is she? A Mangora? An Araneus? She's darker than the Mangora in Tom Murray's most excellent photo gallery of orb weavers and looks a little more like the barn spider. I'm no spider expert. The biochemist in me might be inclined to grind up and extract tissues to identify the critter by DNA analysis rather than check out pedipalps. But that's not a kind and gentle approach. So, any feedback from the arachnophiles out there would be appreciated.

I can't leave this subject without a burst of nostalgic reverie. When I was a pre-adolescent, one of my jobs was to mow the lawn. Our rural yard encompassed an acre of tall maples, lindens, ornamental trees, shrubs and open spaces which made mowing something of an obstacle course. Fortunately, the topography was flat - very flat as in Central Illinois flat. I tore around on an Allis-Chalmers riding mower among those trees and shrubs. This was a chore I truly enjoyed since driving the mower offered a minor prelude to my driver's license. Yee haw!

As previously noted in Do I Get a Badge For This, I am a tad uneasy around spiders. So when I guided the mower between two Spirea bushes and smacked right into an orb weaver's web, to say that I freaked out is an understatement. I maintained a death grip with one hand on the steering wheel of the mower as I frantically tried to get the web off my face and extract it from my hair. Then out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw the waving front legs of the spider on my left shoulder! I shrieked, released the steering wheel entirely and flailed away, hoping to dislodge the orb weaver that may or may not have been riding along on my T-shirt.. The mower promptly ran into our heavy gauge swing set, its wheels digging 6 inch plus deep divots in the lawn, before the mower stalled.

No spider was to be found on my person. My father was none too happy about those mower-tire divots and was not particularly sympathetic to my irrational response to an imagined (probably) spider while operating farm machinery. Much to my father's relief, no spiders emerged on my shoulder after I acquired my driver's license at age 16 and tooled around in "The White Whale," a.k.a. the parents' 1970 Plymouth Fury III.

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My best friend growing up was required to mow the lawn before being allowed to get her driver's license. Your story is too funny ... though I doubt you felt that way at the time. I used to like to play in the woods behind my parents' house as a kid, and I remember on one occasion merrily skipping down the path and stopping with my nose about an inch from a Dawn-sized orb web with its architect front and center. That quelled my enthusiasm for that part of the woods for a while. I spent the first ten years of my life passionately certain that I would one day study entomology, yet despite my ease around insects, spiders still gave me the creepy-crawlies and still do, embarrassingly enough, although I'm working on this. Getting close enough to take pictures like the one here are part of that.

I acquired my driver's license at age 16 and tooled around in "The White Whale," a.k.a. the parents' 1970 Plymouth Fury III.

Wouldn't you love to tool around in that today. A classic. You should feel so honored.

Those European garden spiders are everywhere in the Kitsap (that's the scrawny little peninsula between Puget Sound and the Olympic) . The other day I walked up to a bus stop, an I thought I had run into a piece of fishing line stretched between the post and the blackberry bushes ... no! it was the (still intact) web of a big European garden spider. Plenty of other spiders around here too - you can hardly walk between two trees without encountering a web.


By paleozoic (not verified) on 11 Oct 2008 #permalink