Dance of the garden spiders
Every gardener can dance.
It’s usually early in the morning when the dew is heavy. The gardener, weighed down with shovels and rakes, has his eye on the day’s chores when he walks through the intricate webbing of an orb weaver.
Tools fly as he frantically sidesteps while waving his arms. He might even scream, just a little.
Late summer is prime time for some of the largest spiders in the Lowcountry to show off their web-weaving skills.
Orb-weaver spiders build well-known circular webs in the trees, on our porch and in our doorways. There are more than 3000 species of orb weavers, and I’m quite certain they all live in my backyard.
All spiders have eight legs and fangs. And all spiders, most people agree, are creepy.
Not all spiders, however, use webbing. But orb weavers build their characteristic webs daily to catch prey.
Silk is formed from liquid protein that hardens with the tensile strength of steel once excreted.
The golden silk orb weaver, also known as the banana spider, is one of the largest and most common spiders to see this time of year.
The banana spider spins threads of yellow, or golden, silk.
Some suggest the color aids the camouflaging effect in the shade that will more effectively snare prey and distracted homeowners.
The female is the large and dangerous-looking spider poised in the center. She lets the diminutive male banana spider, not even half her size, lurk nearby and feed on scraps.
Her web is an elaborate construction of circles that is repaired daily to keep the sticky threads fresh and deadly.
Another orb weaver, the black and yellow garden spider, has a web that can be differentiated from the banana spider’s web by the zig-zag pattern stitched near the center.
Another common orb weaver that you may unfortunately dance through is the spiny-backed orb weaver, which is a spider that appears to have a crab shell on its back.
In the morning, you can watch banana spiders clean debris, such as leaves and petals, from the sticky trap.
Repairing the web consists of consuming the old threads before spinning new ones. Some orb weavers rebuild the entire web, daily.
And, interestingly enough, some orb weavers spin silk that contains ant repellent. The web consists of sticky and nonsticky threads that allow the spider to navigate without getting tangled.
Prey, however, rarely escape once flying into the death trap.
Many people might confess to standing in front of the web hoping for a moth to fly into it.
Once when I was watching a web with my wife, the 12-year old boy in me said, “Let’s find something to throw in it.”
For the record, I didn’t. But that’s because I couldn’t find anything.
Banana spiders are sensitive to vibrations. The female positions herself in the center, pointing downward.
Airborne vibrations can signal an approaching predator. She takes a defensive posture. When prey hits the web, vibrations signal her to attack. Since her vision is poor, she utilizes vibrations in the web to locate her prey.
She will bite the prey and wrap it in silk. Once the victim is dead, she’ll vomit pre-digestive juice to liquefy the body. What she can’t eat, she’ll throw away.
Aside from allergic reactions, her venom is non-threatening to people and pets. A bite is similar to a bee sting.
Banana spiders are nonaggressive and bites only occur if you’re asking for it or dancing through their webs.
If a spider builds a web in your doorway or across the sidewalk, wrap her and the web up with a long stick and toss where her web will be more acceptable.
They are, without question, an asset to the environment.
The worst part about walking through a web is the thoughts it triggers. I’m frequently convinced the banana spider will somehow crawl into my ear if I don’t hurry up and scream, er, I mean dance.
Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.