“Araneus diadematus” is the Latin name for the garden spider, which is ubiquitous in my garden just now. Every piece of garden furniture is being used as a support for webs, and some of them are huge, up to 12 inches in diameter with anchor lines up to 3m long holding them in place. I’ve never seen such long anchors which the spiders construct by spinning a fine sticky line from spinneret glands at the end of the abdomen which blows on the wind until it sticks to a suitable support. These are the ones which get stuck to your face when you walk in the garden at night! The spider reinforces the first line with thicker, stronger thread until it can support the weight of the whole web. Further support and radial lines are added until sufficient structure is in place to enable strengthening of the middle with a non-sticky spiral, followed by construction of a widely spaced non sticky spiral out to the edge of the web. The spider can walk on this and use it as a guide to build a sticky spiral inwards from the outside edge and this is used to catch prey.
Spiders have up to 8 spinnerets of different types to produce the various grades of silk required to construct a whole web. It’s a truly incredible biochemical process resulting in a material with strength per gram greater than steel, and so far, despite a huge amount of research, one that humans have been unable to replicate synthetically.
Once the web is constructed, the garden spider waits under cover at the end of one of the radials monitoring vibration in the web with one or more of its foremost legs. When struggling prey causes the right frequency of vibration (they don’t react to vibration caused by the wind) the spider ambushes its prey and kills it with a venomous bite before wrapping it in silk and storing it until it’s eaten.
In the last week or so, as well as finding some beautiful webs laden with early morning moisture and lit up by the sun, I’ve been lucky enough to see some fascinating behaviour by garden spiders. My son pointed one out to me that had built a web between my garden table and the french window and was behaving in an unusual way, alternately raising front and rear legs as though it was dancing. Closer inspection revealed that it was using all eight legs to gather broken web which it then rolled into a ball and ate before recycling it into more web to patch up the original. I found another one at the other end of my garden table – which is no place for an arachnophobe to sit and enjoy an evening beer – which was lurking under a clematis leaf with both of its front legs feeling for vibrations on an anchor line of its web:
This morning I was looking for larger spiders to try to get some good photographs and there was a beauty putting the finishing touches to its web on the childrens climbing frame. While I was looking at this adult female, a second much smaller version, possibly an amorous suitor, was building a web from a plant pot joining onto the web of the adult. It occurred to me this was no way to ensure longer term survival for the small spider. As I watched, it approached the female, who was now in the middle of her web, waving its two front legs in the face of the much bigger female. The female reciprocated and for several minutes this game went on with no apparent aggression.
I haven’t seen this before so I’m not sure what the small spider was doing, but after several minutes the inevitable consequence was the lady pounced on the smaller spider and killed it rapidly before wrapping it in a silken coffin and transporting it higher up into its own web.
All this within a few centimeters of my eyes. Exciting stuff… and right outside my back door!