Posts Tagged Writing Spider

Swallowtail Season Signals Summer’s Waning

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying Buddleia blossoms (photo courtesy of Wonder Spouse)

I count myself lucky to be gardening in the Piedmont region of North Carolina this year. Sure, it’s still hot, but the unrelenting 100+-degree temperatures have backed down to the unrelenting low 90s. And although most of the good thunderstorm rains are still bypassing my yard, the air is soupy, sticky with humidity. The dregs of summer are here.

Signs are clear in the vegetable garden too. All tomato varieties are losing lower leaves to climbing fungal attacks, yet still their tops soldier on, producing enough ripe fruits to share with friends. The peppers are ripening well, but fruit worms are boring into the nearly ripe fruits, ruining some completely, rendering others only partly edible. Such are the usual late summer consequences of gardening without toxic chemical weapons of mass destruction.

Although the few rain showers that deigned to stop at my house have not brought enough water to help my stagnant creek and pond, the drops that fell were sufficient to revive the flowers. The giant Chinese Abelia that resides beside my vegetable garden had almost stopped blooming — much earlier than in previous years. But the recent rains persuaded it to reopen for business; now clouds of swallowtails, other butterflies, day-flying sphinx moths, and myriad bees animate the bush with drifting flows of color from dawn to dusk.

The Seven-Son Flower Tree is equally popular with the pollinators. Heavy perfume from these small flowers hangs in sticky morning air, an invisible entity waiting to envelop unsuspecting passersby with fragrance.

Seven-Son Flower Tree blooms are also current favorites of the pollinators.

Without question, butterfly and dragonfly populations are at all-time seasonal highs in my yard. The butterflies literally bump into me as I walk from my front door to the garden, so intent are they on finding the next tasty blossom. Dragonflies in metallic shades of blue, green, amber, and red zip through the skies, grabbing insects on the fly. When I try to photograph them, they seem to grow interested in me, following me short distances before returning to sky patrol.

Wonder Spouse was out in the yard yesterday trying to photograph a few of the sky dragons. Check out these shots.

My dragonfly identification skills are nonexistent, but I know gorgeous when I see it.

This one appears to be made from emeralds.

A final sign of summer’s waning is the arrival — in abundance — of Writing Spiders. Last year, I showed you the large Black and Yellow Garden Spider that set up shop among the plants I grow in pots that sit within my front yard water feature. This year, instead of one large spider residing over this space, seven smaller Writing Spiders have overtaken this area. Perhaps they are the offspring of last year’s large spider, or perhaps word leaked out into the spider community that this locale was ideal for their purposes.

However they came to find this spot, it is quite wonderful to see seven webs strung between sedge leaves and cardinal flower stalks, the characteristic spider writing prominent in their centers, along with seven growing black and yellow weavers waiting for unwary prey to stumble into their sticky traps.

She waits patiently for dinner.

Here’s to the waning of summer stickiness, the rise of sky dragons and butterflies, and the hope that the perfume of late-blooming blossoms will soon summon autumn’s kiss.

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Writing the Season

Argiope aurantia (front view)

In my previous post, I described a few changes in the local wildlife that serve as markers for the transition from Summer to Fall. I neglected to mention one of my favorite declarers of impending Autumn: Argiope aurantia, commonly called the Writing Spider or the Black and Yellow Garden Spider.

I began to notice some smaller specimens setting up shop among my tomato plants about a month ago. But this is the first sizable spider I’ve seen. She is probably not quite full grown, but she’s getting there. She erected her web among the tall blooming stalks of Cardinal  Flowers that share space with Pitcher Plants in pots immersed in my front garden water feature.

It’s a perfect spot for a hungry spider. Unwary local pollinators drawn to the ruby throats of the Cardinal Flowers make easy prey for the quick reflexes of this predator. She is building up her reserves before creating her egg sac, which will protect hordes of tiny spiderlings until spring sunshine calls them forth.

I know this is a female because of her appearance, and the fact that males roam about in search of females; they don’t build webs. When they find a potential mate, they court her by plucking the strings of her web, sending vibrations through the gossamer threads that entice her toward him. After mating, the male usually dies, and the females eat their bodies. Unlike their Black Widow Spider sisters or female Praying Mantises, Writing Spider females do not actively kill their lovers; they merely don’t let a good meal go to waste.

Writing Spiders are so named for the squiggly zigzag of silk in the center of the web (a stabilimentum, technically speaking). Scientists have several theories about the purpose of this structure. Some think it attracts prey. Others think it makes the web more visible to those who might unintentionally walk through it.  I know in my yard when I approach a Writing Spider’s web I haven’t seen, my first clue is usually when the occupant begins strongly vibrating the web, and the first thing I notice is usually that zigzagging bit of silk in the center. But just because it prevents me from walking through the web doesn’t mean that’s what her “writing” is there for.

Maybe the scientists haven’t yet stumbled upon the real reason for the Writing Spider’s silken signal. Perhaps she is conveying a message from Autumn, letting us know that the time for summer frolicking is nearly done. Leaf raking, pumpkin carving, and turkey stuffing will accompany crisper air, bluer skies, and the bedding down of flora and fauna for another winter’s sleep.

Argiope aurantia (back view)

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