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Weaving a wonderful web: Nature’s bug catchers at work

 
Weaving a wonderful web: Nature’s bug catchers at work
PASCALLE BIPPERT Argiope aurantia, or garden spiders, create intricate webs with a distinctive “zipper” interwoven into them.

They may make you shudder ...“The Itsy, Bitsy Spider,” Charlotte’s Web, Miss Spider, “Arachnophobia,” Anansi the Spider, even Aragog, Hagrid’s pet spider from Harry Potter, and Shelob, the giant spider from The Lord of the Rings. From the time we listened to fairy tales on our mother’s knee through adulthood, spiders have been eight-legged creatures of fascination, horror, and whimsy.

Every morning as my husband walks out to his car, he swipes his arm through the air in an arc to knock down spider webs so he doesn’t end up wearing their creator in his hair. I have a friend whose daughter has a spider that lives in her car’s side-view mirror. Each morning, the spider is there to greet her. Then, as she backs the car out to go to the University of Texas at San Antonio, the eight-legged creature tucks himself in behind the mirror to spend the day shielded from the elements. Each morning he is there again. Smart. Amazing. Amusing.

Since we had so much rain this spring, an overabundance of insects thrives in our grassy lawns and fields. Something had to even the odds; enter nature’s bug-catchers: Spiders.

They trap these flying insects flies, grasshoppers, and more and do insect control, one at a time. I enjoy throwing a grasshopper into the web of the Argiope aurantia, ...commonly referred to as a “garden spider,” “yellow and black spider,” or “zipper spider” to watch her spin her victim into a cocoon using the silken threads that she emits from her spinnerets.

It’s a very quick process that reminds me of a weaving shuttle. Silk shoots out of her spinneret, and she controls where the stream goes with her legs as her victim is wrapped in a white silk cage. It’s like watching the conductor of an orchestra wave his wand over the pit. Then she delivers that bite that renders the insect helpless and her venom starts pre-digesting the bug.

Sounds horrible, I know, but isn’t nature amazing?

A female Argiope or yellow garden spider can grow from between 3/4 inch to 1-1/2 inches, much larger than her male counterpart, which typically measures between 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch.

They build webs that can be two feet across and a female will perform maintenance on her home and do continual repairs if her web is torn.

These spiders mate once a year. The smaller males weave their webs close to the larger females and woo them by gently plucking on the silken strands of the female’s web.

Typically, a female will produce three egg sacs, which can contain from 300 to 1,400 eggs. Are you getting goose bumps yet?

The male typically gives his life to continue his legacy, dying after mating. The females can live several years in warmer climates like south Texas.

According to the Texas Master Gardeners and http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/, these are beneficial creatures because they control destructive pests. Their bite is not poisonous. There is no reason to fear them.

Although these spiders may intimidate us and freak us out, they should be treated with respect, as they provide a special service to us.

Give their webs a wide berth if you don’t want to wear spider silk. Throw a bug in the web and watch the magic. Watch them sway in the breeze.

They are fascinating. They are part of our environment and are colorful, vivid reminders that there is a balance in nature.

 
 
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