What Webs They Weaveg
by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator
I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. I hope you enjoy!
Last week I had the privilege of walking with a VCU researcher on Crawfords Knob. I wholeheartedly believe my two days spent in the field broke the record of spider webs in the face. Bushwhacking in early fall is a recipe for utter annoyance if you do not particularly like spider webs in the face. Despite my frustrations, I got a chance to witness many spectacular spiders sitting amongst lovely webs. This Nine Minute Naturalist will delve into the world of the orb weavers of Wintergreen.
The most striking spider to run into this fall is the marbled orb weaver. This member of the orb weaver family is identified by an orange head and upper legs, black and white banded lower legs, and a marbled abdomen. These large spiders are found primarily in the woodland realms of Wintergreen especially on the forest edges. When their head high webs are disturbed, the marbled orb spider tends to get to cover on the ground and stay hidden until danger passes. They can also be found on the edges of their nest in a folded leaf, as they wait for prey to get tapped in their webs. Marbled orb weavers are most common in late August to late October. This spider is also called the “Halloween” spider due to both its orange color and the females being commonly found on the ground preparing to lay eggs around Halloween. Though harmless to humans, these spiders act as great “organic” pest control.
The most common member of the orb weaver family is the spined micrathena. This spider begins annoying hikers in the heat of August and persists well into October, as a hike through Crawfords Knob backcountry can prove. This mostly black spider is easily identified by the angular abdomen. They are a member of the spiny orb weavers’ group and are generally woodland spiders that love to build nests across the trails of Wintergreen. Our trails or any other opening in the forest floor act as fly ways for insects and thus tend to attract the interest of their predators. Their hard spiny body is most likely a defense against predation as it would make a less than ideal meal going down the throat of a larger predator. This spider is harmless to humans but does a great job decreasing the fly populations at Wintergreen.
Another common spider found amongst our landscaped environment at Wintergreen is the black and yellow garden spider. This large spider, identified by its black and yellow coloring on the abdomen, is found more commonly in our landscape settings but is occasionally found in the woods. The black and yellow garden spider makes nests around knee to waist height with a distinct thick silk strand that zigzags down the middle of the nest. This attribute of their web making has earned the nickname, the “writing spider.” Although the large size of this spider is a bit intimidating, it is harmless to humans and does flee when disturbed.
Records are meant to be broken. Despite that axiom, like Cal Ripken’s consecutive games played streak, my record for spiders in the face is safe for all time. If you want to attempt to break the record, a bushwhack in early October is the right idea. While attempting to break this record, pay attention to the awesome diversity of orb weavers Wintergreen has to offer!