By Liz Summer, I Start Wondering Columnist
To start a new post for I Start Wondering, I start by wandering . . . outside that is . . . for a walk through the tall grasses and trees of Central Texas. My stroll is in order to see the “what is” and report back on what I find, fresh and new, here and now.
This October morning, the Earth was shrouded in a fine foggy mist. The featureless gray sky formed a monochromatic filter that allowed a diffuse glow of light to brighten creation not with a sharp spotlight, but rather a dull illumination.
What appeared in the mist were spider webs. Thousand of them – low in the grass, strung up between bits of lawn furniture, dismally festooned from the eves, decorating the fence lines, and draped in trees and bushes.
Why could I see them so clearly today, when it is likely they have been there longer? It is because of the misty morning – each slender thread was bejeweled by strings of dewdrops, magnifying outlines and drawing awareness to them.
Texas is home to almost 1,000 types of spiders, including poisonous black widows and brown recluse, both of which are quite common. But the webs I was observing were not the work of either of those.
A Difference in the Weave
The exact type of spider who made the webs can be narrowed down by the type of web. First, there are the “classic” spider webs – the proper kind that looks like spokes on a wheel connected by a silken spiral. These “orb webs” are particularly attractive and are often made by various orb weaver spiders.
Other types of webs can be seen, and each species of spider makes a distinct type. For example, the black widow makes a “tangle web.” As the name implies, tangle webs appear to be a disorganized mess of silk and are usually in corners or tight spots.
Still other spiders prepare elaborate “funnel webs,” forming a tube of webbing material with the spider hanging out in the base of the tube, waiting for dinner to come walking across the porch. Several variations on the funnel webs were found on my walk. One type was low in the grass. These were quite large, with the tube diameter being the size of a quarter and the whole structure about 6 inches around. Each funnel was the work of a solitary dark brown funnel-web spider.
Approaching the funnel web slowly was the only way to catch a glimpse of the occupant. Once they became aware of me, they slipped quietly into the basement of their homes.
In numbers, these webs were many – an adjacent field appeared to be tufted in cotton due to the large numbers of funnel webs. So many variations on a theme – the seed heads of tall grasses were woven together by a funnel-web spider who made an aerial home. This funnel-web spider is quite small; the funnel opening would barely fit the end of a Q-tip.
One of my favorite types of spiders, the “trap door spiders,” make elaborate tunnels in the ground. Each has a silken trap-door that the spider opens in order to grab and drag under unsuspecting pray.
While all spiders make silk (at the very least to wrap cocoons with), not all spiders even use a web for hunting. It is quite common to find very large, active, fast brown spiders in the grass and in one’s house. These are often types of wolf spiders. As the name implies, wolf spiders hunt by stalking and catching their pray.
Finally, on lakes and ponds (often quite far from shore), fishing spiders can be found skating on the elastic surface of the water, relying on surface tension to keep them from sinking. I love fishing spiders – spending their days dancing on the ephemeral edge between water and sky.