OCTOBER 9, 2021
YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
This week’s featured creature is quite fitting for the spooky month of October.
It has eight legs, eight eyes, and spins sticky webs to catch its snacks.
Can you guess what it is?
That’s right! This week we’re talking about a spider! But not just any spider, we’re looking at big (and beautiful) orb-weaver spiders!
Orb-weaver spiders are part of the Aranidae family of spiders—the third-largest spiders on the planet.
There are more than 2,800 known species of orb-weaver spiders on the planet today, and they’re found on every continent except Antarctica!
While each species is unique in terms of size and colour, they all share some common characteristics.
As you can probably guess from their name, orb-weaver spiders make giant, round webs.
They often reach up to one yard (three feet) across or larger!
Typically, they feature a spiral of sticky silk threads to help capture prey, while non-sticky straight threads (known as radial threads) provide support.
Some webs even include a wild-looking zig-zag known as a stabilimentum.
Scientists are still not exactly sure why some spiders add these to their webs and others don’t!
Unlike some other spider species, orb-weavers don’t actively stalk or hunt their prey. Instead, they wait off to the side and out of sight, and let their food come to them.
If a small insect wanders or flies into the web, its sticky nature will trap them. Their struggle to escape will send vibrations down the web.
Then the spider knows dinner is served!
They’ll bite the trapped creature using their chelicera—fang-like spikes near the front of their mouth.
This will inject venom into their prey, paralyzing it so they can wrap it in silk and eat it later.
It’s like packing a lunch for school—only a little creepier!
Orb-weavers come in many shapes, colours and sizes.
Orb-weavers are nocturnal spiders, spending the day hidden away from birds, lizards, snakes, and other predators.
As the sun sets, they’ll emerge and work to either repair an existing web or start building a new one.
As the sun begins to rise, they’ll often tear down their web by eating it.
This helps them stay hydrated as they consume any accumulated dew on the web as they go.
Female orb-weavers tend to be much larger than males.
Like other spiders, they lay their eggs in sacks—often attached to a nearby ledge or the underside of plants to help hide them while they wait to hatch.
A single set of egg sacs can contain hundreds of eggs!
But don’t worry. If the thought of an army of orb-weaver spiders is scary to you, they’re generally harmless.
They are not aggressive and will only bite humans if they feel threatened or are unable to locate a quick exit.
Even then, their venom is largely harmless to humans, with many comparing a bite to a bee sting.
They also only live about 12 months—so there’s little worry about overpopulation.
You’re most likely to see them in the evenings, spinning webs between the stems or branches of nearby plants or trees.
You might even see their webs lingering in the morning dew or on the dusty eaves of old buildings!
After mating, a female orb-weaver often eats the male!
Orb-weaver spiders were the inspiration for the spider in E. B. White’s children’s book, Charlotte’s Web!
Orb-weavers have three tiny claws on the end of their legs. The third claw helps them to handle the silken threads as they spin their webs!
Fossils of the earliest orb-weaver spiders date back to the Jurassic period, more than 140 million years ago!
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— George Eliot
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Today’s email was written by Joshua J. with contributions by Geoff W. and Branden S.
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