Wednesday, January 13, 2016

I always love the black house spiders

Unlike the orb weavers who make a stunning show in summer then disappear, my black house spiders are a constant presence.

Please meet Lily, my favourite this year. She lives behind an outdoor art work of a lily hanging on the verandah, hence her name. Lily is a black house spider, Badumna insignis.

When I first met her, Lily was quite large in the abdomen. (Spiders don't mind you mentioning this.) She was gravid, ready to lay her eggs.

She appeared less often, but did come out for dinner one night.

A few weeks later, and her babies emerged with her. They only hung around a few days and were gone.

If you click on the photo below and look closely, you can see that her fangs work inwards like pincers. She is a 'modern' spider, an araneomorph. The so-called 'primitive' spiders like the trapdoors, Australian funnel-webs, tarantulas and mouse spiders, have their fangs pointing down so they raise their bodies to strike. They are known as mygalomorphs. You can also see her little claws which she uses to hold onto the web. Gorgeous creature!

No more photos. Good night.

Monday, December 7, 2015

My garden orb weavers

This is the first of the introductions to the regulars for this summer. I have found two garden orb weavers this year, both Eriophora pustulosa (family Araneidae). These are distinguished by three little bumps on the end of their abdomens.

Erik-Rose is on the rose bushes. She is brownish. Erio-birch is on the white-barked birch tree. She is much paler. They vary colour greatly depending on where they rest during the day. Despite intense searching, I haven't managed to find the resting place for either. Yet!

They are both still very small, less than a centimetre in body length. My hope is that both will make it to adulthood. Well, they've got this far. I shall keep you updated with their progress. But first, their photos. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Erik-Rose is hanging in the typical pose in the web. They always hang face down.

She wasn't impressed with my light and flash and presence. She pulled in her web and wound it up and headed back into the rose bush. She then sat and ate the ball of silk. She couldn't afford to waste all that protein! I have seen this before. I shall have to be more subtle. This is a moment after she pulled in the web - it happened very fast. She's heading off.

This is Erio-birch looking very like every Eriophora. She's actually much paler than Erio-rose, but it doesn't show here. She's also much less concerned about my presence.

Tonight, Erio-birch had moth stew for dinner.

The other regulars include two black house spiders, one American common house spider and one little hump-backed spider. More about them next time! 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Back in action

I have submitted the manuscript for my next book The Memory Code to my publisher, Allen & Unwin, and can finally get back to blogging my precious spiders.

I have been delighted with the number of comments on this blog and emails I have received, many with photos and even videos. A number of American correspondents are writing with stories of golden orb weavers (Nephila sp.) and yellow and black spiders (Argiope sp.) and their golden egg sacs as the spider season in the US is drawing to a close. Ours is just starting here in Australia.

Poppy has sent me a number of videos and photographs of Charlotte, the golden orb weaver who is almost certainly one of the species Nephila clavides. The videos are amazing as Charlotte is tossed around in the wind but still catches the grasshopper Poppy has tossed into her web. Poor grasshopper! Like Poppy, I do feel sorry for it, but such is the way of the world.

Here are some stills from Poppy's video. I think there are two Charlottes. Poppy may explain more!

The University of Florida has a great page on Nephila clavides - just click on this sentence.

This is a link to the blog I wrote about the golden orb weavers in Castlemaine, Nephila edulis, a few years ago. 

I would be delighted to receive more photos. I love getting comments. And I shall soon add photos and stories of my spiders. Just comment below and I will tell you how to send photos.

Meanwhile - it is good to be back!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I still love my spiders but ...

[updated November 2015]

This blog is temporarily silent. I still adore my spiders and go out and watch them every night.

The research that I did for my PhD and now as an Honorary Research Associate at La Trobe University, Melbourne, has taken over my life. The book of that research has been published by Cambridge University Press. It's all about the way non-literate cultures memorise huge amounts of rational knowledge and why this explains the purpose of monuments such as Stonehenge, the great houses of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico and the mound site of Poverty Point in Louisiana. I have just been awarded an Arts Victoria grant to write about my research for the general reader expanding on the memory methods and the archaeology sites.  That book will be published by Allen & Unwin in Australia in July 2016. Atlantic Books will publish the UK edition.

Please come and read more on my website and blog.

So I now have far less time for spiders than I would like. But I still adore them and watch them all I can.  I will be back blogging my spiders when the new book is finished.

Lynne Kelly

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My smart little orb weaver

A new spider season. As summer starts, the webs are getting bigger, and there are lots of them. Last season there were few orb weavers around. After a wet winter this year, there are plenty. Three of the orb weavers I am checking every night are three different species. I have become extremely fond of the little spider in this blog, who I've watched grow from a speck to near her full size, a body length of about 10 mm.

Intelligentsia is a clever little spider. She built her web across the door into my Garret, the studio where I write. I have 'trained' orb weavers before - moved the main structural lines which were in the wrong place a few times, and the spider seems to get the idea. I did the same with Intelligentsia. For a month or so now, she has built her web with a curved 'doorway' for me just high enough to go in and out with ease. Unfortunately, husband Damian forgot to duck last week and ruined Intelligentsia's web. Fortunately, as he bumbled into her real estate during the day, she was safely tucked away in her retreat.
[Click on the images for full size.]

Intelligentsia has the bumps on her abdomen, front and rear, typical of her species, Eriophora pustulosa. Her underside has the black patch which also distinguishes the species. This is the view I get as I leave the Garret. 

Intelligentsia comes out each night, repairs her web (or rebuilds it if some silly man has forgotten to duck). She lives the usual active life of a spider, including catching, killing and and devouring insects.

During the day, Intelligentsia retreats to a patch of old web from a long-gone cobweb spider in a gap in the verandah roof. One leg is always in touch with her orb web, just in case dinner arrives early.

I'll introduce the other two orb weavers in the next blog. And keep you informed on Intelligentsia's life.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The final weeks of Wonderful, the garden orb weaver.

Wonderful was a garden orb weaver, Eriophora pustulosa. I told of her life in a previous post, The story until here ... She hung around on her web all summer, getting larger and fuller in the abdomen until she was very fat (for her size). Every night I photographed her. (All images enlarge if you click on them.)

Then one night she was gone. I checked throughout the night and in the morning and throughout the day. There was her retreat, silk lined and spiderless.

The next night she returned. But the huge abdomen was now very thin. Somewhere nearby there was an egg sac. I started hunting. These spiders are known to be very good at hiding the egg sac, but then again, I'm a master spider watcher. I knew I'd find it.

Each night she spun a web as usual, and usually took it down before morning. Each day I hunted for that egg sac.

She fed night and day and started to regain condition. I kept hunting.

It was a horribly dry summer, so on hot days I watered her. As soon as the light sprinkles from the hose stopped, she emerged to drink. I hunted some more.

She hung around, looking beautiful. The leaves started to fall from the bushes, but no egg sac was revealed. This photo ...

... was the last I took of her. The next morning she was gone. I couldn't find any trace of a body. And the egg sac? I'm still hunting.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Geelong's leaf-curlers - simply stunning

We went to the Geelong Botanic Gardens on Monday was to see the pelargoniums. It was a stunningly wonderful surprise to see the giant ferns and palms decorated magnificently by the webs and retreats of lots of Australian leaf curling spiders (Phonognatha graeffei, family Araneidae). All photos were taken by Damian Kelly.

These incredible spiders weave a part orb web and then draw up a leaf to create their retreat. They choose a fresh leaf from the ground below their web site, and then haul it up. Spiders have been witnessed lugging leaves up to four times their own weight. 

When in place, they stitch and tension the leaf, the tension in the silk curling the leaf into a cylindrical retreat as it dries out. Drier leaves are harder to curl breaking easily as the spider tries to bend them.

 Research with leaf curling spiders has shown they select their leaves very carefully. Under test conditions, some decided, later in the weaving process, to remove a dry leaf to replace it with a moister, greener leaf. When a tad on the lazy side, or fortunate enough to have the opportunity, a leaf curling spider may choose to haul an empty snail shell into the web instead.

Look how beautifully she holds onto her web with her front legs.

 I suspect the smaller spider is a male approaching the female's leafy retreat.

The males cohabit in the leaf retreat with immature females, waiting for her to moult. During that vulnerable window, he mates safely. Males will also cohabit with mature females and respond agonistically to rival males. But it’s not all rosy for the male Phonognatha. Females may eat him anyway.

Oh, and while we're talking about the wonderful Geelong Botanic Gardens, here are some of their pelargoniums. The only thing I enjoy photographing more is spiders.