Thought I’d post something different – a little taste of home. Literally from my own backyard in fact.
This is a female eriophora biapicata, or Garden Orb-weaving spider (females are about one-quarter to one-third bigger than males). Unlike many Australian arachnids (and most Australian wildlife in general), this species doesn’t want to kill you. While this particular species is native to Australia, there are over 2,500 species of orb-weaver and they can be found on all six non-frozen continents, usually in bush or forested areas.
I spied this lovely lady (Mrs H & I dubbed her “Lady Portia”) toiling away between my shed and my hedge just before midnight and couldn’t help but stalk her for a little bit, trying as best I could to record her toil. To give an idea of scale, her body is about an inch long and her legspan would be around two inches. Her web now spans a gap of about two feet, is suspended perhaps three feet from the ground and has a diameter of about 15 inches.
As I said, these spiders aren’t dangerous (unless you’re an insect). Sure, you’d feel it if one bit you, but you wouldn’t have your insides liquefied and then sucked out of a hole in your corpse. Fortunately, even a mildly painful bite is unlikely because this orb-weaver is nocturnal and quite considerate, completely dismantling their webs around dawn and then spending all day tucked up asleep in some secluded foliage. To repay Lady Portia for her neatness I think I might leave the yard light on and attract some bugs for her.
Back in Adelaide I was fortunate enough to rent a small house built on two blocks, so it had a massive backyard. Equally fortunate was that most of the yard was complete overgrown chaos, so it was both low-maintenance and a haven for insects, which of course brought many hungry spiders: orbs outside, hunstmen & daddy long-legs inside (both of which we left alone – they’re great natural pest control). Mrs H & I used to sit on the back verandah and watch the orbs get to work and make their endless circles. There wouldn’t be just one or two either – it was almost like our yard had been chosen as a colony by Spider Strategic Command. On a single hot December night I (very carefully and with a torch) picked my way through the colony and counted eleven brand new orb webs, from ground level up to about thirty feet up in a liquedamber tree & staffed by at least three distinct varieties of weaver, all in less than a quarter-acre. The largest of the webs (inhabited by Dr. Octagon) ran straight across a section of my lawn, from the fence to the walkway that split the backyard, a distance of at least seven feet (to this day I’m amazed that they can see so far and work out how to build their webs so precisely).
Given the number of spiders and their proximity, it came as no surprise to me one evening to see two weavers actually coming to blows over a building spot one evening! Well, not so much blows, it was more like spider sumo. They noticed each other at the same time and immediately ran headlong into battle, trying to lever each other off of the leaf with their tangled limbs (I still cannot comprehend how any animal manages more than four limbs, let alone eight – as well as eight eyes, poisonous fangs and a rear-mounted silk-dispenser). It didn’t last long as one was quite larger than the other and, quite literally, picked up his opponent by his front legs and threw him backwards over his head. The vanquished spider, unharmed but put in his place, scurried off into the hedge, no doubt muttering some unprintable spidery words to himself. Before living at that house I’d never seen an orb-weaver before, but by the time I left I was hooked and looking for them everywhere. That was almost six years ago now and, three houses later, I’ve finally found another place that plays host to the mighty weavers. Or they’ve found me …
Insects, with their countless species and vast numbers, may rule the visible world, but spiders’ staggering variety and their adaptation, over the life of this planet, to nearly every conceivable climatic and ecological niche really is hard to overlook. However, while I’m enthralled by spiders’ weird alien beauty find and all their lives fascinating, the thought of a spideras big as a weaver crawling across my skin still brings up the old “gah! squash!” reflex. I suppose even the full knowledge that something can’t kill you even if it wants to is no cure for the creeps. So, much as I love these babies I reckon I’ll be happy to keep on keeping my distance.