We are Legion, for we are many (Part 2)

Let me first say not all of these photos turned out as presentable as I would have hoped.  Not only was I there early in the morning, but the sky was a maze of clouds that made for a constant war against improper white balance and lighting.  Each time I setup a shot and pulled the trigger, the sun would either poke its head from behind a cloud or would slip behind a silver lining—just in time to throw off the image’s color and light.  Thus is life. . .

I arrived at Lake Tawakoni State Park yesterday a few minutes before eight in the morning.  Having called them the day before and having learned what kind of madhouse it had been in response to the news of this massive spider web, I decided to go as early as possible in hopes of ameliorating my chances of having some private quiet time to investigate and ogle this natural wonder.

After paying the park entrance fee and speaking briefly to one of the rangers, I made my way to the nature trail that ultimately would guide me to an arachnid wonderland.  My steps were slow, measured, and I allowed my eyes to feast on every little thing that caught my attention, yet even I knew such intentional diversions could not hold me for long.  I wanted to rush headlong through the trees to witness the web for myself.  Eventually, and without guidance, I knew I had found the entrance to the spiders’ newfound kingdom.

Entering the massive spider web complex at Lake Tawakoni (209_0958)

Stretched across the path at chest level was a bridge of sheet web spanning the distance between a large oak and a large juniper.  Behind it, the magnificent structure extended as far as the eye could see, from treetop to ground, from limb to limb, and nary a place could be found that wasn’t shrouded to some degree in a silken cocoon.

Then I looked up.

Countless spiders dangling over my head (210_1008)

An arachnophobe’s worst nightmare painted the sky above me as voluminous amounts of silk filament created a whole new world, a realm where humans were no longer masters… but instead were just observers, and being observed.  Countless spiders could be seen everywhere I looked, some resting, some eating, some fighting, many spinning more web.

Only then did I approach the nearest tree to more closely examine a branch fully encased by this activity.

A tree branch covered with webbing and spiders (209_0971)

I counted dozens of spiders on that one branch alone.  But the odd thing was the species.  Even I know a long-jawed orb weaver (of the genus Tetragnatha).  Their name is apt for it perfectly describes the sinister fangs protruding from the end of jaws that look more like an extra pair of arms, raptor-like appendages jutting out from beneath tiny heads.  And these were definitely long-jawed orb weavers, but they existed in numbers I had never before imagined.  More to the mystery, they were acting like communal spiders when in fact the species is not social.

Then I realized something else: all orb weavers spin orb webs (hence the name), not sheet webs like what I witnessed being built and already in place.  These arachnids had undergone some dramatic change in behavior that not only incited them to work together cooperatively, but it also induced a dramatic change in the kind of web they normally would build.

The word ‘fascinating’ began to take on new meaning for me.

Trees and brush entombed in one large spider web (210_1005)

Many trees bowed under the weight of the web and its creators, and more than once did I look up through the branches only to realize the sun itself could not penetrate this silken shield.  And still I could see more spiders busying themselves with the day’s activities, so many of them in so many places that I rarely could step without carefully working my way around yet more web and more spiders.  I doubt I was ever more than a few inches from dozens of them; additionally, I was constantly forced to stop, retrieve an errant arachnid from somewhere on my body, and place it back on the nearest section of web—something never more than arm’s length from me.

Who are the builders, you ask?

Even more spiders hanging overhead (210_1086)

As you can see, never did I find it difficult to locate them, whether at the tops of the trees or crawling upon me as inadvertent hitchhikers unexpectedly plucked from their home by the hapless ape trying carefully to walk in their midst while not disturbing them.  So, as you can imagine, snapping a photo or two of the actual orb weavers presented no problem whatsoever.

Long-jawed Orb Weavers of the genus Tetragnatha (210_1012)
A Long-jawed Orb Weaver of the genus Tetragnatha (210_1021)
A Long-jawed Orb Weaver of the genus Tetragnatha (210_1041)

[more images and observations to follow in Part 3]

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