Walking with spiders – Part 1

I used to take three kinds of walks: (1) without a camera so I could enjoy myself sans worrying about capturing this scene or that critter; (2) with a simple point-and-shoot camera I could drop in my pocket so I didn’t have to drag around too much camera equipment but could still snap a photo or two if the mood struck; and (3) with my dSLR, various lenses, filters, tripod and/or monopod, and all manner of equipment so I could focus seriously on capturing images of my experiences and encounters.

All of these photos stem from the second type, one with a point-and-shoot camera, a kind of walk I no longer take.  (I figure if the effort warrants carrying a camera, it warrants carrying the whole shebang.)

A female common hentz jumper (Hentzia palmarum) clinging to the side of a picnic table (20080629_08309)

I sat at a painted picnic table some years ago and watched as beautiful creatures scampered about, none of them worried for my presence because I sat still as a stone rests upon a shore.  That’s when this female common hentz jumper (Hentzia palmarum) walked up to me on the side of the metal structure.

Like all jumping spiders, she demonstrated that marvelous curiosity that makes them turn to face movement, turn to face anything that approaches, turn to face whatever might be out of the ordinary.

Together we played a game: Each time I moved the camera near to her for a photo, she would leap to the lens, investigate it for a moment, then leap back to the table.  This was a delightful encounter despite it not being conducive to good photography.

A male common hentz jumper (Hentzia palmarum) clinging to the side of a picnic table (20080629_08313)

Following close behind her was this male common hentz jumper (Hentzia palmarum).  Were they an item?  I would never know, of course.

Unlike his female counterpart, the male displayed a shy form of curiosity, never jumping to the lens but always turning to look.  If I moved the camera too near, he backed up beneath the edge of the table and took quick glances to see if it was safe to come back out.  Perhaps he had a rough childhood…

The table surface moved constantly with the comings and goings of acrobat ants (Crematogaster sp.).  It seemed the spiders had a nice selection of feast material…assuming they could capture one without eliciting ire from all the others.

A male bold jumping spider (Phidippus audax) hanging on the side of a house (20080809_10721)

At the family farm in East Texas, Mom and I watched this male bold jumping spider (Phidippus audax) climb the wall around the back door.  Each time I moved the camera for a better view, the arachnid lurched this way or that way, always putting the support pole between us before turning to gaze at the camera with serious intent.

I felt amazed at how large this specimen was compared to the same species when found in Dallas.  Their size indicates their age, hence I concluded Dallas had a colder winter than did East Texas (which is generally true).

When we have a mild winter with limited freezes, adult spiders can survive into the next year; they then become the granddaddy spiders whose size makes them intimidating for anyone with even limited arachnophobia.

A long-jawed orbweaver (Tetragnatha sp.) walking along the side of a concrete wall (20081004_13018)

Upon the White Rock Lake spillway where a colony of ants busily focused on relocating their colony, this long-jawed orbweaver (Tetragnatha sp.) continually looked for a way to cross the raging river of insects.  I watched it attempt this several times, and each time the spider found itself the uncomfortable subject of much ant attention as guards protected the larvae being moved by workers.

Part of me suspects this is a Guatemalan long-jawed orb weaver (Tetragnatha guatemalensis).  The reason for this is twofold: (1) that species is common in Dallas, and (2) I am forever enamored of the Guatemalan long-jaw for the giant spider web they built two years ago at Lake Tawakoni State Park.

That leviathan silken construct no doubt represents the most powerful and magical nature moment I have ever experienced.  To walk for acres and acres without leaving the inside of one massive web…  To see a species act communally when such behavior is rare for them…  To look in any direction and see thousands of spiders, many millions of them covering a vast swath of forest…  To see an entire peninsula transformed from verdant woodlands to shimmering web, from the ground to the treetops, silk stretching in every direction and spun so thick that it blocked out the sun…  To witness so many spider species taking advantage of the enormous insect-capturing capabilities of the phenomenon…  To stand silently in the midst of something so rare outside the tropics, something profound and powerful built in such a short time that even park rangers were taken by surprise when the scope of the web was finally realized…

I could go on for days trying to describe that experience.  Let me just say that anyone who has never been inside such a thing cannot understand.  Words do it injustice.  Standing in the midst of many millions of spiders who built a web that encompassed a massive plot of land and everything in it, and built the web to capture prey and not as part of a dispersal event…  Well, let’s just say the encounter was spiritual.

But I digress…

A funnel-web spider (Barronopsis texana) sitting at the entrance to its web (2009_09_27_029766)

Near a bit of woodlands separating White Rock Lake Park from a nearby residential area, I stepped behind an old rusty sign to peer into the understory.  Just in case something of interest might be hiding there.  A few common birds flitted about the canopy, but otherwise the area seemed devoid of skunks or rabitts or snakes, the kinds of things I hoped to find, so I turned to walk away.

That’s when I noticed this on the back of the sign: tucked quietly in a corner full of webbing, this funnel-web spider (Barronopsis texana) hid quietly in the shadows.  I retrieved the little point-and-shoot from my pocket, tiptoed over to the sign, and snapped one picture before my presence sent the arachnid scampering into the web.

A twinflagged jumping spider (Anasaitis canosa) looking at me (2009_04_26_016642)

The delightfully entertaining twinflagged jumping spider (Anasaitis canosa) remains common, ubiquitous in fact.  When the weather is warm, I can find half a dozen or more as they race about my patio looking for food.

Like all jumping spiders, their insatiable curiosity leads to much amusement and interaction.  I often put a hand down and let them jump to it, then lift them up for a close look before lowering them so they can continue their hunt.  And if I want to stare into their eyes, I simply need to move near them and they immediately turn to face me.

They’re called “twinflagged” because of the white visible on the palps (the small appendages on either side of the mouth).  When moving about, they oscillate the palps up and down opposite each other.  The white being terribly visible makes this constant motion look like white flags being waved on either side of the face.  It’s quite intriguing to see and quickly makes clear precisely where they got their name.

7 thoughts on “Walking with spiders – Part 1”

  1. Who can argue with jumping spiders – looks and charisma.

    I wonder if it was a Tetragnatha that I saw in southern Mexico – same look, and I couldn’t believe the extent of the webbing and how many spiders there were. I’m not normally freaked by spiders, but that experience had me a little jittery.

    I gave up the POS as well, and it’s hard for me to imagine going anywhere now without the Canon on my back.

  2. Looks and charisma… That’s an excellent description of jumping spiders, Ted!

    Your Mexico experience sounds like the giant web built here in North Texas. Tetragnatha guatemalensis grouped in the millions and built sheet webs covering everything for many acres. It was really cool since they’re orb weavers but adapted that season to the explosion in midge and mosquito populations.

    A lot of people came to see it after it hit the national news; many of those folks seemed more than a little jittery about standing in the middle of so many spiders (besides, it wasn’t uncommon to have the critters falling out of the treetops and landing on you and it was difficult to move through the web without picking up hitchhikers along the way, so there was a lot of panicked dancing going on with people screaming the typical “IS IT ON ME!? IS IT ON ME!?”–and yes, I stifled more than a few laughs).

    LOL! POS. Yes, I gave it up as well. Once I realized anything worth photographing was worth photographing with the Canon, I put my little pocket camera to sleep with a warm ceremony to see it off.

    1. I should add there is a good summary of the 2007 event documented at Texas Entomology.

      That first photo really captures what it was like. That also includes the research, links to the media articles and other photos, and a good deal of information on the whole thing.

      I admit I was and am intoxicated by the happening. Visiting it really felt like walking through an alien landscape. (Since spiders don’t bother me even in large numbers, I find myself in limited company with that infatuation.)

  3. Love these! I’m recently enamored of arachnids myself, and really enjoyed these pics and the education. I think I had heard about the massive spiderweb…somewhere – but that photo you linked to is amazing. I wish I could have been there.

    1. Thanks, Amber! Even with a primitive point-and-shoot camera, it’s hard to make a spider look bad.

      The giant web was in the news for a few months in 2007 (all the way up to CNN and the NYT), so I’d be more surprised if you hadn’t heard about it. Local channels especially covered it since it was of major scientific interest–and it played to the “everything’s bigger in Texas” mentality.

  4. I’m quite fond of spiders (I’m the Spider Savior at work when my cube mates squeal for help) but I can’t quite imagine what it would feel like to be in the midst of so many. I’d like to think I’d be awestruck, as you were, but only the experience could tell.

    1. I love that you’re the arachnid rescuer at work, Jain. That’s so cool!

      It’s hard to explain what the giant web was like. I saw more than a few people proclaiming “I’m not afraid of spiders!” who then couldn’t get beyond the entryway to the web. It spanned the area of two American football fields and there wasn’t a spot in, on or around it that wasn’t moving with spiders, so I couldn’t blame anyone who dared not enter. Still… “Awestruck” is definitely the way I felt.

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