Tag Archives: barn spider (Neoscona crucifera)


Transient and fleeting.  A part of history as soon as they become the present.  Sometimes only captured by the mind’s eye and quickly faded into dim memories.

A Spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) on a common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) (2010_03_14_051351)

Spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) on common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

A great blue heron (Ardea herodias) standing in the shallows (2009_07_26_027929)

Great blue heron (Ardea herodias)

A twinflagged jumping spider (Anasaitis canosa) hiding on an outside electrical socket (2009_04_26_016720)

Twinflagged jumping spider (Anasaitis canosa)

A ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) in flight  (2009_11_26_041016)

Ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis)

A blue-ringed dancer (Argia sedula) perched on a blade of grass (2009_07_07_026225)

Blue-ringed dancer (Argia sedula)

A barn spider (Neoscona crucifera) hanging in the center of her web (2009_10_10_031194)

Barn spider (Neoscona crucifera)

A swift setwing (Dythemis velox) perched on a stem (2009_07_06_026092)

Swift setwing (Dythemis velox)

Walking with spiders – Part 3

Beginning in late summer and lasting until early winter, exploring the woods and woodland edges around White Rock Lake demands a certain sense of awareness and keen observation well beyond the norm.  Why?  Imagine a spider’s web anchored by a line up to 15 feet/five meters long, an orb more than two feet/60 centimeters wide, and a rather large arachnid hanging head-down in the middle.  Now imagine having such webs clustered together where every few feet another spider hangs, each one staggered horizontally and vertically in a way that creates an obstacle course made from silk.  That describes the peak season of barn spiders (Neoscona crucifera).


In some places, up to half a dozen of these creatures can occupy an area of about ten paces.  Some build webs so high that the only sign of them is an anchor line that rises toward the heavens.  Others build webs at about face level with anchor lines running some distance away.  It’s easy to look at the amount of silk and the length of the anchors with a feeling of awe coupled with confusion: how does the spider cover that much distance in order to build such a massive web?  No matter how they do it, they certainly do it well.

The more interesting aspect of this species comes from how variable they are.  It’s not just polychroism (variations in colors), but it’s also full polymorphism (variations in colors and patterns).  Pattern differences often are more subtle than color differences, though running across one that lacks nearly any pattern whatsoever means scratching my head and wondering if I’m looking at another species altogether.

A female barn spider (Neoscona crucifera) hanging on her web (2009_09_27_029782)

N. crucifera is often confused with the spotted orbweaver (a.k.a. cross spider or redfemured spotted orbweaver; Neoscona domiciliorum).  In fact, even I’ve seen barn spiders that were dark enough to be nearly identical to spotted orbweavers save a few minor differences.  In such cases, assuming I can’t tell by size (of the web and the spider), all I can do is note that the spider is one of the two.  (Barn spiders are larger than spotted orbweavers; the former also builds larger webs than the latter.)

A female barn spider (Neoscona crucifera) hanging on her web (2009_10_10_031201)

On the other hand, I’ve seen barn spiders that lacked nearly all markings and the usual colors.  Again in these cases, I’m left scratching my head and later performing diligent research with hope of putting a name with the face.  I often am surprised to discover it’s yet another variation of the same arachnid.  (Of special note is that northern populations of Neoscona crucifera can produce a white variation in females.)

A female barn spider (Neoscona crucifera) hanging on her web (2009_11_08_037657)

By the middle of autumn, a rapid change starts to appear: a change in shape.  Once round and plump abdomens full of eggs suddenly become flat and deflated.  The spiders take on the impression of ending.  Though they can live until the first freeze—and many do—the creation of the egg sac leaves the arachnid a shadow of its former self, an almost weak-looking thing compared to its previous size.

A female barn spider (Neoscona crucifera) resting on dead leaves (2009_11_28_042721)

I admit to an abundance of confusion in the guides and resources used for differentiating these two species.  Certain diagnostic markers given for one actually match some of the broad variations in the other.  The safest way to tell the difference in places where their territories overlap and a specimen matches both species is to use a microscope to look at the female’s genitalia, or to locate and identify the orientation of a very specific indentation on the carapace (this marker is essentially impossible to see in the field except under very specific circumstances and lighting).

Thankfully in my case, all the individuals, though varied, lacked any true resemblance to N. domiciliorum.  Then again, were one to take the guidance on colors and patterns as definitive, then several of them didn’t match N. crucifera either.  What I’ve seen in researching them is a growing body of evidence which indicates a level of polymorphism similar to cricket frogs.

[all photos are of females]

Walking with spiders – Part 2

Despite my passion for creepy crawlies (i.e., insects, arachnids, etc.) and my passion for flowers and my passion for—well, you get the point—despite my love of the smaller joys nature provides, I have yet to invest in a macro lens.  Times are tough and finances are tight, so I don’t see such an investment happening soon.  Nevertheless, I can’t allow lack of equipment to interfere with my desire to see and photograph as much life as I can find.

Female filmy dome spider (Neriene radiata) hanging on her web (2009_07_07_026162)

This female filmy dome spider (Neriene radiata) built her web alongside a creek in the shade of surrounding trees.  Hardly more than a hand’s width above the ground, she patiently hung from the underside of the web as she waited for a meal to drop by.  These small, delicate spiders have a habit of building webs anchored at multiple points vertically, and that design effort creates a domed sheet web unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  Getting her photograph proved challenging with her nearness to the ground and the shape of her food trap—especially with me trying desperately to avoid snagging or breaking any of the anchor lines—yet she sat quietly and never budged as I contorted myself into odd shapes looking for at least one reasonable view.

Female black & yellow argiope (a.k.a. yellow garden spider; Argiope aurantia) eating prey (2009_09_26_029375)

Still nibbling on prey which long before had stopped being identifiable, this female black & yellow argiope (a.k.a. yellow garden spider; Argiope aurantia) soaked up some rays at the woodland edge.  The floodplain stretched out before her like a living smorgasbord of food.  Behind her, thicket at the drip line gave way to riparian woodlands.  Her position offered her a delectable banquet of goodies on which to feast while she prepared to create her first egg sac.  I had hopes that a mild winter would allow her to survive (females of this species, when they survive the winter, live into the following year whilst continuing to grow, hence they become massive).  Unfortunately for her and for my hopes, our winter started early and hard freezes have already occurred…with more on the way.  No matter: her children will survive and they will take her place at the dining table starting next spring.

Wolf spider (Hogna sp.) standing on a leaf (2009_09_06_028837)

One of the joys of photography comes from discovering surprises in the frame when you review the images later.  Thus was the case with this wolf spider (Hogna sp.).  I knelt in mud and flooded grass trying to get a picture of a cricket frog.  Such frogs are small, mind you, and they vanish quickly beneath even the shortest ground cover.  But later that day when I looked at the results, there in the depth of field stood this little hunter whose stillness and shadow-like colors kept me from seeing it to begin with.

Female spinybacked orbweaver (a.k.a. crab spider, spiny orbweaver, jewel spider, spiny-bellied orbweaver, jewel box spider or smiley face spider; Gasteracantha cancriformis) with freshly caught prey (2009_10_03_030591)

I never for a moment thought I could get a respectable image of this female spinybacked orbweaver (a.k.a. crab spider, spiny orbweaver, jewel spider, spiny-bellied orbweaver, jewel box spider or smiley face spider; Gasteracantha cancriformis).  I stood on the opposite side of a large creek from where she and her web hung in the shadows.  In fact, I didn’t realize she was there until a small insect hit her trap and she scampered off to grab it.  I waited for her to return to the center of the web before I tried to get her photo.  Despite their unique appearance, these spiders tend toward the small end of the scale and usually go undiscovered until someone walks through their web.

Female funnel-web grass spider (Agelenopsis sp.) with freshly caught leafhopper (2009_10_17_031931)

With heavy dew on the ground, seeing this female funnel-web grass spider (Agelenopsis sp.) proved easy: a small plot of land no larger than a car had four shimmering traps stretched across the wet grass.  Thankfully she caught a small leafhopper just as I took her photo.  You can barely see it there near her mouth.  Here’s another view that makes the prey a tad easier to see.

Female funnel-web grass spider (Agelenopsis sp.) with freshly caught leafhopper (2009_10_17_031934)

Interestingly enough, grass spiders like this do not spin webs that are sticky.  The silk dries and serves a more net-like purpose, trapping insects by entwining them when they land and keeping the critters held for a second or two.  Just long enough for the spider to erupt from the funnel, grab and bite the prey, then return with it into the recesses of their web where they remain unseen.  This helps ensure other insects don’t associate the web with danger, and it also helps the spider enjoy its meal without interruption.

Female barn spider (Neoscona crucifera) sitting in the middle of her orb web (2009_10_10_031233)

And finally a barn spider (Neoscona crucifera).  Often confused with the spotted orbweaver (a.k.a. cross spider; Neoscona domiciliorum), the barn spider will be the focus of part 3 of this series.  Why one post dedicated to one kind of spider?  Because just when you thought it was difficult to differentiate one species from another or one gender from another, wait until you see how polymorphism makes this species a real challenge to identify.