Tag Archives: Guatemalan long-jawed orb weaver (Tetragnatha guatemalensis)

We are Legion, for we are many (Part 3)

One interesting aspect of the gigantic spider web at Lake Tawakoni State Park is that, like all other communal webs, the builders are not the only inhabitants of the structure.  Generally speaking, social spiders often share their architectural wonders with many species of arachnids and insects alike.  North Texas’ own majestic marvel is no different.

By and large, long-jawed orb weavers (of the genus Tetragnatha) make up the vast majority of inhabitants.  Their numbers undoubtedly count in the millions.  They are the rightful owners and occupiers of this adaptive, growing spectacle.  In fact, walking through the web invites one to see these small spiders in mass quantities, whether that be in a blanket draped above your head or a writhing mass covering every inch of everything.  They are the apparent masters of their new realm, and they are solely responsible for the enormous and constantly-changing creation.

Nevertheless, I discovered they share their home with all manner of kith and kin, both arachnid and insect alike.  As I pointed out, such a thing is anticipated with communal webs such as this one, yet it never failed to amaze me each time I stumbled upon another squatter, another interloper who moved in and camped out in an abode built to house someone else.

A female Black & Yellow Argiope (a.k.a Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia) (209_0976)

The first visitor I discovered dwarfed her hosts by orders of magnitude.  A female Black & Yellow Argiope (a.k.a Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia), another orb weaver, sat quietly in the middle of her web as the long-jawed orb weavers scurried all around her in their frantic yet organized construction.  With their numbers so overwhelming, more than once I witnessed them chancing upon her web, yet she never moved nor made any indication that she would attack them—although I have no doubt she would.  She could kill as many as she wanted, though, and would have no impact whatsoever on their overall numbers.

An unidentified spider (209_0999)

As I attempted to get a close-up of some leaves caught in the middle of webbing, this small spider hurried into view just as I snapped the photo, then it promptly scampered up onto the web and out of sight.  While I’ve not identified the exact species in this case, I saw many of these scattered throughout the structure.  In fact, I saw a handful of these kinds of large-bodied spiders sharing the web as well, although too often they were impossible to photograph.

Surprisingly, true insects had moved in as well.  I discovered a type of mantis treating the web like they had always lived there.  Unfortunately, they were so small and so well camouflaged that it was impossible to get photos of them.  Their bodies were as thin as the web itself, so they could not be seen until they moved; otherwise, they blended in perfectly.

A Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) hiding in the massive spider web (210_1015)

Differential Grasshoppers (Melanoplus differentialis) seemed unconcerned with the web, often found resting within its midst and under cover of its thickest blanket.  Although not the best photograph, you’ll even note in that image that the grasshopper shares the frame with a long-jawed orb weaver (bottom-left) and a kind of jumping spider (top-left).  Not one of them seemed at all concerned about the others.

A Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) surrounded by spider web with two long-jawed orb weavers (of the genus Tetragnatha) nearby (210_1019)

That differential grasshopper enjoyed a perch completely shielded by webbing, but he was not alone.  If you look closely, there are two long-jawed orb weavers lurking nearby.  Both are hiding on the underside of leaves, one at top-left and another at bottom-left.

A slug caterpillar of the genus Euclea (210_1024)

I nearly overlooked this slug caterpillar of the genus Euclea (possibly Euclea delphinii or Euclea nanina, as both are presently indistinguishable from each other).  Its position near the middle of a web-covered bush, in addition to its color, made it virtually impossible to see.  Had I not been knelt down looking at a bit of web building, I would never have noticed it.  It regrettably could not be photographed up close since a shroud of web encircled its position, so all I could do was put the camera as near the web as possible and try to focus through it.

A Differential Grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) hanging from a leaf (210_1033)

Yet another differential grasshopper minding its own business in the middle of an arachnid nightmare.  This one clung easily to a leaf buried deep in the heart of spiderland.  Thankfully, I found a rather convenient hole in the web that allowed me to put the camera quite near this insect without disturbing a single strand of silk.

A female Black & Yellow Argiope (a.k.a Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia) (210_1031)

A mere five steps from the first one, I then discovered this second and much larger Black & Yellow Argiope.  Her web placed her at knee level.  Despite the growing throng of people that had appeared by then, and despite many of them getting quite near her to snap some photos, she never moved and never displayed even the smallest bit of interest in all the goings on.  She had three egg sacks hidden in the bush from which her web dangled.  They were impossible to photograph due to the impenetrable webbing that covered the whole of the plant.

[more images and observations to follow in Part 4, the last of this series]

[Update] The second photo shows a bronze jumping spider (Eris militaris).  The jumping spider in the top-left corner of the third photo is a bold jumping spider (Phidippus audax).

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]