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WHAT IS THAT?

 Ever since my daughter was a little girl, she has been fascinated with the natural world.  It mattered not whether we were on vacation or just exploring our backyard, her inquisitive mind and sharp eyes enabled her to find something fascinating wherever we happened to be.  More often than not, she would be the first to make such a find.  As such, on a recent visit, it was no surprise that, while walking around the deck of our home with my wife, she spotted something hanging from beneath one of the deck rails.  Immediately she exclaimed, “What is that?

       Below one of the rails, she just happened to notice what looked very much like a small, brown paper bag measuring an inch or so in diameter.  The object was suspended from the rail by a number of slender filaments.

       Within minutes, my granddaughter and I joined my wife and daughter on the porch.  Each of us marveled at how well the small, round object was camouflaged dangling next to the deck’s brown wood.

YELLOW GARDEN SPIDER EGG SAC - House - 26 Aug 2018 (1)

       As has been the case so many times over the years, finding a backyard treasure perked our curiosity.  We just had to find out what we were looking at. 

       I suggested it might be a spider’s egg case.  Armed with this possible identification, my wife searched the internet looking for photos of spider egg cases.  In just a few minutes, she emerged from our home office and announced she was convinced it was a yellow garden spider’s (Agiope aurantia) egg sac. 

       I then retreated to my natural history library to learn more about the yellow garden spider and its egg sac.

       Leafing through the pages of several books I learned the female yellow garden spider creates one to four of these impressive egg cases per year; most are constructed from late summer to fall.  Working under the cloak of darkness she lays anywhere from 300 to 1,000 or more eggs on thin sheets of silk.  She then wraps them up forming a tough, brown silk ball.  The rugged covering protects the eggs from both the elements and predators.

       In the spring, the young spiders emerge from the egg sac and venture out into the world.  As you might expect very few of these tiny spiders survive long enough to reproduce.  Some of the spiders eat each other, still others are caught by predators such as mud daubers and birds. SPIDER WEB - BLOG - 25 May 2018

       It was truly amazing how our daughter’s backyard discovery led to a memorable event shared by three generations of our family.  In addition, it reinforced our appreciation for the amazing variety of life that lives just outside the backdoor.

       I guess you can see why I will never tire of hearing a family member say, “What is that?”

THE HUMMINGBIRD-SPIDER CONNECTION

       To many, hummingbirds and spiders represent a classic example of beauty and the beast.  In spite of that, spiders play a key role in the life of the ruby-throated hummingbird.  The thing that bonds these two very different creatures together is the spider web.

       Spider webs are extremely strong, sticky, and flexible.  Remarkably, based on weight, the strength of the web’s high tinsel strands is equal to steel.  Spiders use their amazing webs to capture food.

       The ruby-throated hummingbird visits spider webs to steal small insects that are captured by the web’s sticky fibers.  In addition, they will also actually prey on small spiders. 

       When the female rubythroat is building her nest, she plucks bits of the web to construct her nest.  In fact, spider webs are one of key materials used in nest construction.  The fibers help anchor the nest to the limb on which it is built.  They also cement the other construction materials that form the nest.  In addition, the stretchy fibers allow the nest to expand.  This is extremely important as it helps prevent rapidly growing young hummers from falling out of the nest.

       Spider webs also pose a risk to hummingbirds.  Each year countless hummingbirds become ensnared when they become entangled in a spider web as they try to glean nesting material or food.  In addition, others accidentally fly into a spider web spread across a woodland path or bed of flowers.

       When this happens, the likelihood of a hummingbird escaping a spider web is slim.  In some cases, when a spider senses a bird is caught in its web it will crawl to the bird and rapidly wrap it up in webbing just as it would a beetle or butterfly.

       In other instances, the spider simply allows the bird to struggle until it dies.  When this occurs, spiders will often cut an entrapped bird loose from the web and let it fall to the ground.

       If an ensnared hummingbird is extremely lucky, somebody will notice the bird and attempt to set it free.  In the vast majority of the cases, if the bird is found soon enough, it can be saved. 

       Should you ever find a hummingbird struggling in a spider web, immediately remove it.  Take the bird to a cool, shady location and remove ALL of the fibers adhering to the bird’s body.  This process can take several minutes.  Whatever you do, do not squeeze the bird as you are working.  Simply hold it loosely in one hand and gently peel away the tacky threads using a pair of tweezers.

       Once you have finished, hold the bird in your hand, and allow it to drink hummingbird nectar offered in the plastic lid to a soft drink bottle.  Dip the bill into the liquid.  In most cases, the bird will immediately extend its tongue into the fluid and begin feeding.  Never leave the bill in the liquid for any length of time.

       Feeding the bird before it is released will enable the hapless bird to regain some of the energy it expended while struggling for its life.

       When the hummingbird seems to have regained its strength, place the bird on the palm of your hand.  When it is ready to fly, it will suddenly begin rapidly beating its wings and fly away.

       If the bird doesn’t immediately respond after you have removed all of the spider webs from its feathers, place it in a brown paper bag and loosely fold the top of the bag.  Place the bag in a cool place.  Then check on the bird from time to time.  Once the hummingbird begins fluttering inside the bag, you know it is ready to be released.

       Believe me it is truly rewarding to see a hummingbird you rescued from certain death fly away.

 

BACKYARD SECRET: The Secret of the Vanishing Spiderweb

Have you ever found a beautiful spiderweb one evening and returned the next morning to admire it in the sunlight only to find that it had mysteriously disappeared?  When you have such an experience, you cannot wonder what in the world happened to this remarkably structure.  The answer to this mystery is perhaps as odd as the disappearance of the web itself.

Surprisingly, in many cases, the web is simply eaten by its creator.  If that is the case, you might ask yourself, “Why in the world would a spider eat a web it only used for a few hours and required a lot of time and energy to fashion?”    Part of the reason is webs lose their stickiness.  As a result, they hapless insects that would normally find them stuck in a web are able to struggle free before the spider can dispatch them.  Also, if a spider eats its own web, it recycles some of the energy and protein used to spin the sticky strands used to weave its beautiful and deadly web.  In addition, it ensures that each night it is using a fresh, highly efficient web.