Saturday, February 22, 2014

Henrietta: Part III

This is Part III of four parts about a European garden spider.
July 19:  Most days I feed Henrietta a nice fly.  I’ve become quite the expert fly catcher.  I remembered that when we clean fish, flies are a nuisance.  So I saved a ziploc bag that recently held a salmon steak.  I keep it on the deck, zipped shut most of the time.  When I want a fly, I open the bag and set in on the grass.  Whew!  Stinky!  Usually a fly or two is there within a couple of minutes.  I just pop my net over the bag and presto, I’ve got another fly.  Sometimes I catch one that is too large and it breaks free when I put it into the web. I try hard to catch one not too big, and not too small.  Fruit flies are hardly worth my effort; small ‘houseflies’ are about right. 

I think if it wasn’t for my services Henrietta would have moved to a better location to keep herself fed.  I hardly ever see prey she has snagged.  Sometimes I feel I should feed her more often than ‘most days,’ but she seems to be doing just fine.  She has grown significantly. I noticed her web was quite small after her last shedding; then each day a little bigger until is reached about 10 x14 inches.  If her web stays in good shape she doesn’t spin a new one every day, but more often than not my flies make a big hole in her web. I’m such a klutz, even with the tweezers.  When I go to bed, her tattered web is still there; when I get up in the morning, a pristine web hangs in its place.
Henrietta doesn’t seem to mind my being just inches away when she is at work.  I always thought a spider wraps prey immediately, injects it, and then sucks the insides out.    Often she does that, but that isn’t what I’m seeing today,  at least not with this rather small house fly.  She kills it first.  Once the fly is dead, she quickly twirls it round and round with her hind feet while she encases it in silk; then she drenches the silky wrap with some kind of moisture.  Once drenched, she slowly turns the fly, eating it. The blob gets smaller.  Part way through dinner Henrietta goes back to her hidy-hole with her fly. More slow turning and munching.  About forty minutes after capturing the fly, the fly is reduced to a tiny speck.  I think Henrietta ate every scrap.

I know Henrietta is done feeding when I see her get back into monitoring position.  Sometimes she waits in the center of her orb, but often she waits in her hidy-hole with one or two legs touching a special line which stretches from the hidy-hole to a spot near the center of the web.  Vibrations along the line tell her when a fly is caught.  She runs down this line to the web center and from there goes to the fly. 

July 23:  Henrietta has cleaned up her web and guy lines and sits about three inches from her hidey-hole.  I told Dale she looks very plump.  She probably ate the whole thing (the net). 

July 28, 2013  5 PM:  Henrietta has been in her hidy-hole since July 24.  Today she is still there, but her abdomen looks significantly smaller and her legs longer.  She has shed again!

July 30, 2013  7 AM: Henrietta has a new web.  It is small by her standards, but I expected that.  Her first one after her last shed was also small-- 5 1/2  x 7inches.

PM .... Henrietta is getting me into trouble.  We were gone all day.  Too cool to catch a fly when we left this morning and too late to catch one this evening.  But I feel sorry for her.  I put a pot on to boil for our pasta and then go outside to see what I can catch.  I catch a fruit fly on my compost bucket and put it in her web --- but the wind is blowing so hard she didn’t seem to know it is there.  Maybe he thinks such a tiny morsel isn’t worth bothering about. 

Multiple net swings and I came up with a bigger insect .... looks a little like a small caddis.  I am torn between figuring out just what kind of insect it is and feeding Henrietta.  Henrietta wins.  By now Dale has found my pot of water madly boiling away.  Gads!  It is hard to multi-task between my own tummy and Henrietta’s.  I pop the fly into her web and attend to my own cooking. My treat is alive but not very active.  It takes Henrietta a few minutes to attack, but I get to eat my own supper knowing Henrietta has hers. 


  1. At the rate she is shedding she is going to be as big as you soon. Lol love love your sketch of you with net. I wish I could sketch as good as you. :)

  2. Oh Elva, this is awsome. I need to look back and see if Henrietta is still with you.

  3. Elva, I enjoy everyone of your posts, and I am really interested in all your observations of Henrietta.

  4. Where's a fly when you need one? Love your ingenuity in setting lures for flies. Love this story! And the Elva selfie!