Along came a spider
who sat down beside her
Only instead of the spider coming to sit beside me, I chose to sit down beside her.
Here are my journal notes from September third: "Too much salt in my eyes. Sweat runs in a little rivulet down my back. I told myself after a couple of years of 'bugging' (photographing insects) that I was going to be kinder to myself, that I didn't need to fry in the hot sun ... but here I am. doing it again, and by choice. "
This little saga started Aug 11. While looking for insects at Elkton Community Gardens, we find a big black and yellow garden spider ( Argiope aurantia ) along the edge of the wetlands ... and another ... and another. Five in all. I immediately want to put prey in a web, but I can't find anything that I can catch. It is parched and dry here.
A week later we go back to Elkton. I grab my insect net and go into my back yard to catch a couple of grasshoppers. None. Nada. Unsettling! Years ago when we fished for brown trout in August I often caught a couple of dozen in a few minutes -- good brown trout bait. Over and over again this summer we notice a lack of insects, especially mid to late summer. Did the last two summers of heavy wildfire smoke knock down insect populations? Drought? Something is different.
We still go to Elkton and I happened to be watching a spider when a bee flies into her net. Bam! The spider has her saran-wrapped in silk so quickly I can hardly believe it. That just makes me want to feed her all the more. She obviously can catch her own food, but Dale and I want to photograph the whole process.
I few days later, up in the Cascade mountains I find grasshoppers. I quickly catch four. The next day, September third, we head back to our spiders. Fortunately I have the foresight to pack my wiggly grasshoppers next to an ice pack.
Only one of the original five garden spiders is still in the same spot, but the biggest was still there. It is an awkward place to photograph. I have to balance myself on wobbly cobbles to get close to her spider web. Fortunately Dale has a stronger lens and solid footing. I take out one chilled grasshopper and wiggle it into her net. The spider zooms to the top of her guy lines and just sits. The grasshopper doesn't move. Only my sweat moves. I wiggle the grasshopper some more and finally it starts its own wiggling.
Zoom! Down comes the spider. She quickly spins the grasshopper round and round, wrapping it in sheets of silk in the process. In two seconds the grasshopper is immobilized. Spiders have multiple spinnerets and can use them individually or in tandem. She obviously blasts away with several spinnerets.
After wrapping her prey she moves to another spot on her web. Spiders eat by injecting a digestive enzyme to liquify the innards of their prey. She now needs to give the enzyme time to work.
I decide to see if she is interested in another grasshopper ...... yes! She wraps that one just a quickly and also sets it aside. AND she catches a small insect of her own.
I can't help but wonder how much silk she has and since there aren't any other spiders to feed, I offered her a third grasshopper. This is where it became apparent that chilling my grasshoppers was a good idea. This grasshopper had warmed a little and quickly gets away from me. I try again, and loose that one too. But she catches a fourth insect without my help. She obviously can generate gobs of silk between meals. She now has four insects to feed on. We are heading home, going to get out of this heat.