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Orb webs of early September

The night was clear and the morning is cool. As I step from the house in this predawn hour, I notice the heavy dew. Sunrise is at about 6:40 a.m. and I plan to be out in the field to greet it. A calm dew-covered morning, often with fog, in early ...

Spider web
Orb web coated with drops from fog.

The night was clear and the morning is cool. As I step from the house in this predawn hour, I notice the heavy dew. Sunrise is at about 6:40 a.m. and I plan to be out in the field to greet it. A calm dew-covered morning, often with fog, in early September is the best time to view the abundance of spider webs that have been constructed. And as I walk towards the dawning sun, I'll have plenty of chances for backlit photos. The walk among the webs in tall plants is so wet that I need to wear waders to keep from being drenched. I arrive to find what I was hoping to see: hundreds of spiders, where on the late summer nights, they make their intricate snares, trying to snag insects that also abound here.

Spiders produce basically four types of webs. The irregular cob threads are those that we often see in corners of buildings or window sills. Sheet webs look like bowls or domes as they frequent the shrubs. The funnel web, very common in yards and roadsides, has a hole in the middle where the spider sits. Orb webs are circular and adorn bushes, trees and tall grasses all during the warmer times of the year. It is these orbs that I am seeking.

Though most webs are made to last, often for weeks, these circular ones are often redone each day. The typical scenario (though there are many exceptions) is for a spider to construct this food-catching device at dusk, sit back, and to let meals, in the form of night-flying insects, arrive: to stay at home and let food come to them, an effective way of being a successful sedentary hunter.

To ensure the catch, webs are made of two kinds of threads. The silks that extend to the center (the hub) are called spokes or radii. The circulating spirals are attached in a rounding manner towards the hub. While the spirals are sticky, adhering to any possible prey, the spokes are not. The spider is able to move about on this hunting snare without getting caught in its own trap. Many of the orb-weavers remain in the hub in an inverted pose for the duration of the nocturnal hunt.

By the time I arrive on the scene, the webs tell of a successful night's catch - or lack of it. As the hours pass from dusk to dawn, the temperature drops until the minimum, in the very early morning. It is during these cooling times that dew settles from the surrounding air onto any substrate. The grasses, goldenrods, asters and other field plants are dripping with the small drops, as are the webs. These vertical webs, backlit by a rising September sun, make for great photos. I have noticed that even the people who don't like spiders still find that such a pattern is highly photogenic. Though some spiders stay for the whole night, many find this wet web quite uncomfortable and they take shelter in their nearby retreat. From here, they can still feel if prey hits the web.

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Wandering among these orbs, I find five kinds of web-makers. These spiders range in color from brown to yellow, and in shapes from ball-like to long and narrow; but they all construct similar snares. The webs that are most photogenic, those undamaged by night activities, tell of disappointing results. Others that are torn speak of insect visits and catches. As the dawn brightens and warms, the dew leaves, and seeing the web is more difficult. Many will succumb to the breezes of the coming day, to be remade this evening.

My web-walk, in this pristine condition, is about only one hour long, but filled with new nature news. We do not need to walk in a field wet with dew to see the myriads of intricate webs on such a September morning. Orb-weaving spiders frequently make webs on manmade structures such as signs and fences. And as we pass by on our morning commute, we can see many of these webs: a statement of just how common they are at this time.

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books that are available now, including "Butterflies of the North Woods," "Spiders of the North Woods" and "Webwood." Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com .

Around the region, the pace of spring quickens
Larry Weber

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