Northland Nature: Wide world of web-watching

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at

The orb web of a banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata) as seen during a recent morning walk. (Photo by Larry Weber)

Late August continues to be a remarkable time. With fewer than 14 hours of daylight, we are seeing migration of warblers, geese, nighthawks, raptors at Hawk Ridge as well as monarch butterflies. The woods still has a plethora of mushrooms. Roadsides and fields abound with tall yellow native goldenrods.

Not only do they add much floral colors to the scene, they are also the site of myriad insects and spiders. And, these days are the best for spider web-watching.

Several conditions come together in late summer making this primetime for web-watching. Spiders have been growing all summer and are now full grown. Abundant insects provide plenty of food. Days are warm enough for their activity.

But the nights and early mornings allow for us to view these webs. A clear night sends out spiders to construct their insect-catching snares. As night progresses into cool mornings, dew settles onto plants of fields, roadsides and swamps — and the webs. The rising sun provides for illumination for us to observe and photograph these droplet-covered marvelous works. Web-watching in early morning is best done as we move toward the dawn, giving a back-lit scene.

We tend to think of webs for spiders (the word spider is a derivative of “spinder”), but many of these eight-legged hunters do not make webs, and use other methods to catch prey. Among those making webs, four types exist:


  • Common indoors and out are cobwebs, which look like a mass of threads; they are more complicated than they appear.
  • Looking like cloths on grass are funnel webs. A central hole where the spider stays gives the funnel web its name.
  • Frequently in evergreens are sheet webs; they often look bowl-shaped.
  • But the one that I look for at this time is the circular orb web. And conditions are just right now for these webs.

Though there are exceptions, most orb webs are formed at dusk. They aim to catch night-flying insects. They remain during the calm night and into the dew-covered cool mornings before being knocked down by winds.
Most are constructed in a vertical position, and are easier to catch flying insects. Moths appear to be the intended victims, but other nocturnal insects are accepted, too.

The orb web of a shamrock spider (Araneus trifolium) as it appears in a dew-covered morning in late August. (Photo by Larry Weber)

The orb webs are truly remarkable formations. Several kinds of silk go into the making of a single web. The protein silk comes from glands within the spider’s abdomen. Each gland has a tube to carry silk to the spinnerets on the “tail” end of the body. When exposed to the air, liquid silk become threads. These threads are pulled from the spinnerets by the spider’s hind legs.

Orb webs have threads going toward the center (hub). These radii (spokes) provide the structure of the snare, but are not sticky. Spiral threads attached to the radii are sticky. Insects hitting spirals get stuck. The web-maker sits patiently either in the hub or to the side. Prey are usually wrapped in threads.

Webs vary in size, number of radii and spirals for different species. With some practice, we can determine the kind of spider by just seeing the web. Spiders construct webs on most evenings of late summer and do so in a pattern, taking about one-half hour to complete.

Nearly all the webs that we see are made by females and she is nearly blind, relying on feeling to locate the prey.

From now until frosts of mid-September is primetime for us to get out in dew-covered mornings and observe orb webs in these grasses and goldenrods.


Larry Weber
Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books.
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