Northland Nature: The funnels of fall
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 email@example.com.
Earlier sunsets and later sunrises continue as we get further into October. Days are mild, but nights are cool and this carries over to early mornings.
When I go for a walk at dawn, I’m greeted by the happenings at this time. In the cool temperatures, dew coats roadside plants. In addition to this, there is frequent fog in this cool and moist environment. Later this month, dew and moisture will become frost.
Leaf colors so vibrant in afternoon sunlight are still here in the early morning. As I walk, I note the arboreal glow (mostly yellows) emerging from the surrounding darkness and fog. Reds that were so dazzling in September have been fading. Plenty of bright yellow leaves take their place and I see birch, aspen, basswood, hazel, ironwood, sugar maple, mountain maple, cherry and willow filling the scene. Though some reds still do appear, this is yellow time. We will enjoy these until they drop shortly after mid-month.
During the walk, I pause often to see leaf colors, but also to look at the roadside migrants. Some warblers may be present, but the birds I see are a variety of sparrows; white-throated sparrows appear to be most common. The abundant blue jays with occasional blackbird flocks are here too. Overhead, groups of Canada geese loudly speak of fall travels.
But there is another reason to pause frequently. The route also has many spider webs in the morning dew. With the season moving on, I see fewer of these snares, but I do find each of the four types of webs that spiders build.
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Cobwebs (irregular threads) as we often see around our house, are common in the tops of grasses or last-year’s tansies. Within these threads are the web makers. Small, but hardy, they will last for a few more weeks. In some shrubs and conifers are bowl-shaped sheet webs; also lingering into the fall. The circular orb webs, so abundant a couple of weeks ago in nearby fields, are less common now, but I do see several. Most of these constructions hold dew, but the web makers have gone. However, I do see one willing to get wet.
The fourth kind of web is most common at this time; the funnel webs. So named because these insect-catching snares are composed of numerous threads surrounding an opening. This is where the spider sits in readiness to pounce out to catch a passing insect. This form of a hunting web looks like a funnel. Webs are usually on the ground and may appear to be a flat “cloth shape” appearance. Being low to the ground provides a good site to catch wandering insects. But being close to the ground means that they get wet with dew readily and I see them easily. This is also where the first frosts appear. All types of webs that get a dew coating can also get frosted as we progress into fall, but I find more frosted fall funnels than any other.
Funnel webs were very common all summer and myriads were in our yards and roadsides during the warmer times. The spiders grew, the webs grew. The ones that we see now will last for a couple more weeks into October, but will succumb to the impending chill. Dealing with the cold, some funnel-web spiders will move indoors. It is not unusual to find the funnel webs of these brown spiders in basements and garages as the temperature drops. Some will last into winter, but now they are another seasonal change to watch with our local fauna.