Dawn is cool - in the 50s - and calm with patches of fog. We don't always appreciate fog, but late-August mornings are often foggy, and for what I am seeking this morning, fog is a great help.
Where there is fog, there is dew. These conditions are great for viewing the plethora of spiderwebs that abound in the fields of late August. The field that I walk in has a rich growth of goldenrods. All are dripping with dew this morning - many are as tall as I am.
Walking among these plants, I expect to get very wet. However, the dew that coats the plants also covers the webs, allowing them to be seen better. There are several kinds of webs made by local resident spiders, but I am searching for orb webs.
Orb webs are what most of us think of when thinking of spiderwebs. They are circular and usually vertical, attached to various substrates. Out here in the field, webs are mostly on goldenrods anywhere from a foot to 3 feet above the ground.
A dew cover is the best time to observe these webs. Threads on webs are thin, and without these droplets, they are very hard to see. I walk east, toward the rising sun, and this back-lit phenomenon causes dewy webs to be great photogenic subjects.
Since many webs were constructed at dusk last night and will be gone in a couple of hours with warming temperatures and winds, dawn is the time to view them. Observing their abundance and intricacies on these late-summer mornings makes getting wet all worth it.
Orb webs are basically made of two kinds of threads. Those going to the center, the spokes (or radii), are one type, while the spirals going toward the center are another. However, webs are more complex than these two.
The silk that makes the spokes and spirals are of different kinds of silk and differ in function. While the threads of the spokes are not sticky, those of the spiral are. The purpose of the web is to act as a snare to catch insects; most get stuck on the spirals.
The entire web is composed of about five different kinds of silk coming from glands in the spider's abdomen. Typically, webs are constructed and attached by just one spider, usually a female, at dusk. Webs are placed vertically to catch night-flying insects, especially moths.
Some spiders cope with the dew cover as they sit in the center (hub) of the web. Others go off to the side, often hiding in a retreat. All continue to feel for the possible arrival of insects hitting their snare.
I have found 10 kinds of spiders that make these orb webs. They range in size from 2 inches long to those less than one-quarter inch. Late August until the chill of September is the best time to do web watching. We do not need to go in wet fields to see such marvels of spiders. We can readily see these webs in dewy plants of the roadsides during our morning commute.
Retired teacher Larry Weber 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 c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.