August is an amazing time in Northland nature. We are still in summer, and often have hot days, but the later sunrises and earlier sunsets each day show that the season is moving on. With birds, it is a time of early migrants and late nesters. Gardens give us produce while new wild berries ripen each week.
Mushrooms of various sizes and colors abound in the woods and the wildflowers of late summer, most notably sunflowers, goldenrods and asters prevail on the roadsides. Tall and robust, these flowers often persist to fall.
In these warm days, insects continue to reveal their diversity. Butterflies, moths, bees, wasps, flies, grasshoppers and late-season dragonflies continue their movements among the grown flora. And when there are many insects, so there are predator spiders. These eight-legged critters abound now, and for us, August is prime web-watching time.
Many of the local spiders do not make webs, but others that do are easy to see on these dew-covered mornings. Each day, I see their snares. I often see all four types — orbs, sheets, funnels and cobwebs — during a single walk shortly after dawn.
Perhaps the best known of these webs (and most photogenic) are the orb webs. Constructed in circular shapes, these insect catchers are known as orb webs. Though there are exceptions, typically orb-weaving spiders build their snares at dusk, intent on catching night-flying insects. After being out in the night, the webs are frequently knocked down by winds the following day, but in the calm of early morning, these dew-covered marvels stand out.
Using tall grasses, wildflowers or tree branches as substrates, spiders form their webs. Each day when I walk, I expect to see them, often wearing a necklace of dew. Frequently, I go looking for these webs, and sometimes they come to me.
Recently, as I was putting the car into the garage, I glanced into a nearby tree and saw a "wow" of a web. The circular sticky part of this web (only the spiral threads in the center are sticky) was about 2 feet in diameter and nearly 4 feet above the ground, where it was anchored. Threads also held the web from above in branches to the right and left, both about 3-4 feet long. What a huge web.
The web-maker was not in its web, but with some searching, I located the large body curled on an adjacent branch, next to a growth of lichens. The blue-green color of the spider’s abdomen blended with the color of the lichens. This is fitting since this kind of spider often makes webs in trees with lichens and hides there. It is known as the lichen orbweaver.
Using its sedentary hunting style at night, it sits in the center, the hub, of the web in the darkness. When not in use, the spider may take down the web by consuming the threads, recycling the material to make a new web the next day.
With this delightful addition to the yard, web watching, always interesting, has added much to the summer. Though most catching happens at night —primarily moths — I did see it snag a dragonfly one day.
I’m thankful to this lichen spider for deciding to build such a huge web in my yard and I hope that it will stay, revealing more interesting web-watching during this amazing month of August.