Wily Webs

 This garden spider has caught herself quite a number of honeybees close to my front porch.

This garden spider has caught herself quite a number of honeybees close to my front porch.

Bees in Spider Web

Fall is settling into mid-Missouri, which means an increase in the number of garden spiders around my hillside garden. Of all of the garden seasons, this is the one that most threatens my honeybees. One enterprising spider set up her web over a water feature that attracts my honeybees. In one day, she caught eight bees in her web, bundled food she leaves once her babies hatch.

A friend of mine likes to say everyone has to eat but I see no reason to make my bees such easy targets. I like spiders but I would rather they not make a meal out of so many of my bees. In the past I have seen spiders with only a couple of bugs caught in their webs so this one is making the most of her easy opportunity.

Taking a broom, I carefully moved the spider to a corner of my property and cleared her very sticky, strong web. I moved a few of the dead ones with her so she didn't have to kill any more.

I forget all of the claims but I do recall a spider web is one of the strongest structures built in nature.

 Once caught in the spider web, the spider spins a jacket around each bee to secure them.

Once caught in the spider web, the spider spins a jacket around each bee to secure them.

If you look closely, the spider has carefully wrapped each bee in, and with, her web.

I managed to release one of the bees still alive. It was a bit of a trick to pull the sticky web off the bee body but I did see the bee finally fly off.

Missouri is home to more than 300 kinds of spiders, 22 of those unique species. Spiders, ticks, mites and scorpions are all arachnids, not insects.

They have 8 walking legs with tiny retractable claws on each foot. Most have 6-8 eyes on top of their heads, which provides them with great depth perception and the equivalent of 3-D vision. Spider bodies are two-piece and hairy. Some sit in their webs waiting for meals to walk by, others actively chase prey.

Only two are considered dangerous to humans: the brown recluse and the female “black widow,” both very small spiders. The rest are harmless. I did get a spider bite when one was in a shoe a couple of months ago. Besides some redness and itching, it was similar to a bee sting; no harm done. Well, except to the spider. I did inadvertently squish it.

As I look for webs in my garden, I find some that are just strands of silk while others remind me of delicate lace. Garden spiders build beautiful lacy-like webs with a center zigzag patterns. Crab and orbweaver spiders build large web circles. Orbweavers have large stomachs and hairs on their legs and tummy. They also sit in their webs with their heads up.

Another common spider in my garden is smaller and dark with white markings, most likely micrathena. They range in color from pale yellow to white with dabs of brown or black and grow to be 8-10 mm in size. I find them hanging with the top of their bodies hanging downward.

There are also several tiny spiders with what appears to be trap lines stretched across bushes. I am still working on identifying the smaller ones.

As a fan since childhood of E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web,” spiders hold a special place in my garden but they are also important biological control agents. They feed on common insect pests including aphids, caterpillars, leap hoppers, mosquitos and flies. It was estimated arachnids consume 400-800 million metric tons of prey each year and more than 90% are invertebrates. According to Lund University, “spiders eat more insects than people eat meat and fish.

 The garden spider working on her last catch before I moved her to another garden location.

The garden spider working on her last catch before I moved her to another garden location.

This time of year black and yellow garden spiders are prominent, at least in my garden. The females are up to four times larger than the males and much brighter in color. These are the ones I keep re-locating. Their main diet consists of insects like flies and bees. Haven’t tried them on curds and whey. 

Charlotte