Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spiders by Dan Greenberg, a book review

Overall, Spiders was a fairly average children's book with one minor and one significant drawback.

Greenberg gave a overview of what spiders are and how they behave, and provided a quick world-tour of spider types. There are some really good pictures--I particularly liked the shot of the ogre-faced spider waiting to trap an unwary insect--and one or two memorable lines. One thing I really appreciated was that most of the spiders pictured are identified by family name, making them less generic.

The minor drawback: Vocabulary words are italicized, giving the book something of a textbook air, moving it from "This is interesting stuff you might like to know" to "You are being educated." How much this bothers the target audience I don't know. I found it mildly irritating.

It was the end, though, that made me furious. After four chapters (38 pages) if interesting tidbits on spiders, the last chapter drops the "spiders are endangered" bomb. The last few sentences read "Scientists have found evidence of spiders having concentrated levels of lead and other heavy metals in their bodies. More importantly, spider habitats are being destroyed or damaged at an alarming rate in today's world. Spiders themselves are being killed by over-use of chemical pesticides that are sprayed on crops. Perhaps it is time to take these threats seriously."

That's it. The end. What a message for the kids. The final thought is "Spiders are doomed." Sweet dreams, everyone.

There isn't even a token suggestion that we might delay the apocalypse for a while by recycling or not over-watering the garden. The closest thing to it is a suggestion, in a separate text box, that it might be a good idea to "not be overly neat in the yard." Right. Leaving a little clutter is going to save us from the oncoming death of the spider.

Yes, I know that extinction is a concern, and we need to care for the environment, but is this really the absolute, final thought Greenberg meant to leave in his readers' minds? Really?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Egg Sac

Another first. I'm sure there have been spider egg sacs lying around my yard for ages. This is the first one I've seen. I was pretty excited! I'm going to keep looking, believe me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Introducing: Sister Sue!

Introducing Sister Sue! I think she's the same type of spider as the (late?) Big Spider. The people still think that's probably Neoscona crucifera, a nice, harmless, helpful spider. I'm seeing a bunch of medium-sized spiders with the same markings, so there will be more to watch.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Milady--A closeup

Here's a closer look at Milady.

You know, for a deadly menace, she's kind of dull.  Mostly, she hides somewhere (under the rim of the pot? I'm not lifting it for a look!) until around 8, and then she comes out to the middle of her web and  hangs out there until 9 or so. After that, she's more visible, but no more active. Presumably, she catches bugs and such sometime in the night, but mostly, she's a very quiet spider (which suits me).

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Last night around 8, Speckles wasn't much interested in web weaving. Instead, she was staying to the side, working on a little, lined pocket to hide in.

There are several spiders of her kind weaving in the Bird of Paradise.  Between these, the funnel web spiders, the unidentified black spiders, the transients, and the others I know I'm not seeing yet, I could probably spend the next several years studying the one plant and not make my way through all the spiders and their habits.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Yesterday Evening: Big Spider Gone?

Last night wasn't a big spider-hunting night for me. I checked for Stretch but couldn't find him; judging by the zigzags on the 23rd, he may have wandered out of the yard all together in search of a mate. Big Sal, also, was absent. Given her reappearance last time, though, I'm not ready to write her off as gone just yet. Maybe she was simply full after her morning bee and decided not to build another web that day (Do spiders do that? I don't know).

I spotted Speckles, or at least one of her sisters, and admired a tiny little spider spinning in the bottom of one rosebush. I'm not going to try for an ID on him because I couldn't get a good look at her back or abdomen.

Big Spider may be gone. When I came home, she'd spun two of her anchor lines, but that's as far as the web ever got. I saw her out on it around midnight, but haven't spotted her since. She really wasn't in the mood to pose, either.

Has she gone wherever spiders go when the fall is over? (Dead?). Why are there more spiders in the fall than any other time? Or, at least, why are they so much more in evidence? Why haven't I ever asked that before?


I was going to introduce the spiders one at a time over a period of a few days and then go to dated discussions, but my stars aren't cooperating. They keep doing things like catching bugs, disappearing, reappearing, getting vacuumed up (maybe), and otherwise creating breaking news stories that will make no sense if they are reported before the stars are introduced. So, I'm going to backdate this, starting with the time I began to take the pictures and working to get the dates to match the time the photographs were taken (Except for Big Spider: Her intro post covers 3 different days) and getting things up to date.

I hope you will forgive any dumps to the feed (I don't use RSS myself, so I,m not sure how bad the results will be). Things should even out after this.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cousin Sal Dines Out

Sal gets the bee wrapped up.
Cousin Sal. who seems to have moved across the walk to the roses rather than disappearing entirely(1) dined well this morning.

It's the first time I've watched a spider feed, and I wasn't expecting to get the chance, not in the daytime. When a bee crashed into Big Spider's web in the daytime, she stayed in hiding and the bee worked its way free. Sal, on the other hand, left her hideaway under the rose leaves in a flash and had that bee wrapped while I was still blinking.

Leaving the bee, she heads back up to her hideaway.

She gets all settled in, safe and sound.

Then, deciding she's feeling peckish, she heads back down.

She wraps the bee a few more times & cuts it loose.

She carries it back up and starts to dine.

It turned black while she ate. Why?

(1)Unless this is a relative of hers, but the name is going begging, and it's not an impossible distance. I just don't know how often or for what reasons spiders move house.

Big Spider being frugal

Big Spider usually spins immaculate new webs. I thought maybe that was just what her kind of spider does, but it turns out it's probably because she anchors her web on the clothesline and it's usually destroyed by nightfall. So, on September 23,  I was very careful when hanging out the laundry and left the old web in place. Sure enough, she used the old frame for her new web. In fact, she didn't even bother to destroy the ragged outer edges.

It saved her a lot of time; she had this web done at least an hour earlier than her usual webs.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Special Guest Star: Stretch

I was taking pictures of tunnel spiders and looked up to see, right next to me,  a slender brown spider patiently sending out line after line to see if one would catch.

It's funny. The spiders are very nervous about any vibration. Big Spider bolts the moment we open the door in the morning, and the tunnel spiders dive back into their tunnels as soon as they can. They don't seem to mind the lights, though, or the camera. Stretch here posed beautifully through all the camera and light use.

I assumed that he was trying to get an anchor line in place so he could spin a web; Big Spider has been known to spend an hour or so at it, and he was there for some time, but when I went out two hours later, he had successfully gotten a line across the sidewalk, but showed no signs of beginning a web. This morning, I found a new web in approximately the right spot, but the spider hiding there was one of Cousin Sal's relatives, not him.

The folks at say he's a male Neoscona crucifera, so it's a pity that there's a whole house between him and Big Spider.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Big Spider: Taken Sept 22 2010

She's incredible, isn't she?

Spider Weaving

I saw this lady busily at work next to the sidewalk in Newport Beach. It's a bit wobbly, but it'll give you an idea just how fast these critters are once they get going.

The picture below was taken on Balboa Island, but it's the same sort of spider, at least, as far as I can tell.

A post on has her tagged, tentatively, as a Western Spotted Orbweaver.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Special Guest Star: Cousin Sal

I had high hopes for Cousin Sal. For three days, she spun her web just under the eaves in front. She bode fair to be another star. Unfortunately, after the third day, she disappeared. Maybe her agreeable habit of sticking around after the sun rose did her in (Big Spider gets really nervous as soon as there is daylight and scoots the moment the door opens, sometimes before). Maybe she just moved. I will probably never know.

According to the bugguide people, she's probably in the Neosconagenus (I know: Now I need to find out what that means, but the name is a start, right?). I don't think she's in the same species as Big Spider--she's darker and more wrinkly, but that's a complete novice talking.

She surprised me by reusing her old web on at least one occasion. She may have freshened it up a bit, I don't know for sure, but there were still recognizable rents and tatters from the day before in place. I suppose it saves time.


I have not had to ask what kind of creature Milady is.

She's the only one of my stars I wish I didn't know about. Yes, she's lovely, and, yes, I've read several times now that black widows are really very shy and won't actually kill you, but I can't say I find that entirely reassuring. After all, she's a black widow. She's in my yard. She's glossy. She's sassy. She can bite.

Oh, and you know what's even less fair? I just found out that there are brown widows, and they don't have the red mark on them. Not only are they poisonous, they don't advertise it! I ask you!

In case you were wondering: Milady is named from The Three Musketeers. The way I remember the story, the musketeers were primarily fighting the evil cardinal, but they mostly understood his motives. Milady, on the other hand, scared them stiff. At the end of the story, they made peace with the cardinal. Milady was executed.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Also Starring: Peekaboo and Company

There are a whole host of these spiders living in the bird of paradise. Look at how cleverly they use the side and bottom of the leaf in their construction.

And I'd never seen them until a few days ago. They were there all along. I just never looked(1).

According to the bugguide people whom, yes, I've been barraging with pictures, they are funnel web spiders from the family Agelenidae. Neat, aren't they?

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to trim the plant back soon. It's getting to the point where the mail carriers start writing polite notes about the difficulty they are having getting to the mailbox, and somehow I don't think the news that I have declared it a spider sanctuary will impress them very much.

(1) Some people (like me) have to learn to see. Others already know--I was raving about the tunnel webs to my sister and she said "Oh, yes. There are a lot of them. I saw them all the time when I was gardening." Sigh.

Also Starring: Legs

Legs is apparently a cellar spider. Don't tell her, though. She lives in the corner of the bathroom.

She's the only indoor spider on the roster, and the one who makes me suspect I might be going a tad overboard on this spider-watching business. I never, ever thought I'd be marking indoor webs to stay put.

I have no idea at this point what she eats. I'm not sure I want to know. I mean, the very fact she's there means I'm sharing my house with more critters than I care to think about just now.

At first glance, her web looks like a disgraceful tangle, but it's really quite organized with several sheets of silk spread out in layers that she moves between.  I can't always see her, even at night. She's hard to spot when she's between layers, and she has a couple of crannies to tuck away in.

Also Starring: Speckles

Speckles spins her web out front in the big bird of paradise out front. I've only seen her a couple of times so far, once in the center of her web here, and once curled up at the corner looking like a bit of debris with legs.

She's tentatively identified as "having a Zygiella/Parazygiella look" by some of the folk on bugguide who made me smile by describing her as "this beauty" (The actual post is here at the moment, but may not remain for long; they do pretty regular cleanup there, removing old requests for identification and either archiving photos with the proper ID or removing them to make room).

She is lovely, isn't she? The little sketchy design on her back is very chic.

Like Big Spider, she's an orb weaver, but I'm not sure how long it takes her to spin her web. Maybe one of these days I'll catch her starting.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Special Guest Star: Fleck

One night when I was out watching Big Spider, I saw a tiny flicker of movement over to the side of one of her lines. There was Fleck, busily spanning the galaxy-sized distance between two lines.

I haven't seen him since, more's the pity, but I was impressed by his gallantry.

Starring: Big Spider

Big Spider up at her starting point.
Big Spider is the star of the show. She's the first spider I have watched spin her web, and the first one I've looked at consistently over a long period of time. She spins a massive web just overhead every night--low enough to see, but not so low everyone ends up walking through it. She's frustratingly hard to spot during the day. I know she's there somewhere up near the corner, but I never have seen her before she starts.

She begins making her web every evening around 7. A few nights ago, though, she didn't start until 8:30. I don't know why, but I do know I was worried about her. I never would have expected to worry about a spider.

Big Spider moving between lines.
. According to two of the books I looked at, it is supposed to take about an hour for an orb weaver, but Big Spider takes closer to three. I think it may be because she comes down from the roof and anchors at least two of her main lines on our clothesline, so she almost never has anything left to reuse the next day, not even as a guide. Also, probably because of the distance,  it takes her an hour or so of swinging and resting before she has all her lines in place. It's very strange watching her just after dusk when her lines are invisible. She seems to be walking through the air.

Big Spider walking through the air.
Right now, I'm relying on the people at (I have mentioned before that they are awesome) to help me with identifying the spiders, and I haven't been able to get a clear enough picture for them to identify positively, but the consensus is that she is probably a Neoscona crucifera. I'll keep trying to get a good, clear image of her for more complete identification.

You'll probably see a lot of pictures of her, in any case. Like I said, she's the star of the show.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Book That Started It All

Note: This is almost identical to the review I posted on Bookwyrme's Lair. I may have added a bit more gushing, but that's it.

Spiders: Learning to Love Them is one of those books that makes me realize I have been walking around half blind all of my life.

Sure, I know there are spiders around--this time of year, it's hard not to, what with running into their webs every evening. The thing is, I've never really <i>looked</i> at them, or their webs. There's an amazing world out there I've never seen--dozens of kinds of webs, hundreds of kinds of spiders. How do I start?

Lynne Kelly combines three qualities I love in a writer: Humor, love, and research. <cite>Spiders</cite> is, in part, an account of her own progress from arachnophobe to arachnophile, and her (new-found) love for spiders and for the world they reveal is clear in the book. The detail and intricacy of their world and the level of research Kelly has done is also clear without the book ever becoming pedantic.

The book is lavishly illustrated as well, which is always a plus. There is a nice selection of color plates, including a gorgeous section on the progress of a spider weaving an orb-web and numerous black and white photographs or drawings all through the book.

Of course, for some, this could be a drawback: My local arachnophobe refuses to pick the book up on the grounds that "spiders are evil" and there is a close-up of a spider on the front--and, to be honest, I'm not including a cover on this one because I have had aracnophobic friends scold me for springing spider pictures on them without warning in the past.

Me? I'm not terribly reassured by the news that widow spiders only attack when they feel trapped because how do I know when I'm trapping one? Believe me, I wouldn't provoke one on purpose!&nbsp; All the same, I can't wait to grab my flashlight and go out spider hunting some night.&nbsp; The array of webs I've already seen, just starting to look, is already fascinating.

The book has me really looking, and learning, and I appreciate that more than I can say.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Welcome to Spiderwatch!

Two for the price of one.
I have a confession: I see spiders.

Or rather, I am starting to see them. It's taking time and practice, and I'm only just beginning to realize how many there are.

It started when I read Lynne Kelley's Spiders: Learning to Love Them. I like learning about what goes on in the "ordinary" environment around my house, and spiders--those I can find.

In the past, I was generally indifferent. Now I'm amazed by their beauty and variety.


Sometimes, I'll be watching Big Spider turning in the air, patiently sending out silk and waiting it to catch, somersaulting and twisting, graceful.

Then it'll hit me: Spiders move strangely. They are jointed oddly.

And they are all around me. Everywhere. There's a black widow living on the side of my aloe vera pot, my bird of paradise is infested with hundreds of tunneling spiders.

I went to take a photo of one, leaning in to get close enough. Then I looked up, and there, right next to my cheek, was a big orb weaver getting ready to launch herself out. More, when I looked at the photo, I saw a second spider in the frame, one I hadn't noticed when I was outside.

But then again... It was a very pretty spider.

So, since the only way out is through, I'm going to keep taking pictures, watching spiders, and waiting to see what happens.

And I like to talk about my interests; anyone who reads Bookwyrme's Lair knows that.

But... Some people don't like spiders. Some are scared by pictures of spiders. It doesn't seem right to be inflicting spider pictures on them without warning. Thus, Spiderwatch.

I'm not quite sure how long it will last, or what I will do with it ultimately.

Right now, it is a rambly look at the spiders around my house. I plan on reviewing a couple of spider books, there are some quotations I may post. I may track individual spiders.

And then? We shall see.

It's going to be pretty busy at first; I'm frontloading it with the names and pictures of the stars. Later, I'm sure it will slow down.