A group of about 30 WRN members and a few guests including 3 children, met at Jane Schneider’s property on the Waterloo Moraine on Sunday 20th August.
After making our way though Jane’s fabulous field display of prairie flowers, largely giant Prairie Dock, Prairie cone flowers, Cup plants, Ironweed, and Monarda, the group made their way behind the house to the garden area.
The group was gathered to join Dan Schneider for a quick expose on the topic of spiders and their place in the environment. Dan started by talking about spiders, their structure and abundance and how they fitted into the ecosystem. He showed the group his “pet” spider, Charlotte, an amazingly hairy, medium-sized Mexican Redknee tarantula. This rather beautiful, and docile, spider is native to parts of Mexico. Although severely threatened in the wild by people pouring pesticides and gasoline into burrows, it is easily bred into captivity where it is a popular spider sold in the pet trade.
During the talk we were briefly distracted by dozens of Ring-billed gulls circling above.
Dan showed several species that he had brought along to demonstrate the variety of shapes, colours and sizes of commonly seen spiders. The children handled some of these.
Dan had a colourful Black and Yellow garden spider with distinctive yellow and black markings on the abdomen and a mostly white cephalothorax. This fairly common spider spins a large web that is consumed and re-built daily. The children released it in a patch of Rudbeckia in the garden, in an area with the Goldenrod soldier beetle.
The next discovery at the front of the house was made by the children who found a web with a “Bowl and Doily” spider whilst the adults were looking at wasp nests and American house spider webs. The Bowl and Doily spins a double web with the lower “doily” preventing predators from attacking from below, and the upper “bowl”-shaped web is the principal catch area.
From here the group walked to the lower meadow, passing an area of goldenrod, buzzing with insects, including bees, butterflies, wasps and hornets. The three children did a fantastic job of sweeping to collect spiders and insects that we could all then see more closely.
We were very fortunate in coming across an unfortunate grasshopper that had jumped unwittingly off the pathway into a spider web. It was quickly trussed up by a rather large Shamrock spider, a member of the orb-weaving spider family, Araneidae. In the first image you can see the web being sprayed out of the abdominal spinneret encompassing the doomed grasshopper. Two other views show the continued trussing of the grasshopper and the colours of the large abdomen.
The excursion finished with a visit to the pond area, the capture (and release) of a small leopard frog, and a brief discussion on water spiders.
Our thanks to Dan for an exciting glimpse of spiders in the wild, to Jane for allowing the group onto her property and to the weather gods for a beautiful day.
Alan and Anne Morgan.