Thursday, 29 August 2013

What nice orbs you have...

  British comedian, Ricky Gervais, recently said that Aussies were the “coolest people around” because we have the “deadliest snakes, spiders and jellyfish on the planet” yet “walk around drunk all the time in flip-flops”.  Most Aussies actually have a morbid fear of spiders which is probably the reason for our national drinking problem.

 To be fair, in Sydney there are a couple of deadly arachnids such as the Funnel-web and the Red back but hardly anyone every gets killed by them. In fact since antivenom became available, no fatalities have been recorded.

Most of our spiders just go about their business, weaving ingenious webs, waiting patiently for a feed and clinging tenaciously to existence in a arachnophobic world. To me, spiders are fascinating; they’ve been around for 400 million years and can be found in every natural environment on earth (except the deep oceans). Here are a couple of my favourite local species which are almost harmless...unless you annoy them to the extremes of spider tolerance. (mildly numbing bites have been known!)

Golden silk orb-weaver.
These spiders build some of the largest webs in the land made from silk with a golden hue  (hence the name). It seems that the silk's colour may ensnare bees that are attracted to the yellow's not unknown for small birds or even snakes to be caught in this golden trap! In dappled light the web blends in to the background and acts as camouflage. The spider can actually adjust the pigment intensity. 

 Sometimes you can see rows of these spiders in concurrent webs slung across or above pathways. (They normally soon learn by experience to build them out of harm’s way). The weird thing is that the females, with grey bodies and black and yellow banded legs, are quite large (up to a 9cm leg span). But if you look closely at the web you’ll often see a number of tiny black spiders lurking at the fringes ..those are the males waiting for a chance to mate! You may also see some other small spiders (such as the Quicksilver) which “pirate” some of the smaller insects caught in the web. 

  As winter approaches, just before the Golden-orb succumbs to the colder weather, you’ll see her wrap her eggs in a mass of golden web and hide them amongst leaves or twigs away from the nest..ready to hatch in spring.

Leaf curling spider

 Leaf curling spiders have long legs and plump bodies but in the day time you’ll rarely see them. They’ve devised an ingenious solution to keep themselves safe from predators such as the Noisy Miner and parasitic wasps. As their name suggests, they haul a leaf into their webs, curl it over, line it with silk and use it as a protective haven (which also shelters them from the elements). They’ll then sit in this cylinder with just their feet protruding, which will sense the vibrations of prey, caught in their web

 The leaf, or another curled leaf additionally becomes a nursery for the spider’s eggs. The male of the species is also much smaller…and it dies after mating! an Aussie, it’s your job to be hospitable to spiders and to act nonchalantly around them… (but we must continue the pretence to English people, that we live amidst poison-soaked agents of the devil).