SOCIAL SPIDERS

There is a dearth of information about these social spiders (Stegodyphus dumicola) on the Internet. Asking about them at the reception counters of some national parks is a waste of time as one comes up against blank faces of incomprehension. Yet, the large untidy webs – often mistakenly referred to by tourists as ‘nests’ – are very obvious in places such as the Kruger National Park, the Mountain Zebra National Park and in the Addo Elephant National Park.

The average tourist cannot get close enough to the nests to observe them closely – hence the wonderment at what might have made these enormous webs featuring tunnels and chambers attached to branches. One conglomerate web often appears to be connected to another lower down, or even on a nearby bush.

On closer inspection, even from one’s vehicle, it is clear that these large webs have been spun with cribellate silk which is produced from numerous tiny silk glands underneath a specialized spinning organ called the cribellum. A lot of dried leaves and other debris, including the remains of creatures caught in the web – beetles and flies for example – is caught up in the web and helps to create their rather shaggy appearance.

Apparently all the spiders combine their efforts both to catch their prey and to maintain the web. Their webs remind me of those enormous nests built by the Sociable Weavers, such as this one in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Some useful sites to visit on the Internet:

http://www.hannesmitchell.co.za/communitynestspiders.htm

https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(07)01498-4

http://hebetslab.unl.edu/portfolio-posts/cribellate-vs-ecribellate-silk/

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/05/crebillate-spider-web/528585/

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BATHROOM VISITOR

This spider spent about a week in the same place just below our bathroom ceiling. During this time it went through the process of ecdysis, or shedding its skin, after which it barely moved. Spiders are vulnerable to attack during this period, as the new exoskeleton is still very soft.

A FLESHY SPIDER

My eye was caught by a blob stuck behind a broken sheet of plate glass leaning against an outside wall:

I was looking at the underneath of a spider – an unusual sight, even though it was through dirty glass. By pulling the glass away from the wall, I could see the top of the spider:

It looked as if it was curling up as tightly as it could against the bitterly cold weather – I suspect it is a rain spider. Then a patch of sunlight fell upon it:

 

MUD WASP NEST

The mud wasp nests I usually find inside or outside our house look like this one on a windowsill:

Sometimes they look like this one on the outside wall of our house:

The picture below shows a wasp nest that had been built between a box on top of a built-in cupboard and the ceiling, which probably accounts for the squat shape. You can see ceiling paint on the top of it:

The back of the nest looks like this – note what is left of a spider in one of the cells:

This nest was probably built by a Mud Dauber Wasp (Sceliphron spirifex) which commonly builds multi-celled mud nests attached to walls or even tree trunks. Each cell is provisioned with a spider that has been paralysed in order to provide food for the emerging larvae.

Here is a not very clear picture of a wasp spotted in the garden taking a spider to its nest.

MIST CATCHER

Many years ago, more than I care to count, one of the young girls I taught gave me a dream catcher that she had made for me. It was a parting gift to protect me from bad dreams – and it would surprise her if she knew I still had it!

I was reminded of this earlier in the week when we woke to a thick mist – in typical fashion, this meant a scorching day ahead – that left tiny droplets of water on leaves for that short while before everything was sucked up by the sun. I saw this mist catcher … capturing the fine moisture in the mist just as dream catchers capture the ethereal dreams.

THE KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

We do not go there nearly often enough, yet the Kruger National Park remains one of my favourite holiday destinations in South Africa. From where we live now, it requires a two or three day drive to get there, depending on the state of the roads at the time. Given the ever-increasing price of fuel, it is also an expensive trip to undertake. This means that when we do go, we try to spend close on three weeks there at a time.

I grew up within such easy reach of the Kruger National Park that we could go in for day trips. Sometimes we would visit as a family or I would accompany friends. The primary school I attended was good about taking us there too – usually to play softball or tennis matches against pupils from the primary school in Skukuza. Such trips would include an overnight stay in dormitories, when we would routinely be frightened by Spotted Hyenas knocking the lids off the metal dustbins outside.

Spotted Hyena

There is such a wide variety of game, interesting insects, and birds to see in the Kruger Park that visitors have no reason to be bored. Nonetheless, many visitors tend to feel dissatisfied unless they have seen at least one lion (preferably at a kill), cheetah and a leopard (particularly elusive creatures).

Lion

Leopard

Of course they are interesting to see, although I do not think it is worth sitting in a traffic jam for hours in the hope of glimpsing part of one through the tangle of vehicles. There is so much more to explore like the scenery of open veld, riverine trees, the rivers and rocky outcrops that are not only lovely to look at, but which might harbour all sorts of surprises – such as a Pearl-spotted Owlet!

Pearlspotted owlet

A sense of peace descends on me as I become attuned to the natural surroundings in which we can admire the simple beauty of an Impala:

Impala

The grace and elegance of Giraffe:

Giraffe

The majesty of Elephants:

Elephant

Or be taken aback by the Golden Orb Spiders along a path:

Goldenorbspider

One might even be fortunate enough to come across the endangered Ground Hornbills picking their way through the veld.

Ground Hornbill

I associate the Kruger National Park with diversity, contrasts and constant surprises. It is good to take a break from driving every now and then to spend the best part of a day parked at a waterhole, sitting in a bird hide, or exploring the rest camp. From the dawn chorus of birds to the roar of lions at night, there is always something interesting happening in the Kruger Park. It is a place I always leave with a heavy heart and a vow to return as soon as I can!

sunset