SPIDER ON THE WALL

An apt excerpt from a poem of the same title by Rani Turton:

Spider on the wall,

You can see us all

Do you wonder as to why

We scurry and worry?

We have our lives to live

(Four score and ten)

Waiting and worrying, often.

This is not the bedtime companion of choice, even high up on the wall, and so I keep a wary eye on where it might be just before I switch off the light!

You can read the full poem at https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/spider-on-the-wall/

NOTE: Click on the photograph if you really want to see a larger view of my bedtime companion.

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DRAMA IN THE GARDEN

My mid-morning tea in the garden was interrupted by something odd running across the dry grass: a spider-hunting wasp (belonging to the family Pompilidae)! I rushed indoors to fetch my camera … where had the wasp got to? Then I saw it dragging the spider along the brick edge of the swimming pool.

It was battling against the stiff breeze. Although these solitary wasps paralyse their prey with their powerful venom after capturing it, the movement of the legs of the spider indicated that the process was not yet complete.

It was dragging its prey perilously close to the edge of the pool when a gust of wind blew the spider over the edge. The wasp held on tightly. While this is not a good picture at all, it shows the tenacity of the wasp, which continued to carry its prey along the wall like this for some distance.

Inevitably, the wasp lost its grip and the spider fell into the pool.

The spider seemed to expand and contract its legs experimentally whilst floating on its back while the wasp flew frantically back and forth, trying to hook onto the spider. Mea culpa, I lifted the spider out of the water with the pool net and stood back to watch what would happen next. Within seconds the wasp had the spider in its grasp once more.

As it resumed its journey at considerable speed, the stiff breeze brought them teetering close to the edge of the pool once more.

The wasp tugged and pulled against the breeze – the end of its journey was in sight: the site of its prepared burrow in a crack between the rocks at the end of the pool, where it dragged the spider down in a flash! There the wasp will lay an egg in the abdomen of the spider before exiting the nest and concealing its entrance.

NOTE: Please click on the photographs if you wish to see a larger image.

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/

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.