Charlotte joins the Patch

When I went to hang out our laundry early last week I was greeted by a large spider’s web.  This isn’t particularly unusual, with the exception of the size of the web and the fact that the spider was currently hanging around in the centre of it.  The other shocking fact about the new web was the size of the spider who made it.  I had a small heart attack moment when I spotted her.  She is about 3+ cm from back toe-tip to front toe-tip, with a body roughly 1.5 cm long.  That makes her the biggest spider we have come across since our move.  We won’t count all the large Daddy-Longlegs spiders, who may be large and gangly but cut a considerably less imposing figure.

Here she is on that first day, caught in the middle of web-making, I suspect.

We left her alone, as I had no idea of what sort of spider she was.  I took a photograph and went online to try to identify her.  My usual Landcare site and Te Papa both let me down, as I couldn’t make a fair match to any of their photographs.  I then asked my home educating colleagues for suggestions on alternative places to get an identification and was directed to a wonderful Facebook group called NZ Bug identification – Spiders, Insects etc where I posted this photograph.  In a twinkling of an eye, I was informed that it is a garden orb web, and we’ve been watching ‘Charlotte’ ever since.

On the first day we were cruel and heartless homeowners and knocked down her web. I really wanted to be able to hang out my laundry without finding her in my undies!  But just as swiftly as we knocked it down, she had built it back up.  After trying one more time, I decided it was rather like Cnut trying to hold back the waves, and that for now my undies would be drying indoors on racks!  Instead we would turn in to nature observers and watch our new lodger.

We have learned a few interesting things about Charlotte – the first is that according to the MPI’s website,

The garden orbweb spider will construct or repair its snare by night, then sit in the centre.

Charlotte most certainly constructs, repairs and does her housework overnight.   Not only did she rebuild her web after our destruction, she also cleaned off a vast array of plant bits that the kids had flung on to the web in an attempt to pretend to be her dinner.  The trickery failed miserably, but the next morning we awoke to a beautifully clean and restored web.  She’s a pretty house-proud member of her species.

We have also noticed that this observation on the MPI site is also very true, even though Charlotte’s choice of hiding place may be slightly unorthodox.

During the day, garden orbweb spiders usually hides outside the web, but will rest a leg on a thread that runs to the centre.

Here is Charlotte tucked up in the peg basket, which is her home-away-from-home, with her back leg hanging on to her web.  I’ve enhanced the white in the photo in the hope that you can make out the single strand of web that she’s hanging on to. (Click on the photograph to see a larger version.)

She’s also pretty tidy at wrapping up her dinner, when it is foolish enough to become home delivery. Here’s a shot of her handiwork which, by the way, was gone the next morning.  Midnight snack anyone?

The newest development in the past couple of days has been the arrival of what look like two or three baby spiders on the actual web.  They started out with large silvery half-shell-like things (presumably they were shells) on their back ends and are now graduating to small, unshelled spiders.  Unfortunately they are too tiny for my camera to focus on without something held behind the web.  Between the gentle breeze blowing the web back and forth and my kids being slightly worried that they’ll be webbed or spidered if they get too close, it’s been impossible for me to get them to help me take a photograph.
With the imminent arrival home of Mr Oh Waily, from his gallivanting overseas, I may only have to combat the camera’s ability to focus on insects so small.  I will update the post if I manage to get a clear image of her children.

Here are a couple of final photographs for you.  She ventured out on to the web a couple of days ago and we were able to see her speedy retreat from mid-web back to the peg basket.  She paused briefly, still attached to the web that enters the basket and I was able to move around behind her and get a shot of her undercarriage.  Most indelicate of me, I know, but totally fascinating nonetheless.

The final image is of me looking straight down at her, which is something of a change, as I’m usually forced to look at her side or her backside.

An interesting development has occurred at the Patch since we’ve begun watching Charlotte — the Oh Waily kids have been noticing far more insects.  They’ve been coming to me and saying, ‘You’ve got to come see this Mum’, and ‘You’ve got to take a photo of this’, and ‘Can I borrow your phone to take a photograph of…, please.’   As this has been the case, I have more interesting insect images to share with you.  Fleeting glimpses in to a smaller world, with lots of learning potential.

Oh, and more Charlotte updates as they come to hand.


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