Sunday, January 29, 2012

Orchard spiders

Orchard spider, close-up, originally uploaded by Elizabeth Smith.

My garden spiders

I’ve been watching these spiders for a while in my backyard. Their webs have been steadily expanding over the birdbath between two Walter Viburnum bushes, the fence, and a hummingbird feeder. At first I noticed one spider, then two, and now three. I don’t know if they were always there, if they congregated as social creatures, or if I’m seeing several generations.

The spiders are quite beautiful when the sun strikes them, with subtle iridescent colors that catch the light. The bulbous abdomens and silvery stripes enabled me to identify them up to the point of two possibilities. Either way, they belong to the same family of long-jawed orb weavers, sometimes called orchard spiders. My Audubon insect book says that these spiders are easily identified by their large and powerful jaws!

(Click on the image to view it larger.)
Between the spider’s natural tendency to bolt at my shadow, and the low power of my magnifying glass, I wasn’t able to get a good look at those formidable jaws. My camera wasn’t much good either, providing only blurry close-ups. However, I was able to use the photos as a basis for my pencil drawings prior to drawing the spiders in ink. Then I took a few minutes for intense observation, and jotted down some quick color notes in pencil. I especially tried to remember how the legs were attached, their shapes, and how they tapered.

Quick field color and pattern notes for adding to my drawing later.  Click on the image to view larger.

If my drawings are accurate enough, and you are knowledgeable about spiders, I’d love to know which species they are. I’m not sure that I show the appropriate sizes and colors of the small parts needed to tell them apart. My research tells me that both Leucauge venusta and Leucauge argyra live in Florida, but from there I’m stumped. Some sources say the webs are slightly different, some say they are the same. Some say that the markings vary, and some say they’re similar. I haven’t been able to look at the top of the spider, because their habit is to travel upside down along the bottom of their web. I really don’t want to disrupt them, so I’ll just leave them for now.

Update: A few minutes ago I checked them again, and noticed five spiders! And more webs!