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Pascagoula
March 25, 2019
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Environment

Spiders in the Mist

As is so often the case with common organisms in nature, many go largely unnoticed until something comes along to highlight their presence. Fog does this well, especially for the webs of any number of spiders that are all around us, in numbers that can surprise you. This is the case for one of our most common and easily recognized web builders, known by the shape of its web – the Bowl & Doily Spider. Although they occur year-round in South Mississippi, the sheer numbers of these spiders become evident on any foggy day. There can be a dozen on a single small shrub and hundreds scattered across your yard. And those represent this one species. Fog also highlights any number of other web-building spiders.

The phenomenon of “seeing” a common organism appear like this is known in ecology as “aspect dominance”. In this case, it is the web that attracts our attention, giving us the aspect that catches our eyes. On first glance, this web may appear as a somewhat dense jumble of strands attached to the branches of small shrubs or trees. Upon closer inspection, the shape of the “bowl”, suspended above the “doily”, becomes quite obvious. If you look closer, you can spot the web’s occupant suspended upside down at the center of the bowl, waiting for its next meal. But the web has one more important element – the random arrangement of strands above the bowl, giving the entire creation a less structured look. This is a key part of the web’s design, as these random strands are what helps to intercept and direct small insects – ultimately onto the bowl where the waiting spider grabs them from beneath. But wait, all of the elements of the web work for the spider as well. The “bowl’ provides the means of delivering prey to the waiting spider while the “doily” provides a bit of protection for the spider from predator attacks from beneath.

Unlike spiders that build vertical webs, these “sheet-web” spiders do not use sticky strands, but rather create a structure that directs prey to a portion of the web where the spider waits. While you are admiring the Bowl & Doily Spiders in your yard during this foggy season of the year, look also for the funnel-shaped webs of our Funnel Web Spiders nestled in the leaves or plants close to or on the ground. If you are careful enough, you can spot the occupant waiting in the throat of the funnel. Same basic idea, except that these webs help direct ground dwelling insects to the spider. On the one hand, fog does limit our vision at a distance, but also serves to put a spotlight on the common critters right in front of us. Stop and take a closer look. Frontinella pyramitela is quite beautiful and can be found everywhere you look.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!!!

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