Cheerful and Creepy

In the fall of 2007 I became acquainted with what I considered a unique spider. The first sign of this spider was the web which was at a 45-degree angle to the ground and had a roundish shape with little cottony clumps strategically placed on its web, along its border and angular anchor webs. The web was about two or three feet off the ground and just inside my wooden gate.

.Spiny orb weaver web

I took the above photo with the camera’s flash in the evening. I thought it interesting that under the spider in the center of its web was a bright yellow circle. And the spider itself had an eerie yellow glow.

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Spiny orb weaver web during day.

The spider had a yellow oval shaped shell with black dots on it resembling a happy face. I was fifty-six years old and had never seen anything quite like it; which is strange to me since I am always looking at nature for unusual sights. I was so pleasantly surprised when I saw this unusual spider in my own back yard.

Gasteracantha, "Spiny orb weaver"
Spiny orb weaver, Gastercantha, intimidating but harmless.

I couldn’t help myself. I had to look up what spider could weave such an interesting and unique web. It was a spiny (backed) orb weaver or Gasteracantha cancriformis, a unique, crab looking, member of the orb weaver family. (Which has some even scarier looking cousins.)

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White spiny back orb weaver.

This little spider has also been nicknamed “the Happy Face Spider.” (There is another quite different spider in Hawaii named the Happy Face Spider, so don’t let the names confuse you). The next fall I saw three of these distinctive webs around my house high up in the trees.

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This happy little critter somehow built this web at the end at the my house from a tree to the fence.

The next year there was one in the back of my yard that I could take pictures of close up.

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The spider was weaving her web. See similarity to orb weaver web seen from highways or in trees.

When I moved to my condo in 2014 I didn’t even look for one of these spiders. There was a vast forest below and in view of my condo so I figured I wouldn’t see the same type of spider again. After all I had moved 20 miles away from the original sighting. 

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Orb weaver’s web with cottony tufts, up in the trees.

The spiders I was fond of were the females, which are the ones we see most often, known also as crab spiders. They have a white, red, blue, green or yellow shell on their back. The hard shell which has 3 spines on either side protects the head, legs and body underneath. The spiders can be found all over the Americas, the Bahamas and according to Wikipedia, Hawaii too.

The spider eggs hatch in winter. The “spiderlings” grow into adults within 5 weeks of hatching. The female grows no bigger than half an inch wide and a little over three tenths an inch long. The females build their webs as seen above.

The males are quite different from the females. They do not build webs but live in the leaves of bushes and trees. They are not brightly colored like the females and lack spines. The males only grow from eight thousandths of an inch to one hundred and eighteen thousands inch long! That is really tiny!!

So the males “hang” out and mature until the urge to mate moves them in fall. These tiny males go to the female’s web, where they (as was observed by scientists) tap 4 times in a “rhythmical pattern” on the web. Then they tentatively approach the females. The female responds by securing the male with their silk. Then the teeny tiny mating begins! The restrained male mates repeatedly, about 35 minutes at a time. After five days the male dies. 

The female makes a webbed sac with about 100-260 eggs under leaves of nearby bushes! These eggs hatch in winter and survive to spring. And the whole cycle starts again. The female dies after laying the eggs in the sac. Not exactly a Romeo and Juliet romance there! 

After three years in my new home I gave up on ever seeing them again. But the next fall imagine my surprise when I let Norie out on the screened in porch one morning and there was a teeny little spider, (about 2-3 16ths of an inch) just like the ones I knew! The spider had built its web at eye level right in front of the screen opposite my door onto my screened in patio ! It’s as if they wanted me to see them!! 

What are the chances that a spider or even their progeny would build a web right in front of my screen where I could see them and nowhere else in the bushes near the condo building. The web was connected by an anchor line to a long branch of the bush in front of my porch! I felt so happy to see this one. 

Then next year the daughter built her web from the tree down to the bushes in front of my guest bedroom. What a thrill! It was like they knew me, well sort of. I really think they like the bushes!

Then this year I thought I remembered the webs starting in September. It was the 29th of September and I had not seen any oddly shaped kite like webs with cotton bits on it. Oh well.

Then low and behold I looked out my window admiring my red maple tree and there above the bushes was a tiny, little, oddly shaped, kite-like web with cotton bits on it. The granddaughter’s web! (?)

Orb weaver web
The most recent web outside my guest room by the great granddaughter of the first one???

I have not seen any more of these little girls in two years now. But I am thankful that they showed themselves to me and feel like it was kind of a welcome home to me. You never know.

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