At the condo in B.C. there is a small porch shaped like an inverted bay window maybe fifteen feet long with access from both the living room and the bedroom. The porch has a glass railing four feet high with a black iron frame along the top. Nina keeps plants in pots at the base of the railing and this summer a garden spider took up residence above the plants. She constructed a large oval web that was anchored to the black frame, the plants and the glass.
She was a large beautiful spider with stripped legs maybe two inches long from the tips of her back legs to the tips of her front ones. She spent her days either cuddled up sleeping below the black frame or hanging upside down in the center of the web. She seemed somewhat nocturnal usually dropping down to the center of the web in the late afternoon and was still there when we went to sleep. This dropping down would happen in a rush as if she woke up and said to herself, “All right, time to get to work.”
If the web was damaged during the day it would be completely rebuilt when we rose in the morning and she would be at rest again beneath the frame.
I think the location she chose was unfortunate. While a few insects made it over the glass railing from time to time to visit the plants or buzz around on the porch, we saw her capture only one small creature. Perhaps she did better during the night while we were asleep, though a lack of food may have contributed to what happened later.
One day in late August a second spider appeared at the edge of the web. He was considerably smaller than the female though his legs were longer relative to the size of his body.
For maybe half an hour he waited at the edge of the web. Then he moved closer to the center and the female dropped down suddenly to her “working” position.
The male began to shake the web violently waving his front legs about. They moved closer to each other, both of them upside down relative to our perspective. Then he turned suddenly and rushed away, disappearing behind the black frame. She waited and moments later he reappeared and the process was repeated. This happened several times but each time he came closer to her. Soon they were within an inch of each other. The male seemed very excited, his front legs beating on the web. The female had turned toward him. Her front legs were curled back, her body seemed thrust toward him. She, too, appeared excited. With one of her back legs, actually the second to the back, the one on her right side, she began motioning toward the center of the large rear section of her body. She appeared to be beckoning him to come closer, quite literally pointing to the spot where she wanted him to touch her.
Still, he was hesitant. He would approach, his front legs beating on hers. A rear leg reached out and touched the spot she was pointing to. His body would swing toward hers. Then he would withdraw again, but now he moved only an inch or two away before returning to where she waited.
If the two bodies ever actually touched it happened very quickly, like a slap. Then without warning the female reached out and captured the male. Working quickly she wrapped him in webbing. Everything became still. She held the wrapped male with her front legs. She had turned him. The tips of his front legs were pointing up and still moving slowly. This dance of desire and death had taken place over an hour or more. Eventually she took him up to her resting place beneath the black frame. She curled up beside him and went to sleep.
A short time later we noticed a second male spider. He was hanging in midair on a strand of web suspended from the roof. He swung back and forth and jumped up and down in front of her as if shouting, “Hey, look at me!” If she was aware of him, she gave no sign that we could see. Eventually he touched down on the edge of the web and waited. In time she woke. He approached and the drama was replayed. This guy however had a different technique. A true acrobat he had tethered himself to the black frame and when he felt himself in danger he would drop loose and fall away from her as if on a swing.
Over the next couple of days I watched the female “entertain” several males. I never saw her capture any of the others, but the second one, the one on the swing was the love of her life. They went at each other with great excitement for an hour or more. I saw their bodies approach and “slap” together ten separate times. He became quite comfortable being close to her. He would approach and walk away only to return a couple of minutes later. Finally he left and she returned to her place beneath the frame. There, before falling asleep, she ate her dead former lover, webbing and all.
Unfortunately we had to leave the condo before she had fashioned her egg sack. Perhaps her progeny will be there next summer.
What a great observation Doug! I love those big (yellow and black?) garden spiders, but never had the chance to watch one like that. Now the egg sac … that is another story!
What’s the moral of this story?