Star Spider: Please Knock Before Entering

AKA Spiny Orb Weaver

Gasteracantha cancriformis
Gasteracantha cancriformis

Gasteracantha cancriformis

When I first saw this spider I was reminded yet again that I was living in an exotic place. The bright colours and spikes look more sea creature than spider. Colours vary according to location. The spiders on our lot are yellow with black spots but in Florida they have bright red tips on the spikes.

Star spiders like overgrown shrubs, trees and pathways. Until I learned to recognize typical building sites I routinely blundered through many webs. I have learned to be more mindful and so fewer spiders are made homeless these days. Star spiders normally rebuild their webs each evening but I still feel bad about leaving a spider without her web for any amount of time. Webs mean food and security.

The star spider’s web is distinct from other orb webs. An empty space surrounds the centre where she waits for her prey. Strange fuzzy bits mark some of the web’s foundation lines. People offer theories about the fuzzy bits but mostly they are a mystery. One writer suggested the fuzzy bits might act as a warning for birds. This makes some sense to me. The webs are not perpendicular to the ground but tilted slightly. A wren taking flight from the ground might be able to spot the fuzz and manoeuvre away from a sticky mess. Sadly, that little bit of fuzz is less effective as a warning sign for this clumsy human. When accidents occur I usually see the web after I’ve walked into it.

If you spot a star spider it is probably a female since they are considerably larger than the males.

Each evening the female constructs a crisp new web. The next day she relaxes and waits around for the food and fun to arrive. If an insect flies into her web she moves with alacrity toward the struggling thing. She probably doesn’t want its death throes to damage her web so she paralyses her meal before slurping up the milkshake insides. (Her venom is effective against wee insects but harmless to humans).

Sometimes a tiny male or three lurk nearby each hanging by a single simple thread.

Should two spiders discover each other, the sex that follows is a bit kinky. Whatever factor draws the male spider’s desire (web beauty, her simple availability in the neighbourhood or some other unknown) if he decides to visit his approach is exceedingly polite. He does not surge onto the web. He begins by introducing himself. He knocks four times to get her attention. If he thinks he might be welcomed, he cautiously moves forward a bit at a time. If he manages to get to the centre, he wins. She has accepted his advances. I wonder if he realizes what will come next.

To avoid cold feet, second thoughts or some other unknown, the female will strap him down with silken bonds and together they will give that web some good vibrations. Sometimes they will make the web shudder more than once.

If spider porn is your thing, Tristan Tierney filmed a mating couple last summer (June 2013)

I hope it was good for them because once she creates the egg mass she will die. The male will also die within the week.

Before her demise, the female spider will take the egg case to a tree leaf and construct an egg mass that looks like this:

Photograph by Lyle J. Buss, University of Florida
Photograph by Lyle J. Buss, University of Florida

She wraps the egg case in a soft silk blanket and covers it with this yellow coating. In time and if all goes well the spiderlings will hatch and continue the Circle of Life.

From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life
(from The Lion King)

For more detailed information check out:

http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Gasteracantha_cancriformis/

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/beneficials/beneficial-23_spiny_orb_weaver_spider.htm

 

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14 thoughts on “Star Spider: Please Knock Before Entering

  1. Great post…I wonder how differently we would regard sex if it was our “dying act”? My daughter and ex-husband are deathly afraid of spiders. My granddaughter likes to tease her mom with drawings of them : ) I can’t think of any living thing I have a phobia about…people maybe!

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    1. I definitely can see how someone would be afraid of a spider. Some are venomous and they do look fierce.

      I don’t exactly have a phobia about people but I do try to tread lightly. They are the most dangerous creature I can think of. =)

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  2. Another great photo! I have all sorts of spiders lurking in my garden beds but hadn’t seen any of these except on spider identification searches online. Now I wonder if I’ve blasted through their webs without even seeing what I was doing. I always try to watch my step but now I’ll be even more on the lookout for these little beauties! I think they look like a little brooches, don’t you?

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    1. They do look like brooches! Good description! Though colorful they can be tricky to spot. They are small and hidden at the center of the web. Because the web is tilted it doesn’t always catch the light. But they are common if you have narrow pathways through shrubs.

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  3. What a funny little spider. Thank you for the story. How sad that they don’ t live happily ever after.. Still at least she doesn’t t eat him. What a beautiful egg mass, it looks like spun gold.

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  4. I used to have loads of these little spiders all over my gardens, invariably in the pathways. They also came in a variety of colors-red, yellow, cream mostly. I haven’t seen any the past couple of years. Thanks for the information.

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