I’ve been watching a spider at work out on my deck for several weeks now. I finally identified it as a Bowl and Doily Spider, but that took a good bit of detective work.
I first noticed the spider on July 27th when it spun a tiny cocoon hung from a much heavier and thicker part of it’s web. Not having my camera with me, I pulled out my iPhone and snapped a few pictures so that I could look it up later.
The web ran from my broom handle to about 2 feet away to the edge of a table top leaning against the wall, and out about 18 inches to the top of a bird feeder which I had left on a small bench.
And this web was very messy. Certainly not the flat orb webs we’re so used to seeing in Halloween decorations. It seemed to go in every direction at once, but in a totally random way.
I initially thought the small cocoon was the spider’s egg sac, but then every few days the spider added to the cocoon, elongating it.
I wasn’t sure how long it took for spider eggs to hatch, but I assumed after a few weeks had passed that I should have noticed something. But the spider just kept adding to this structure every couple of days. And I kept snapping away with my iPhone camera every day or so.
I was hoping to get a top view of the spider, but I only ever saw its belly as it hung upside down under that cocoon. All day every day that spider was right there with the sac. I assumed she was guarding her eggs.
My cat Merlin even took up the observation game, sitting inside the window and watching that spider at work.
Because I wanted to see what would happen, I tried to be careful around that web. Using the broom was out of the question, so my deck hasn’t been swept for almost a month now.
Earlier this week I loaded up all of the photos to try to identify the spider. Insect ID is not my forte, except for butterflies. But I really want to learn how to identify the other insects that show up in my Ecosystem Garden: the different kinds of native bees, the spiders, and all the others who come for a visit.
After I got the photos loaded, my dogs needed to go outside, so off we went. I was leaning over to pet their little furry heads when I got a whole different view of the web. This web wasn’t a random mess after all. It looked like an inverted bowl, and the spider hung out inside this bowl and the egg case was above that. A very good reminder to look at things from more than one angle!
So I snapped some more photos from this new perspective, and headed back inside to do some sleuthing.
How does one begin when trying to identify a bug?
Well I have to admit that usually I ask my team members. I’ve set up a private forum for both Team Beautiful Wildlife Garden and Team Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens so that we can get to know each other, ask each other questions, and talk about ideas for our articles.
Several of my team mates are really good at identifying insects:
- Beatriz Moisset has published several books about native bees and other pollinators
- Heather Holm is fascinated by insects, and has written many articles about the new bugs she finds in her wildlife garden
- Loret T. Setters has an amazing knack for finding tiny critters and working out their identification
So I rely on their help every time I find a bug that I don’t know what it is.
But this time I wanted to try to do it myself (I did ask them later to make sure I got it right).
I knew that Beatriz, Heather, and Loret use a site called BugGuide, so I started there. But there was nine pages of spider families and I only had a belly shot, and most of those photos were top views. I clicked through all of the pages, but didn’t find anything similar.
So I turned to Google. I started by entering “spider that makes cocoon.” And then I scrolled through page after page of results, but without success. I then went to the “images” part of the search and scrolled through many pages of photos, but still wasn’t satisfied.
Then I entered “how to identify spiders” into the search box, and found a site called InsectIdentification.org, which has a search box where you enter the primary color, a secondary color, how many legs your critter has, and your state.
My search in that box gave me 12 options for my spider, so I started eliminating them one by one. Some were easy to eliminate, which helped me narrow down my search.
I kept working through that list until I only had one option left: the Bowl and Doily Weaver Spider, which makes a web shaped like an upside down bowl over a flatter part of the web, the “doily.” Since I had just observed that my spider makes a web just like this, I was fairly certain that I had gotten it right. But I still hadn’t confirmed that the cocoon was actually the egg sac for the spider.
Beatriz thought my egg case belonged to a Basilica Spider as she had recently photographed them in her wildlife garden:
But the Basilica Spider is an orb weaver, which is the kind of web we see at Halloween. My spider definitely wasn’t an orb weaver and had the exact kind of web described for the Bowl and Doily spider. And the Basilica Spiders eggs look like a string of pearls, and mine weren’t that well defined.
So, unless I find out otherwise, I am calling my spider a Bowl and Doily Spider, even though I haven’t yet found anything to confirm the egg case.
Sadly, after all of this watching, there’s a new sheriff in town. Yesterday I noticed that an orb-weaving spider had built a web that covered my Bowl and Doily Spider’s web. My spider is gone, but the egg sac remains.
The new spider is much larger–and very fast. It’s reddish in color. But that is about all I know. I haven’t yet gotten a good photo of it, just this blurry one so far.
So now the watching game begins all over again….
I think the new spider may just have eaten mine for lunch.
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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