Spiders and Shoju

So I’m just gonna put this out here now—arachnophobes, skip this one. There will be spider talk and at least one spider photo. This will make you unhappy. Come back in two weeks, and I’ll talk about something much less squirmy. (Possibly “Why Are All My Heucheras Dead?” which is a topic of some concern at the moment…)

We cool? Okay. Moving on.

A buddy of mine came out today to visit—he’s just moved into the area and the first I saw of him was when a man dressed as a Roman Catholic priest tried to sell me a pink bible. While I was spreading mulch. Because that’s just the sort of thing that happens. (My primary thought, before I recognized him, was that my husband had talked to the priest and had sent him around to the sideyard to sell me a bible and I was going to kill him for throwing me under the bus and wait, nobody SELLS bibles, they give them away and—hey, isn’t that Sam?)

Well, we had a good laugh and then we had brunch and then we had some shoju, a Korean alcoholic beverage that resembles sake in the same way that paint thinner resembles vodka, and in this pleasant state we wandered through the garden, swatting at mosquitoes.

Sam is very fond of spiders, and we had plenty on view today. The most dramatic are the Argiope spiders, with their handsome black and yellow colors and their zig-zag webs. They are probably the most visible of the spiders in my yard, and the most likely to take down butterflies (which are, in all honesty, the ones I notice in webs—most flies become indistinct when silk wrapped, but I can still ID a swallowtail even post-mortem.) Sam hadn’t seen one before, and we’ve got three or four visible in the garden at any given time.

Next up are the wolf spiders, which particularly like my mulch pile. There’s a large stretch of summer during which I feel horribly guilty using the pitchfork in the mulch because if I disturb a mother wolf spider, she will likely be covered in teeny tiny baby spiders. Accidentally sling a mother wolf spider with the mulch, and you get a rain of baby spiders which I then fret will get lost and be sad and be eaten by things and I am a monster and oh god, maybe I should stop slinging mulch and go drink more shoju.

Jumping spiders are very common in the mulch as well. We have so many small insects that there is a smorgasbord for any jumping spider willing to track it down. Occasionally they dash over my feet while gardening. I have become fairly sanguine about this. (Shoju helps.) I do not bother trying to ID them—too small, too many options, too many that can only be told apart if you’re willing to dissect their mandibles or something equally unpleasant. They are little gray-brown jumping spiders and they are welcome.

Some years we get nursery spiders, which are plain brown spiders with elongated legs that build elaborate nursery webs. They will web leaves together in big balls (my coneflowers are always a favorite) and then one day you’ll come out and the web will be crammed with hundreds of teeny tiny little baby spiders. For whatever unknown reason, these spiders go in waves—we’ll have three or four nursery webs one year, and then none for two years and then three or four more again.)

Incidentally—not spider related, but on the subject of yearly fluctuation—this has been a crazy year for Apheloria virginiensis, the big black-and-yellow common millipedes that roam in the leaf litter. They’re about the size of a cocktail weenie. I am not sure why they would suddenly explode in numbers this year, although my theories are A) extremely damp weather led to congenial millipede conditions or B) all that mulching has provided the equivalent of leaf litter habitat. Regardless, there are zillions of the little devils now. I don’t mind them. They do no harm so far as I know, and they are not centipedes, which I absolutely cannot bear. Compared to centipedes, spiders are positively cuddly and snuggly.

Speaking of which, this handsome devil here is an Arrowhead Micrathena spider.

micrathena

Weird looking critter, isn’t it? Found in the Eastern US and throughout Central America, a small, undemonstrative orbweaver. They have very scary pointed bodies but are barely more than a centimeter long. (I had to break out the macro lens to get any kind of photo.) This is a female—the males are even smaller—and they build relatively small and not terribly dramatic webs. This one had settled into a spot on my Carolina allspice shrub (a shade-loving deciduous shrub that I cannot recommend highly enough for any and all purposes—wet, dry, hard clay, good loam, a marvelously sturdy shrub) and had built a small and careful web, close enough to the porch light to get some traffic but out of the way enough to avoid the really huge moths that would simply shred the web in half. (In a garden that hosts gigantic Imperial moths, this is a concern!)

Now and again, we can spot Green Lynx Spiders in the garden, but there were none out today, alas. I have run into them occasionally, though not recently. My feelings are mixed—they’re a glorious spider, large and vivid pale green, with surprisingly thoughtful eyes (not something you expect to see on an arachnid!)—but they also prey heavily on domestic honey bees, one of their favored prey species. Pollinators are not so thick on the ground at the moment that I am thrilled to have a honey bee predator in residence, and while I respect their predation on many damaging bugs, they are an indiscriminate predator.

Well, no matter how much shoju is involved, the mosquitoes get to you after awhile and you have to give up the hunt. (Also, it’s nearly ninety degrees with a zillion percent humidity, and Roman collars are hot.) Having logged several delightful spider species, we went back inside. But it’s nice to know that even in the middle of August, in a ragged summer garden, you can find a good cross-section of spider-kind—and nice to know that even if they show up with booze and bibles, there are plenty of people who are delighted to roam around a garden looking for them.

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Comments

  1. brenda clements jones says

    Ursula, I thoroughly enjoyed your “taking me” on a walk thru the garden/spider patch! You sound a bit like me, maybe needing to know what everything is, and not being willing to disassemble mandibles! Thanks for your post! It was interesting and fun!

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