Chrissy Cross

With all the rain, sun, steam, storms, humidity, wild winds we’ve been getting, no human would know when it’s safe to set up outdoor structures… let alone spiders. Likely, spiders know more.

This showy spider has decorated my back verandah railing. An intricate and very fine web is not enough for this one; it likes to add the zig-zag silky criss-cross that give it its name: the St. Andrews Cross Spider (Argiope aetheia).

An orb-weaver spider, it is gaily decorated, and for me reminiscent of some Aboriginal artwork. Even the leg colours and gradations are elegantly chosen.

The disputed theory behind the cross is that it renders the spider less obvious to predators, as a distraction.

For me it is a Christmas gift of symbolic decoration, given that my house is not festooned with fairy lights or tinsel.

So I say thank you!

Diamonds for breakfast

As I’ve never been one for expensive jewellery, the ephemeral gems that nature offers now and then are quite enough to send me into raptures. They are only visible when the night dew has been caught by them, the sun’s light catches them in turn, and I awake in time to catch the sight of the fleeting treat of strings of tiny diamonds.

diamonds-2

They are especially welcome because they appear to decorate the wintry bare of twigs and vines, to interlink the sticks about to be pruned and set wheels of wonder amongst them. This triple display demonstrates that they’re available in a range of sizes.

diamonds-3

diamonds-4

Set amongst the lichened arms, while the sun is behind them, the intricacy of the night’s work in these webs is clear for the moment. Stunning engineering and art.

diamonds-5

And then there’s the slings, the hammocks of gossamer, stronger, more layers, to catch…?

diamonds-6

But if I miss the diamonds, as the sun’s heat intensifies I am given the spectacle of the ground steaming as if I have hot springs just over my garden edge.

Never a dull moment when you live with nature on even a small scale — so long as you take the time to notice it.

Weavers

Firstly, I’d like to apologise for the dearth of blog posts lately. The website has been in process of transferring servers and this has been more of a prolonged nightmare than imagined, with many unexpected side effects and hiccups.

Hopefully we can now get back into a routine of weekly posts, where I snap and rabbit on about my wildlife and webmaster Fred turns them into web language.

weaver-1

On a bushwalk I noticed this odd swathing at the base of a tree.

A bug-savvy friend tells me this is probably the home of one of the ‘bag moth caterpillars’ — family Ochrogaster, also called procession caterpillars. Apparently they feed at night on the tree and ‘hide’ in their web during daylight.

weaver-2

Then I found a smaller swathing. Having harvested the Kangaroo Apple bushes which were about at the end of their season, I’d put the oldest fruit in a dish, prior to planting them.

I’d left it overnight on a table on the verandah.

In the morning, I found they were neatly and thoroughly enmeshed by the web of a tiny, hard-working spider.

What amazed me was how it had formed anchor points on the smooth sides of the stainless steel dish. Some superglue!

Morning glories

Spring is here, with welcome rain freshening the creek, which had slowed and dropped alarmingly.

Having only one tank here, when I used to have four, is nerve-wracking.

Nights are still cool enough for a fire, and mornings are bright and crisp.

Not so crisp as to make me want to stay in bed, however. I am happy that the light is waking me up earlier, so sunrises are back on my radar.

glories-2

Dews are heavy of a morning, bringing endless varieties of bejewelled webbing designs.

The grand she-oaks are especially favoured, with one branch bearing an unusual flag-shaped web.

glories-3

The small Acacia Baileyana wattle that I planted only months ago had not been forgotten. 

It hasn’t flowered yet, but who needs flowers when you have strings of pearls?

Natural creativity

When I look closely at the things nature creates, I am very often overwhelmed with admiration.

For example, this side view showed me the superfine and tiny holding points of this bejewelled web, suspended from the possum-chomped twigs of the climbing rose. Like upturned arms, ready to have the wool wound on for grandma…

webs-2

I usually only see it from the front, backlit by the early sun, the weavings delineated by overnight dew. How does the spider get it so evenly spaced, so perfect?

The inspiration for lacemakers.

Bathed in cloud

For so long, it seems, we have had dry mornings. Sometimes cold and sometimes not, but never dewy and certainly not shrouded in white wetness like my favourite wake-up sight: Cloudland.

I’ve been missing them.

As I returned from a walk up the hill to release the bush rat from my live trap (he’s destroying my vegie garden!), even my loo looked more romantic when seen through fine muslin veils.

The view from the loo was also greatly enhanced by the eerie backdrop, gently backlit and perfectly still.

But of course, as always here, you have to look at the small wonders as well as the large.

In the brief time before the sun forced the cloud to rise and part company with my forest, I could see that each shrub carried a multi-level and multicultural population of spiders.

Here lived spiders who wove vertical webs like sails, spiders who created horizontal webs as fine as cold morning breath and slung them like hammocks, and spiders who curled up inside leaves instead and hung them like Christmas decorations amongst all the lacy finery.

None of this is visible for long, but long enough to refresh my spirit. Once more, I can say, ‘I wouldn’t be dead for quids!’.

Bejewelled bushes

I can’t help rushing out with the camera on the rare mornings where light overnight rain or heavy dew coincides with a brighter morning.

It can’t be too sunny, or the precious jewels thus revealed will have been dried up.

Then all I’d see would be a spiderweb, miraculous in itself, but more common.

On a special morning like this the web becomes ‘value-added’, enhanced to a collared necklace of great beauty — and value, at least to me. The design is always different, and although the jewels — round as pearls, translucent as diamonds — may be ephemeral, the impression on me is lasting.

Bu the way, the lichen-tufted arrangement of sticks on which the necklace is displayed used to be a living rose bush; it’s one of the many victims of perpetual wallaby pruning!

Willy Weavers

My friend Christa doesn’t live in the bush, but on her rural suburban riverside block she observes an astonishing amount of fascinating natural phenomena.

The key is that she is keen to watch — and to wonder. Plus she takes great photos.

As her wildlife is often quite different to mine, she sees things I am not likely to. This one is so special I’ve asked her permission to share it with you.

She was drawing ‘immense pleasure’ from watching a pair of Willie Wagtails building a nest under the verandah roof outside her bedroom.  In fact, they would wake her up with their chirping and flurrying.  

To her surprise, she realised that they were using cobwebs as the main building material.

‘They arrive with threads wrapped around their heads, then wipe the head on the nest, all the while wriggling inside, checking for the right fit.’

‘They also use bits of grass and seem to put them on the inside. I think the nest grows about 1cm per day. By the weekend, it might be ready for eggs.’

But after the weekend Christa emailed the sad news. The Willie Wagtails had abandoned the nest on Saturday, after all that complex weaving.  

‘During the day, once or twice, they still defended the yard against crows and magpies. There was also a curious thing happening with two Willies. A larger one came and bullied the nest builder out of the nest, then briefly hopped inside it and left. Perhaps that bully is the reason for the now deserted nest. It still is a beautiful construction and I’m happy I could watch the process.’

To me, it looks almost like felting. And it is a great pity the Wagtails broke up before they could occupy it and start a family — but I warn all owner builders that this is a possible outcome!

Miniature marvels

I am a sucker for miniatures, natural or man-made.  Having taken many photos of large and impressive webworks, presumably by large spiders, I was charmed to come across these creations by smaller artists.

Jewelled perfection slung between two twigs, yet smaller than my thumb. Awe-inspiring.

I walked about the garden seeking more treasures, and on a birch tree I found a tiny horizontal arrangement, a diamond net to catch a cloud-drop.

Such beauties are why I love living close to nature. They keep me sane, in a wider world that does not value these intricate riches as I do. After all, there is no export ‘demand’ for ephemeral diamonds.

Bare-skinned gum trees

Late summer, and the smooth-trunked gum trees here have shed their bark clothes– perversely, just as it’s getting chilly. This  one near the path to the outdoor loo astonishes each time I walk by with the amount of bark strips from just one tree. No wonder we build up such a good fuel load for bushfires.

I always want to stroke the new bare trunks, cool to the touch, and yet warm too, with their slight dimples and bumps.

It was only in the photo, not the flesh, that I noticed this engaging detail (right) — an arm and hand, rather Gollum-like, pensively poised on the chin of this emerging face.

Even the saplings contribute a lot of bark to the forest floor, rising shamelessly bare and beautiful from their shredded skirts (left). The bigger ones here are often multi-trunked — the only reason they weren’t logged 50 years ago. The early morning sunlight has tinted this one with apricot, which I am admiring when I spot yet another detail.

Backlit spiders’ webs on a nearby Angophora, a complex of levels and patterns, given solidity for just a few minutes until the sun rises higher. What a world of surprises!

Sensible spider

Following a brief but heavy shower of rain, I spotted this little arrangement in the climbing rose that hangs beyond my kitchen window. I probably only did so because the radiating central part of the web was delineated with raindrops.

So was the leaf that hung at its heart. I knew this was a Leaf-curling spider because I’d been told so before. Even my bad memory gets this visual association enough to remember its name!

But I knew nothing else about it.

It’s one of the Phonognatha family, probably Phonognatha graeffii — according to the Australian Museum site. This was a gum leaf, not a rose leaf, for the female collects her chosen leaf from the ground, and curls it to a protective shape, tightly closed at the top. 

She spins her silk to hold it in place and line it, and usually all you will see are her legs protruding from the bottom. With these she feels for the vibrations of any hapless insect that gets trapped in her web.

Until she has to make that dash, she is protected not only from rain but birds and wasps.

This day she was being sensible as well as reclusive, keeping her legs dry. If I could see her, she’d apparently be fat and oval-shaped with red-brown legs and body and a cream coloured pattern on her back.

I loved these details from the Museum site:

 ‘Sometimes other objects, such as snail shells (which come ready-curled), are used.’ Spidery labour-saving devices?

and

‘Juvenile spiders start off by bending over a small green leaf, but eventually graduate to larger dead leaves’.  Learner leaf-curlers!

Happy Huntsmans

I am happy about this Huntsman because it is on the external wall of my house, just under the verandah’s tin roof.

Using the Findaspider website I discovered recently, I now realise that there are several different species of Huntsman spiders. This is, I think, Holconia immanis. It’s apparently one of the larger Huntsmans.

The garters on the legs are distinctive. I can appreciate its elegant patterning out here, where I didn’t when it was on my ceiling — or in my fruit bowl.

However, I think I have also now identified the spiders on the tin in the heatwave (see my ‘Hotfooted spiders’ post) as another of the Huntsman family — Delena cancerides.

Don’t ask me why it is so satisfying to have a name for a specific creature — perhaps because it seems disrespectful to just lump them all together ? ‘Oh, they all look alike to me!’

Nature is a constant learning process and I’m lucky it presents so much to me here.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...