Shamrock Orbweaver Spider at Col. Samuel Smith Park
Late last summer, based on reports of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron being seen at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Etobicoke, Bob and I finally found the time to take a spin down to that waterfront park to see if we would be lucky enough to find it. Amongst other things, I found this gorgeous Shamrock Orbweaver Spider.
There was no sign of the Heron from the wooden observation deck at the edge of the pond, so Bob and I walked around to the far side and followed an obscure trail through the woods closer to the water’s edge.
A couple of Black-crowned Nigh Herons were in the trees opposite us, so I moved closer to the shore to obtain an unobstructed view of the resting birds. My camera was hanging from my neck, and when I lifted it to take a picture, I discovered cobwebs all over the lens. That is when I realized that I had walked into the Shamrock Orbweaver’s web. I felt badly for damaging the spider’s web and immediately began looking to see what type of spider had constructed it. Its black and white legs peeking out from behind a leaf are what gave away the spider’s location.
Shamrock Orbweaver Spiders have bold black and white legs, but the bulbous abdomen can vary significantly in colour from pale yellow to green, red or purple. Always the males are noticeably smaller than the females of the species, and their bodies are more elongated. The body of the spider that we saw was about one inch (2.5 cm) long.
Usually the web of an orbweaver spider is quite noticeable, but I had my eyes on the sky that day which also explains why I became mobbed by some species of ant that delivered a nasty series of stings to my legs and ankles when I knelt down to offer my apologies to the spider. Although I regretted my negligence, at least I could take solace knowing that orbweaver spiders spin a new web every morning after consuming the strands of the previous day’s web.
This gorgeous female Shamrock Orbweaver Spider is demonstrating this species’ practice of laying low while only a single thread that extends from her hidden location to the middle of the web will serve to clue her in when prey becomes entangled.
The habitat where we found this Shamrock Orbweaver Spider was ideal for its requirements. Tall grass and shrubs dominated the shoreline of the pond while the modest woodlot ensured good cover, and a ready supply of insects would come from both the water and the forest not to mention nearby meadows.
Shamrock Orbweaver Spiders are also referred to as Pumpkin Spiders probably for two reasons. One, these spiders attain their maximum size in the autumn when insect prey is most plentiful, and two, the resulting bulbous body of a well-fed spider, especially those whose bodies lean more towards the orange end of the colour spectrum, reminds onlookers of a pumpkin. Add to this the fact that a female Shamrock Orbweaver lays her eggs in the fall, and you have the recipe for quite a rotund specimen. This species of spider does possess venom of a sort, and it is more common for the females to bite than the males, so I was lucky that this female kept her distance. I’m sure her bite would hurt a heck of a lot more than those of the feisty ants.
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