|Orb Weaver Spider - Neoscona crucifera|
Family Araneidae - Orb-Weavers. These sometimes brightly-colored spiders are important insect
predators. Live adult female orb weaver spider photographed at DuPage County, Illinois
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On a hot August day, I watched this very ambitious female orbweaver capture a cicada perhaps 3 times her size. I happened upon the drama only after she had made the initial snare and I suppose she had already delivered the paralyzing bite to her prey as there was no struggle left in the unfortunate. The cicada had been trapped in her web about 4 feet off the ground, and the spider was in the process off transferring the prey to a lower, less conspicuous position.
She did this by a series by a complicated series of web modifications whereby the entangling original orb spokes were all severed (while still maintaining the structural integrity of the support web), resulting in the prey "bundle" hanging from a single thread attached to one long line. The spider somehow kept moving the attachment point down that one long line, although I could not quite tell how she was doing it.
It was an amazing feat of engineering that simply reinforced my admiration for these top predators, the spiders. Humans can barely set up a crane without it falling over and killing people, and here is an organism single-handedly, so to speak, moving three or four times her own weight the equivalent of 100 stories through thin air, in a matter of about 5 minutes.
The spider kept returning to this leaf at the bottom of her zip line. She made some sort of modification, then ran back to the cicada and lowered it 3-4 inches at a time until it rested at the bottom where she secured it for feeding. At no time did the spider bear the weight of the prey, it was all done with silk. Amazing!
Neoscona female spider guards her prey
N. arabesca disassembles and eats her web ahead of approaching thunderstorm
Class Arachnida / Order Araneae: Spiders are the largest group of arachnids. They are easily recognized by their eight legs, and there are few creatures great or small that elicit such irrational fear in mankind. The vast majority of spiders are completely harmless and offer beneficial services, chief of which is keeping the burgeoning insect population in check. I am continually amazed at the resourcefulness of these supremely successful predators.
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