Garden spiders–the orb weavers

    I am sure you all have seen the work of the garden spider–a big silken web, almost like a wheel. (There is a “hub” at the centre, lines radiating outwards, and a whole host of “rings.”
    Especially in the early morning, when the dew is still on the web, it is a thing of great beauty.
    It is not, however, made to be beautiful. It is made as a trap. This web is how the orb weaver catches his dinner–and all other meals, too.
    The silk of the web is, size for size, much stronger than steel. It also is elastic–twice as elastic as nylon, for example.
    Although webs may be as large as several feet in diameter, most are much smaller than that. However, an average web will contain maybe 20 metres of silk.
    The hard-working spider can produce this web in half an hour, or less.
    The web usually is sticky, so a blundering fly or grasshopper gets stuck as soon as he runs into it.
    Some spiders sit in the “hub” to wait for their prey. Some build a blind at the edge of the web, and some just hide behind a twig or leaf at the edge of the web.
    When an insect hits, the spider usually runs to the hub (if he is not there already). By touching the radial lines, he knows where his meal is. He runs to that spot.
    If the insect is a big one, like a grasshopper or a big moth, he likely will inject it with poison. This usually subdues, but does not kill, the prey. Then he carefully wraps is up so it no longer can move.
    This will then make a future meal, safely tucked away.
    Like everything else, the web can get worn and tattered. When that happens, the spider simply eats it. The old silk can be re-worked in the spider’s body into new silk.
    This only takes about 30 minutes, and the spider can get on with building a new one right away.
    Incidentally, some spider webs are not sticky. But in this case, the strands are very close together and the bumbling insect simply gets all tangled up.
    And some spiders make a “sheet-web”–a flat web which is on the horizontal.
    The spider hides underneath it. When a fly gets into the web, the spider runs out underneath it, and pulls the poor fellow down, before wrapping him up and hiding him away.
    The male spider is always a lot smaller than the female, and she often mistakes him for a meal and eats him. When he feels amourous, he has to approach with great caution.
    Even at that, after the deed is done, he often becomes a meal anyway–sort of an after-sex lunch.
    Spider webs have some remarkable uses; for one, they have been used for dressing wounds for hundreds of years. They are used for cross-hairs in telescopes and transits. And they are used for silk clothing.
    One type of spider can produce 135 metres of silk in an hour (but this is only half that of a good silkworm).
    How many spiders are there around us? Lots and lots! One estimate is five million or more in a hectare of pasture.
    Spiders live almost entirely on insects. And this makes them just about the best friends we have in the natural world.
    Be glad that we have them!

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