Walking through the woods has a new hazard: spider webs. These stretch between trees or grass stems or any upright, sturdy stalks. Some orb webs have strange looking spiders hanging from the center.
On first glance these spiders might be a piece of twig broken off with points sticking up. The illusion is dispelled by the shine and the colors.
Life is hard for these insect eaters. Cold, wet springs slow when the spiders hatch in the spring. Most web spiders die in the fall leaving eggs behind to survive the winter.
Minute spider hatchlings need minute food. Wind borne pollen works well, but the trees are slow to bloom in cold, wet springs.
Those hatchlings that survive spend the warm months trapping insects and trying to not become food. Birds, predatory insects, even other spiders see them as dinner.
Bigger spiders weave bigger webs until they stretch across pathways and between trees. The sticky silk grabs onto hair, face, hands and clothes. The only warning is spotting the spider hanging in midair.
Walking through the woods can quickly become a challenging affair. A web blocks this path so go around the tree where there is no web. If both ways are blocked, one must be torn down which is a shame as the spider spends a lot of time building her web and depends on it for food.
This year a great number of strange looking spiders are on those big webs. They are in a spider group called micrathena with spiny, hard, glossy abdomens stretched into spiked shapes. Most species are tropical. Several are found in the Ozarks.
All of these big orb web spiders are females as, in their world, females rule. The smaller males are tiny risk takers as, if their courtship dance isn’t good enough, they are dinner.