I first spotted this beauty on October 1, 2021 while I was taking a walk along our road on San Juan Island. There was a cluster of sun loving mullein (Verbascum thapsus) mixed with one or two thistles (probably Canada thistle) growing along the road. The glistening silk threads woven between them drew me over to investigate. There were several Cross Orb Weavers sharing the space here, but one of these was not like the other. The spider that caught my attention was quite a bit darker than the others. Describing it as brown just doesn’t do it justice. Brown sounds much too plain. She was a lovely brunette amongst a few redheads!
~ After you’re done reading, come back and check out this link to learn more about pigmentation in arachnids – https://www.bio.fsu.edu/~miller/Spider%20photos/spider_literature/color%20in%20spiders%20papers/Oxford_Gillespie_20xx.pdf
Since I often enjoy walking on our road on sunny days, I started looking for her when I passed her home – the Mullein “apartments.” It wasn’t just the spiders enjoying the sunny housing complex, but these units housed a few other species as well. I found some Stilt Bugs (Neoneides sp.) and some Pentatomidae hiding in the fuzzy star shaped trichomes (little hairs) of the Mullein leaves.
Now that autumn has ushered in falling leaves, falling temperatures, and a good bit of rain, I thought of my friend Louisa, the Orb Weaver out in the cold. Had she managed to find a sheltered spot to survive the recent storms? Several times over the past two weeks I’ve looked for her, but she was just gone. Since the lifespan for this species is only a year or less, I suspected she’d reached her end with our last dip in temperatures, gusty winds, and precipitation. I held out a tiny bit of hope though. Just a bit!
Today (November 6, 2021), my husband and I walked our road. It was sprinkling and the precipitation was cold. When we got down to the point on the road to turn around, shortening our walk to just the point where the old cabin used to be, I asked him to wait one second while I looked one more time at that patch of Mullein and the drying stand of thistles.
As I bent down to look closely, I saw a single strand of silk. Examining the attachment and following closely, it led me to Louisa. She was tucked under the dried nodding inflorescence of the thistle. Once a purply-pink sugar treat for pollinators, the now nodding blooms have been repurposed into a thatch roof to keep this little spider dry.
I’ve thought about relocating her so the county doesn’t mow her when they scalp the roadside vegetation. It is bound to happen at some point. For now, I’m going to leave her be, and just keep a close eye on her. Maybe I’ll make a sign! Be Nice to Spiders. ❤️ Louisa lives here!
Fun Fact! Did you know that 25% of the diet of Orb Weaver spiderlings is pollen? Check it out. Article linked in my list of sources below.
References and further Reading –
Eggs B, Sanders D (2013) Herbivory in Spiders: The Importance of Pollen for Orb-Weavers. PLoS ONE 8(11): e82637. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0082637
Gucker, Corey L. 2008. Verbascum thapsus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/forb/vertha/all.html [2021, November 6].
Horton DR, Lewis TM (2003) Numbers and types of arthropods overwintering on common mullein, Verbacsum thapsus L. (Scrophulariacae), in a central Washington fruit-growing region. Journal of the Entomology Society of British Columbia 100, 79–87.
Oxford, Geoff & Gillespie, Rosemary. (1998). Evolution and ecology of spider coloration. Annual review of entomology. 43. 619-43. 10.1146/annurev.ento.43.1.619.
Riaz, Muhammad, Zia-Ul-Haq, Muhammad and Jaafar, Hawa Z.E.Common mullein, pharmacological and chemical aspects. Revista Brasileira de Farmacognosia [online]. 2013, v. 23, n. 6 [Accessed 6 November 2021] , pp. 948-959. Available from: <https://doi.org/10.1590/S0102-695X2013000600012>. ISSN 1981-528X. https://doi.org/10.1590/S0102-695X2013000600012.
Turker AU, Gurel E. Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus L.): recent advances in research. Phytother Res. 2005 Sep;19(9):733-9. doi: 10.1002/ptr.1653. PMID: 16222647. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.1653