Punkin, my Halloween spider

Today’s guest blogger is Cletus Lee. Mr. Lee is a native of Virginia and received a BS in Geology from Virginia Tech.  He tells us that, after an interesting career in the Oil & Gas industry, followed by another in information sciences, he retired in 2008 and is pursuing nature photography, cycling and other long time hobbies.  He is an amateur arachnologist and resides in Bellaire, TX, just a few blocks from the Nature Discovery Center – his photos of spiders are fascinating and we thought we’d share them – along with Lee’s thoughts on the subjects of his photos – with you.

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Click to view large: Spinybacked Orbweaer
Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: Cletus Lee

It was Punkin’s “grandmother” that started my current interest in spiders.  One morning in May 2007, while opening the blinds in our den, I noticed a spider building a web just outside our den window in a corner between the den and the dining room.  From that point on, each day, I would eagerly open the blinds to greet the sun and my new little friend.

Spinybacked Orbweavers (Gasteracantha cancriformis) have long been one of my favorite spiders because they are colorful and decorate a neat orb web. Smaller than a dime, they can be found in the Houston area in shades of white, yellow and orange.   Their most prominent feature is the abdomen, which sports spike-like spines around its edge and a series of spots that create a smiley face pattern across the back.

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Click to view large: Yellow Orbweaver
Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: Cletus Lee

I continued watching the spider outside my window through the rest of May and into June.  One morning in late June, I was saddened to find the web and spider gone. I was disappointed to have my daily spider-watch ritual come to an end, but I was not disappointed for long.  A few days later, I was working outside near the old web’s location and saw two very small orb webs nearby.  A closer inspection revealed two tiny Spinybacked Orbweavers. As they grew, they molted and built larger webs. One spiderling disappeared and the other gradually moved over to the same corner of the house formerly occupied by her parent. I watched this spider, probably the daughter of the first, for about two months.  Near the end of August, she also disappeared during the night.

Once I knew the routine, I began searching the nearby bushes looking for the next generation.  Early in September, I found another Spinybacked Orbweaver. Unlike her mother and grandmother, she was orange and had a perfect jack-o-lantern face. With Halloween approaching, I decided to name my new spider Punkin.

Click to view large: Punkin
Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: Cletus Lee

Late in September 2007, Punkin set up housekeeping in the same spot previously occupied by her mother and grandmother.  I was not certain how long spiders lived, but those earlier spiders seemed to last about two months as adults.  October came and went.  So did November and December.  To encourage Punkin to stay, I caught live bugs and tossed them onto the web.  She was one well-fed spider.  During the winter, Punkin received a lot of care and attention and stayed around my den window until late February 2008.

Observing three generations of spiders during the summer and fall of 2007 was an education.  Being able to see nature up close, right outside my window, was a treasured experience which has broadened my horizons and fostered a new respect for spiders.  With a flashlight, I now explore my backyard and the grounds of the neighborhood Nature Center nightly to check on my little friends and make some new ones.

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8 thoughts on “Punkin, my Halloween spider

  1. This is a great little article about Spinybacked Orbweavers. It certainly inspires me, and hopefully others, to stop and take a closer look at their relatives that live in my yard! Fantastic pictures as well.

  2. I loved reading about the multiple generations of “domestic aracnids” decorating your home exterior. What a fun and fascinating hobby.

    This may be an ignorant question, but how do you know they are females??? Clearly I’m the true “amateur” arachnologist!!!

    Tell that cute, lively wife of yours “hello”!!

  3. wonderful. keep up the fun. all of the nature lovers in houston will be out looking for spiders. hope to see ya’ll soon. b

  4. Identifying Spider Gender:

    Most spiders that we commonly find are female, especially those that make large orb webs. It is possible, however, to visually determine a spider’s gender by looking closely at its pedipalps. Pedipalps are the additional appendages located near the mouth. Not only do spiders have eight legs, they also have two “arms” (pedipalps). Males use their pedipalps to aid in copulation. The ends of the pedipalps in male spiders are larger than those found on females. As seen in the photos below of two Miturgids, the pedipalps of the male of this species have noticeable ‘bulbs’ on the end of each pedipalp. You might think of these bulbs as “boxing gloves”.

    Female Miturgid

    Male Miturgid

  5. Thanks for the explanation—–I’m amazed that I have never heard of Pedipalps after all of the books on spiders that I’ve read to my grandsons!! Regardless of their utility as arms and mating tools, they do look pretty disgusting!!

  6. Cletus, you have inspired me to observe the many spiders in my environment. I call them “the good, the bad and the beneficial.”

  7. Excellent, beautiful and very interesting, Cletus! It’s good to be back in touch with you and see the interesting things that you are doing!

  8. I am so happy for you and spiders. They have you as a benefactor changing my uneducated mind into expansive enlightenment and enjoyment. Now when I see a web or inadvertently walk through one I smile, wish i hadn’t upset the home rather than being irritated I have web face. A little info goes a long way. I appreciate your sharing your bliss! Phylis

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