argiope

Epeire fasciée - The banded Orb-web spider

When, one might say at last, the sun rose in a clear sky, I walked down the valley towards the mist rising from the damp meadows. The bottom pasture was blazoned with hundreds of sail like webs of the banded spider. The webs were hanging vertically on the still uncut, indeed never to be cut, hay. Many were approaching sixty centimetres (2 feet) across. The dew drops (enchantingly called in French la rosée d'aurore ), were hanging on each thread and the sunlight transformed them to diamond necklaces. It appeared as though the webs were all aligned in rows. Although I later measured a hundred webs with a compass and found a preponderance inclined at 30 degrees east, I was not convinced. I think the appearance may just be due to the effect of the illumination by the sun. Nevertheless perhaps the drift of the wind may affect the placing. Amongst the myriad grass stems, something has to induce the spider to select those which will like parallel girders supply a vertical framework. Later in the day I returned to the site and found it difficult to see any webs. Without the dew they were invisible. Camouflage is not necessary.

The huge webs have a huge maker. The spiders are often at least 25 mm. in length. Ten centimetres has been reported! They all hang head down on the central pad of silk. Most had fully constructed their webs, but I noticed that a large minority had not added the most distinctive feature of this species, that is to say two great bands of silk up and down the web. Many webs were standing strong without this. At the early hour when I visited, all the spiders appeared to be cold and still. Later as the sun warmed them they moved. Then it was that they finished their webs. The spider dropped down a few centimetres and then producing a band of silk from the abdomen, dabbed the extrusion on the web, zig-zagging upwards towards the centre. She (all were female) then climbed up a few centimetres and played out a weaker zig-zag downwards. It is suggested that these zig-zags are either bands to strengthen the web or act as a camouflage. I think that neither is likely to be correct. Possibly they assist as sounding boards to help the spider to detect the location of trapped prey.

The males probably had by now all been eaten as a nuptial meal by their mates. This is one of the few species where this truly happens. The females will make an egg sac later in the autumn. This is shaped like a great urn with a papery exterior. The spiderlings will emerge from it next spring.

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