Kids like to learn about the animals around them… and so do I! So I’ve decided to share some tales about the various forms of life (some green, some many-legged, and some a bit slimy) that I encounter in the urban jungle that surrounds us.

Before moving to Vancouver, I spent two years living in Oxford. So I’m no stranger to spiders appearing in every corner when the weather gets a little bit damp. I have yet to see monsters the size of which I’d witnessed in the UK (touch wood), but there’s one spider that I seem to see everywhere in Vancouver. In the bushes, by lampposts, and occasionally weaving a thread across the path that I walk along almost every day as I leave my flat. (Okay, I may not see that one, but I feel its web sticking to my face. Ugh.)

Young, spry, and ready to eat.When I found this particular spider, she had already proven her skill, evidenced by the symmetrical web to which she clung, head-down, in its centre. Young, spry, and ready to hunt: this is how I found her in September. And though I normally wouldn’t get too close to spiders due to the fear that they might suddenly jump at me, this one had – fortunately for me — taken up residence outside the second-floor window, which I pass each day as I leave the apartment. So I kept an eye on her.

A quick internet search identifies her as a Cross Orbweaver (here and here), a common spider in the Vancouver area. Though the Orbweaver can potentially deliver a painful bite, as with most spiders they would rather avoid humans. They tend to spin webs close to light sources (smart girl), which explains the placement of this web on the stairwell window. And, apparently, this was a decent spot, since between September and November, her body shape underwent a definite transformation.

She's Grown!I suspect that momma is ready to spread the wealth for the next season… This transformation might have been due to its voracious appetite. (I managed to catch a video of it feasting on a large fly not too long ago.)

Another interesting behaviour of this spider is that if it feels threatened, it jumps around on its web to scare away the predator. I have had this experience with an Orbweaver or two prior to this, before reading that it was a behaviour peculiar to this species. I had blown on a spider while it was sitting in its web (perhaps not the nicest thing to do) to get it to think it had caught an insect, but instead it went crazy and started jumping and dancing around like an eight-legged hula-hoop champion, causing the web to jostle and shake! I must admit it was an effective technique — I got the hell out of there.

The Orbweaver is also known as the European Garden Spider, Cross Spider, Diadem Spider, Garden Spider, and Garden Cross Spider. The reason for the frequent mention of “Diadem” and “Cross” is likely due to the white cross found on the spider’s back, which you cannot see in these photos since they are all ventral views (i.e., you can see her “belly” vs. her “back”). In fact, its scientific name, Araneus diadematus, translates to “spider with ornamental headband.” Fortunately, I caught a recent break: I passed by her web and noticed that it had been vacated. Home for a rest...After looking around the periphery of the web, I found her hiding in the corner. Though the photo isn’t particularly clear, you can still clearly see the white cross on her back. Success!

This is likely the place she has chosen to nurse her egg sac, from which 100-800 spiderlings should emerge in the spring to populate various windowsills throughout Vancouver. I’ll keep an eye on her progress, should I be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of her young when the time comes…

That’s it for this posting, but if you’d like to read more about spiders, you might want to browse, where I found most of my information on Araneus diademaus. There’s even an Oscar-nominated short 1952 documentary called “Epeira Diadema” by Italian director Alberto Ancilotto about the Orbweaver! Finally, you may also be interested in reading some Native American stories about the place of the spider in their mythology. The spider is often depicted as the mother of weaving or a trickster god (I suppose those eight legs can get one into untold mischief). Spiders have also been described as intelligent, patient, and skilled in the building of their webs, which is difficult to deny. There’s a collection of links to such stories here.

Until then, keep eight legs on the ground and keep on spinning!

(Image credit: Featured image © Michael Gäbler / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons, all other images © James Schultz)

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