Knit One, Pearl Two

In this fourth in the series of posts from a recent visit to the prairie meadow, I’m going to share an experience I had with a Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia). I was walking through the waist-high grasses/wildflowers when I saw this spider web, built between 2 tall prairie grass stems. At the time, I thought it belonged to a Yellow Garden Spider, but was not sure. The interesting, zig-zag silk band in the middle of the web is known as the stabilimentum, and extends vertically from the center. According to the Missouri Conservation Department, scientists hypothesize that the stabilimentum may deter birds from flying into the silky web. But it might also help birds locate an orb weaver in order to prey upon it. So, unless recent research has more info, the stabilimentum is still a mystery to us:

Yellow Garden Spider web


Then, as I was photographing this interesting web, a small insect abruptly flew into the web and got stuck. He struggled to get free, but to no avail:

Insect caught in spider web


Then, without warning, a Yellow Garden Spider dashed up the stabilimentum and onto the web. Apparently, the spider was patiently waiting out of sight for an innocent victim to become entrapped in her web. I say “her” because this looks like a female Yellow Garden Spider. Females are much larger than the male, often as much as 3-4X larger (males are typically 5-8mm long, while the females are usually 19-28mm long) :

Yellow Garden Spider on web


The spider raced over to the entrapped insect and, in a blink of an eye, began weaving a silk web around the insect. In this next image, you can see strands of the entombing “web” being weaved around the insect. To do this, the spider uses some of it’s 8 legs to rotate the insect around, while the web is being cast:

Yellow Garden Spider begins encasing insect


In this next image, which was taken only momentarily after the preceding image, the insect is already being covered by the web. I had never witnessed the actual process before, but was quite amazed at the lightning speed that is used to encase the trapped subject:

Yellow Garden Spider encasing insect


Then, just seconds later, you can see the subject has been encased in a tight, neat little package:

Yellow Garden Spider encasing insect


The spider then removes the encased insect from the web and heads back to the stabilimentum, and back down the web. I guess she must be taking the package to her “food pantry”:

Yellow Garden Spider moving encased insect


This was quite an experience to witness. Just another example of nature’s awesome activities!

The next posts from this beautiful meadow will include some of the wildflowers I have been seeing.

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