A small but intriguing spider called the Spiny orb-weaver or Gasteracantha cancriformis has woven her orb web between my bougainvillea and firebush in the pathway of what seems to me to be an insect highway complete with steady breeze. The dorsum of this spider’s abdomen is white with black spots that resemble a smiling face and large red spines on the margin. She is about 5mm long and 10mm wide. The males are smaller and tend to hang below off of the females web but I see no sign of the male. Perhaps they have already mated and he has died as is typical for this species.
How did she figure out that this would be the best place to weave her web? She seems to catch mostly small insects like gnats and mosquitoes of which I am very grateful. I have been watching her for three days now, waiting for bigger events to photograph but the larger insects have been able to avoid her snare so far. I think it is worthy to note, that a bumblebee hovered in front of her for a few seconds before buzzing off and even the monarchs seemingly preoccupied with their mating either went under or over her web. The same was true for the peacock, sulphur and red admiral butterflies. I did notice thicker places in the web with white tufts of silk close to the center but the rest of the web is practically invisible. It’s a narrow chute three feet across that she has chose to set up camp, with her orb web no more than one foot in diameter and right at my eye level. In the past I have seen them as a nuisance but now I am intrigued at their ability to meet their needs. Her spiny protrusions on her abdomen have always fascinated my young nephews and they don’t think twice about picking them up by their spines to get a closer look. Could this be her protection from predators? They don’t seem to have a bad bite and they help keep our pesky insects at bay. On the fourth day she is mysteriously gone. The web which is usually rebuilt at night was in pieces. Did she move on? Was she eaten by the mockingbird that patrols this area? Did she create an egg sac when I wasn’t looking and go off to die? I need to pay closer attention.