Friday, May 6, 2011

argiope aurantia, our charlotte

This little girl was spotted in our front bushes in May, 2009. She took up residence there and remained for the entire summer. When I arrived home from work in the early morning I would check for her presence in the web. If she disappeared for a day, we would worry that something terrible had happened to her, but sure enough she returned soon after, sometimes in her old web, sometimes in a new one. I guess you could say that she had a high "web-site tenacity," which is the probability of how long spiders remain in their webs before they find another site. This term was described in 1973, long before the internet was around! She had a good food source there, but we think she just liked us. :-)

She ate flies and beetles that ventured unknowingly into her lethal web. After paralyzing them with venom, she wrapped them tightly in silk.

Her abdomen, which was usually flat, grew large and round and stayed that way for days after eating. We came to know when it was time for her next meal.

As time went on, she somehow carved for herself a little depression in the leaves so that she could expand the web out further. After all, she was getting larger, and needed to be able to catch prey that was worthy of her size.

In this photo she holds a large winged insect, perhaps a cicada. We did see a few of those last year.

My favorite photo of her. The yellow and black markings on her legs and abdomen are clear as she rested after a long meal.

Her home began to extend above the bushes.

When the lower bushes were too confining for the size of the web she wanted to build, she moved up and anchored onto the pillar of our front porch and the Euonymus Alatus, or "burning bush," growing next to the house.

One morning, after I did my usual check for her, she was gone again from the web. I searched the bricks and within the leaves. I finally found her on the soffit of the front of the house. I knew it was time to say goodbye. She was drifting away from where we could be close to her and watch the details of her life play out. The mornings were becoming chillier, and I knew that she couldn't hang around forever. It was time for her to build a nest in which to make her egg sac. After laying the eggs, she would grow weaker and eventually pass away.

We had adopted her as part of our extended family, and last summer I found her offspring on some of the bushes.  I called them my natural mosquito-killers.  This spring we should be seeing Charlotte's grandchildren.  I will welcome them joyously into my garden too!