Saturday 19 July 2014

Nursery web spiders and their nurseries

The population of nursery spiders at the wildlife garden is particularly obvious now, as their nursery tents hang from their high positions from grasses and meadow cranesbill leaves, closely guarded by females. There are at least 20 nurseries scattered over the meadow at different stages of development. In some the spiderlings have already dispersed, after spending a few days safe inside their tents. This is what W.S. Bristowe had to say about the female after mating takes place:
During the first half of June the female may be see trundling along with a huge light-coloured egg sac under her sternum which is attached to her spinnerets by threads and is held in her chelicerae. At about the time the eggs are beginning to hatch, she loosens the outer covering and attaches it to a blade of grass. The she weaves a tent over it on the outside of which she stands on guard [...] The young emerge in late June or early July, after moulting once inside the egg sac. Now they cluster together in a ball inside the tent for a few days before moulting for a second time and dispersing.
I found the first nursery with already emerged spiderlings on the 20th of June. Bristowe was of the opinion that Pisaura will have two batches of eggs. Although the female below was carrying an egg sac on the 4th of July, I am not sure if this represents variation on the date of reproduction of different individuals as they mature, or evidence of a second batch.
Female carrying her disproportionate egg sac. They appear to walk on tiptoes holding it. I don't think the female is able to hunt while carrying her egg sac.
This spider has a fresh nursery web and appears to be manipulating the egg sac to allow the spiderlings to emerge.
Unlike the neat, smooth new tents holding clustered spiderlings the tent above has a few holes (made by the female?) allowing spiderlings to disperse. The spiderlings are clustered forming a ball just visible at the top right hand corner of the nursery tent.
The spiderlings are often clustered together in a ball like garden spider ones. The ones above look like they are ready to leave their tent.
If you click to enlarge the photo you might be able to see some tiny spiderlings on top of the tent already leaving.
I haven't found any information as to the function of the nursery web. Certainly it keeps the spiderlings dry during rain, and the mother is often found underneath also during poor weather. It could offer protection from parasites or predators. Many predatory insects will readily take spiderlings, including wasps, and it appears that the nursery web is not totally wasp-proof, as these photos on Flickr show.


Unknown said...

Nice article and photos Africa! Cheers, George P

Greg Adcock said...

Are these social spiders?

Africa Gomez said...

Thank you George!
Hi Greg, they are not really social, they are very solitary when adult, females often eat males during courtship unless they are presented with a present (wrapped fly) or they pretend to be dead. As many other spiders, the spiderlings need to moult a couple of times before venturing into the wide world.