Sharon Lovejoy's grandmother called spiderwebs in the grass, highlighted with dew, "fairy handkerchiefs" - I love that image! I've been seeing a few fairy handkerchiefs around the place myself lately.
Have you ever noticed sheets of spider web, usually near or on the ground, with sort of a tunnel or hole formed in the middle or off to one side? These are the webs of funnel web spiders - an appropriately, if not imaginatively, named family. For years I've seen the webs, which are rather intriguing, but I don't remember ever seeing the spiders. Funnel web spiders tend to be nocturnal, hiding deep in their tunnel during the day or anytime they are threatened.
Recently, however, I've been honored to see funnel web spiders in their webs twice, and both times I was able to photograph them. This photo came out the best....
In this genus, Agelenopsis, the spider builds the heavy, bottom "sheet" with its tunnel, then makes a lighter weight layer above the main web. Insects or other spiders don't see the top layer and hit it accidentally, getting knocked down onto the main web where they get tangled for just long enough for the funnel web spider to spring out and nab 'em.
As I did research for this post, I found numerous links to the "deadly Sydney funnel web spiders". It turns out that there is a completely unrelated group of spiders in Australia that also builds a funnel shaped web and are also called funnel web spiders. Unlike our western hemisphere funnel web spiders, the Australian ones are evidently quite poisonous. Unfortunately, they are also considered lots more "exciting" than our native nice guys, so they get more press and the majority of the sites I first found were referencing this totally different group.
Thankfully, our funnel web spiders are a peaceful lot, much preferring to hide when threatened. If you handle them, they can give you a painful bite, but they do not have the deadly venom of the Australian group. So - word to the wise - I wouldn't recommend trying to pick one up!
Meanwhile, enjoy any "fairy handkerchiefs" that you come across this fall - and be sure to look and see if you can see their occupant.