Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Jerusalem Artichokes: Spider Heaven?

Although I've tried to establish them at other times and in other places, I decided to try Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus), a member of the showy sunflower tribe, again this spring.  I planted several groups around the yard, including this particular clump, which is located just a few feet from our compost pile.

I've noticed quite a few insects on these Jerusalem artichoke plants over the course of the summer. The leaves are pretty tattered, but the plants still grow stoutly on.  Presumably they'll be blooming soon, but they don't seem to need to bloom to attract insects.

Over the course of the summer, on this one little clump, I've seen crescent butterfly caterpillars, cicadas, grasshoppers galore, preying mantises, and wheel bugs, just to name the insects that come to mind most easily.  This would be a good plant to pick for a species diversity highlight, come to think of it!

I've seen some spiders here and there, as well.

When I went outside yesterday morning, though, I noticed something I don't think I've ever seen before:  within 2' of this unprepossessing clump of greenery, there were FOUR large female garden spiders in their webs, with a 5th less than 10 feel away above the compost pile.

Here is Spider #1, on the south side of the Jerusalem artichoke clump.  Yesterday she had both a grasshopper AND a cicada in her web.  When I took her photo this morning, she had finished with both of those and was waiting for another meal.

Less than 2' away to the west, but on the other side of the chainlink fence is Spider #2.

Spider #3 is on the north side of the clump, between the clump and the compost pile.  As you can see, this morning she has caught a cicada in her web.  She was busily repairing the damage the cicada had done and she paid absolutely no attention to me as I took photos.

Less than 2' away to the west, but again on the other side of the chainlink fence is Spider #4.

Last of all is Spider #5.  She's in the empty compost bin to the north of our regular bin.  She had the remains of a meal in her web yesterday;  this morning she hadn't repaired her web and was on the wood pallet surrounding the pile.  She is distinctly skinnier than the other 4 females.  Has she laid her eggs already?  Is there something wrong with her?  I have no idea, but I'll watch and see what happens to her.

Here is a photo of Spiders #3 and #4 to show you how close these webs are to each other:  Spider #3 is in the bottom left of the picture, while Spider 4 is in the top right corner.  The greenery on the left side of the photo is the north side of the Jerusalem artichoke clump.

Addendum, 2 hours later:  I decided to pop back outside and see how my gaggle of spiders was doing before I posted this.  Spider #5 has, indeed, produced a huge egg sac, hanging in the shelter of the pallet she was resting on.

She still hasn't tried to make another web.  She looks tired;  I suspect she won't last much longer.

Spider #4 seemed to have disappeared at first, but then I noticed her on the fence, near the top.  Is she starting the process of making her egg sac?  She appears to be spinning silk....

Spider #3 had cut loose the cicada hanging from her web and she appeared to just be resting.

Spider #2 was busily consuming something - perhaps a moth?

And Spider #1 was just waiting for another meal to show up.  The greenery in the background is, again, the clump of Jerusalem artichoke.

Last but not least, looking around a bit more closely, I noticed another fresh egg sac only a couple feet away from both Spiders #1 and #2.  Neither looks like they've produced an egg sac yet.  Could there have been a 6th garden spider in this gaggle?

The last little bit of information I found interesting:  While I was out doing my second check on these gals, I saw almost a dozen grasshoppers in and around this little area, as well as seeing a cicada hiding under a leaf, and a wasp flying by.  There may be a bunch of spiders hanging around this spot - but it appears they all chose their location well!

1 comment:

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

It is the time for the spiders to rule. Seeing so many interesting colors on them this year. I've only had one bad web encounter so far. The spider put its web just outside the sliding glass door. Hard to see in the early light of the day!