By Mary Reid Barrow
Last week was my week for spiders. After meeting up with my great big sewing spider, I found a tiny Mabel orchard spider in the garden the next day.
Whoever gave her the common name of Mabel pictures a Mabel the way I do. Her web is kind of a disheveled mess, her legs are long and gangly, and her colors are fun but also are carelessly arranged in a very imprecise pattern. To top it off, she perches backward in her web, belly out!
In good light her colors of green and golden orange can vary and appear iridescent. He genus name, “Leucauge,” is from the Greek for “with a bright gleam.”
“We call them the Halloween spider, since they are orange and green, like a pumpkin,” noted Jody Ullman, LRNow’s education coordinator.
Orchard spiders are well known in Florida where they are found in orange groves and dine on lots of insect pests. They also are native to most of the East Coast.
As for the sewing spider in last week’s column, Robert Brown, our far-flung correspondent, wrote to say that he is one of those who call this spider with the very precise zigzag pattern down the center of her web a “writing spider.”
When Robert was young, he and his friends were sure these spiders had the ability to see into the future, he said.
“And if, in the center of her web, she wrote your name, you were going to die!” Robert wrote. “Fortunately for me and my pals, she never wrote anyone’s name as far as we knew and so I am here to tell your that particular tale!”
Once years ago, as an adult, Robert was able to document the entire life cycle of one of these interesting ladies in his herb garden, “from the magical launch of the spiderlings on their balloons in spring, through the gobbling of countless bees and butterflies to the mating and egg sac creation”.
I’ve never seen the youngsters launch from the egg sac. But I understand they spin a silken tether and float off into the air like a balloon on a string and make a soft landing nearby.
Some of you sent photos on Facebook of the sewing spider you are following in your yard. Check your garden out and see If you have a sewing spider, or a Mabel orchard spider or another spider visitor altogether!
In between spider hunting, I watched a big handsome Palamedes swallowtail butterfly feeding, showing off its beauty in a brazen way right on top of my tropical milkweed.
When I say, Palamedes, people often look at me as if to say, “So What?” It doesn’t sound as esoteric as a tiger swallowtail or as mysteriously beautiful as a black swallowtail. In fact, many don’t’ know this butterfly at all, yet I think of it as my butterfly.
The Palamedes is a creature of the woods and the saltmarsh. Since I live close to First Landing State Park, I see them in my garden from early spring to late fall, probably more often than any other butterfly.
They are rich, blackish brown, like a dark chocolate Labrador retriever. With two rows of yellow spots on wings that can be up to five inches across, they are one good looking butterfly.
They are named for Palamedes, a prince in Greek mythology, who was a Trojan War hero. Our hero also got into all kinds of trouble in his personal relationships. Am not sure how my butterfly gets along with its peers, but it sure is my hero on the garden stage.
Write me at: email@example.com