Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

What made the cobwebs

with 10 comments

Click for greater clarity.

On July 20, when I wandered along the east bank of Waller Creek adjacent to Chesterfield Ave. in north-central Austin, I took a bunch of pictures of the Ambrosia trifida, or giant ragweed, that I found flowering there before the species’ usual time. Many of the stalks were covered with cobwebs, a common occurrence in nature, and in looking at my pictures on the computer screen later I discovered that one image showed the spider that had presumably spun the web on this ragweed plant. I don’t think I noticed it in real time (as computer people say), but you can see the little spider below and to the left of the place where this flower stalk, which had come to be positioned horizontally, crossed the vertical stalk behind it.

For those of you who are interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 2, and 6 in About My Techniques are relevant to this photograph.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 12, 2012 at 12:59 PM

10 Responses

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  1. I was out walking this morning, and when the light is just right, it’s amazing the number of web strands that you see.

    Watching Seasons

    August 12, 2012 at 2:33 PM

    • I’ve been noticing that too, especially when the light is in front of me. It can seem like there’s no plant out there that hasn’t been marked by a spider.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 13, 2012 at 7:37 AM

  2. I’m noticing a lot of webs around things this year… I think it has been a big spider year…

    Merrill Gonzales

    August 12, 2012 at 2:55 PM

  3. It’s amazing how many spiders make their living around boats, too. If I sweep away webs one day, the next day they’re back. They’re fast at their work, and persistent.

    When babies are hatching and “flying” away to begin their lives, their silk often catches on boat rigging. When the sun is right, you can see hundreds of single strands of silk (and presumably the babies) streaming out into the wind. I suppose that accounts for so many of them being on boats. They decide any port in a storm, climb down the rigging and start looking for dinner.


    August 12, 2012 at 5:05 PM

    • Ah, the nautical slant, something I would/could never give but that I’m glad you can and do—and in this case you added the aerial to the nautical. You made me think of the phrase spiders at sea, which I don’t believe I’ve ever heard before, but an Internet search turned up almost 200 hits.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 13, 2012 at 7:44 AM

  4. I can’t see the spider clearly enough to tell what kind it is, or whether it could have made the web — or even whether this is indeed a cobweb. Mesh web is more likely, but I’m not seeing telltale mesh web qualities either. I do love your spider-decorated flowers, though.

    Spider Joe

    August 12, 2012 at 8:33 PM

    • Not being in the arachno-know, I’ve been using cobweb and spiderweb as generic and interchangeable terms. Can you tell us the difference between cobweb and mesh web?

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 13, 2012 at 7:47 AM

      • Sure. There are many kinds of webs. The orb web is probably the most famous. A cobweb is specifically made by a cobweb weaver. It’s basically a fishing superstructure. There is effectively a central sheet or saddle from which many many lines anchor to adjacent surfaces. The portion of the web that anchors at a surface is called a “gummy foot” because it it covered in glue. Cobwebs are designed to catch crawling critters. You can only rarely make out the sheet- or saddle-like central structure. Mesh webs are made by a spider that cannot make glue — meshweb weavers. Meshweb weavers instead make cribellate silk, which is a really fine and dense silky cotton. Cribellate silk absorbs water from the air, and that makes it a bit sticky. But even without being sticky, they are messy enough — even single “lines” of cribellate silk — to snag the legs, spines, and hairs of insects that happen to come in contact. The overall structure of a mesh web typically looks like chicken wire, at least when the web is fresh, before it’s caught a lot. And there are many many other kinds of webs, each functioning in its own special way.

        Spider Joe

        August 13, 2012 at 7:58 AM

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