A few days ago, as I was heading into my house through the side door, I noticed what appeared to be a blob of yellowish dust on the siding near the doorway. When I gently touched the dust ball with a fingertip in an attempt to dislodge it, the blob exploded into a cloud of yellow dust fragments. Each of the dust fragments was moving! Closer examination with a magnifying glass revealed that each of the dust fragments was a tiny yellow spiderling, little more than a millimeter in size, attached to the siding by a gossamer thread of silk. A few minutes with Ohio spider expert Richard Bradley’s superb new book, Common Spiders of North America, indicated that the spiderlings, which numbered more than a hundred, were probably the progeny of a European Garden Spider, Araneus diatematus.
The following morning, the spiderlings had regrouped into a ball which was suspended by silk inside the leaves of an Asiatic lily that I had planted several years ago near the side door. Moving carefully so as not to disturb the slumbering spiderlings, I set up my Nikon D7200 with a Sigma 150mm Macro lens and a Nikon ringlight on a tripod, and was able to obtain a few photographs of the huddled mass of baby spiders.
An adult female European garden spider had laid several hundred eggs in late summer or early fall last year, then wrapped them in a cocoon of brown silk and deposited the egg sac under the siding, which provided a sheltered place for the egg sac to overwinter. The female spider usually dies shortly after laying her eggs.
The tiny baby spiders, known as spiderlings, all hatch at the same time, and go through several molts until they start to resemble an adult garden spider in shape and body markings. During this time the spiderlings do not feed, but obtain nourishment from an internal yolk sac.
After another molt, the spiderlings develop fangs and are able to feed. They soon discover that their brothers and sisters make a nourishing and nearby meal, and cannibalism becomes rampant.
In order to survive, the spiderlings begin to disperse, using an ingenious technique known as ballooning. Each spiderling uses its spinnerets to create strands of silk. As the wind catches the silken threads, the tiny spider is lifted into the air and “balloons” to a new location, where it continues to molt several more times before it becomes an adult spider. Only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of baby spiderlings will survive to become an adult garden spider like the handsome predator shown below.
Baby spider, black and yellow
Such a handsome little fellow
Quickly – learn to use your spinner
Or you’ll become your sibling’s dinner.
Spin your line, and then balloon
Catch the wind and do it soon
Ride the breeze until you come
To land where you can make a home.
Then weave your web, a silken snare
To lure your prey into your lair
Garden spider, black and gold
Live long, until the days turn cold.