Northland Nature: Funnel webs abundant at roadsides
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The morning is cool, in the low 50s, when I step out for a walk at dawn. Winds are calm and patches of fog hang in the lowlands. Roadsides and field plants are coated with dew that formed a couple hours ago.
At this time of year, before the frosts prevail, a morning like this is a splendid time for a walk among the spider webs. Their snares will be here if there were no dew, but droplets on their threads of silk allow them to be seen better. It proves to be a delightful, but wet, web walk.
Before I leave the yard, I note that the orb web on the garage last night is still present in the morning. These circular webs are the biggest webs and are the most photogenic. There are four types of spider webs common now: orbs, sheet, irregular and funnels. And I expect to find all four.
I pass a swamp that has many dead tamaracks and it appears that most of these branches hold an orb web or two. With the swamp being east of the road, I get great back-lit views and many photos of these webs. Some of these orbs are quite large, maybe 2 feet in diameter. Nearly all are vertical to catch night-flying insects.
A nearby bog that has a thick growth of leatherleaf is home to a plethora of small sheet webs. These bowl-shaped snares are also seen among the needles of roadside red pines.
As common as the orbs and sheet webs are in the wetlands, the roadsides hold the most abundance of webs. Grasses that stick up with a spread of their earlier growth now are littered with threads. Though looking haphazard, these irregular webs are home to tiny spiders. Without appearance of order, the spiders stay for weeks to gather ample food. Such webs are also called cobwebs.
But the funnel webs are most numerous. Nearly all are on the grass, near the ground. Looking like cloths dropped here, the dew alights on their threads, making them easy to see. As I walk this section of road, I see hundreds of these webs, frequently near each other.
Funnel webs are also in a neighbor’s field that was recently mowed. Each web is about 6-12 inches long. Some are circular, some are oval, but they all have an opening among the flat-laying threads. This opening is why they are known as funnel webs. And in this site is where the spider hides. Looking closely as I pass by, I sometimes see the brown owner of the web.
Web-making spiders typically are slow moving and may have poor eyesight. Not so with these spiders. Since the threads of the web are not sticky, any insect that hits the web could quickly be gone. The spider sees this potential prey and pounces from its hiding funnel to go after and subdue it. Also differing from many other spiders, females and males are about the same size (with many kinds, females are much larger than males).
Webs remain common and easy to see now in the morning dew, but when dew becomes frost, these web hunters will frequently move indoors. We might see them in basements, garages and outbuildings where they remain active as long as possible, maybe all winter.
My slow walk was only about a mile. The sunlight is causing the dew to dissipate from the roadsides, but I had plenty of great looks at the insect-catching nets of these eight-legged neighbors, especially funnels.