I did a little research, and within no time, I learned Shelob’s true identity: she’s a common European cross spider (Araneus diadematus). I don’t know why she came from Europe; presumably, she heard about how most of the humans on this continent are flavored with pork grease, corn syrup, and MSG. But you can see why she’s a cross spider – the white cross on her abdomen stands out clearly in the photo I took of her in my previous post.
Anyway, a couple of interesting things I learned about cross spiders. They are orb-weavers, and rebuild their large webs almost every day. Most suburban yards around here have over one hundred webs in them, which I can believe given the number of webs on our front porch alone. When creating the radial support lines for the web, the spider takes advantage of the morning winds (she often anchors them a fair distance away, so uses the wind to carry her to an anchor spot), and the orientation of the resulting web indicates the morning wind pattern.
Also, the females will perch upside down in the web (like in my pictures below) waiting for prey, and when something hits the web, she darts over, immobilizes it with venom, then wraps it up in silk. I actually saw Shelob do this with a bee a few weeks ago – she was crazy fast, and she wrapped that sucker up good and tight in no time.
But here’s what I’m really not looking forward to. In late summer and fall (now!?), the females will lay egg sacs, which hatch out about a gazillion little spiderlets that hang out in clumps then disperse after a few days. While spiderlets sound cute, you can be assured that several will reach adulthood and wreak havoc upon the local hobbit population (or whatever else that will make an appropriate substitute, since I believe Shelob consumed the last of our hobbits). I am not crazy about the prospect of finding over a hundred of these clusters in my yard any time soon:
I’m now thinking that telecommuting may be the way to go, permanently. I can send Chris out to get groceries and cat litter, and if he doesn’t make it back, well, I guess that means my arachnophobia-induced precautions will be validated. I haven’t seen Shelob in a few days now, but I’m sure that’s because she’s off laying egg sacs or planning something equally nefarious. I’m glad that I got some photos of her before she disappeared so that the police will have something to go on when they find, in response to a neighbor’s report about a “funny smell coming from the yellow house”, our cold lifeless bodies sucked dry and wrapped in silk.
Shit. I just read the rest of the spider website…I guess we’re coming up on Tegenaria duellica season: the season of the giant house spider, which are common in this area. And since I’m pretty sure it eats cats for between-meal snacks, I’m guessing I’m screwed.