Ohioans may be surprised by the large number of spiders living near at hand when heavy morning dew accentuates their gossamer creations. Their conspicuous web-work can be striking when highlighted by early morning sunlight along roadways. While each individual spider web functions as an effective insect trap, they are also beautiful structures.
"The difference between utility and utility plus beauty is the difference between telephone wires and the spider web." -- American naturalist and writer, Edwin Way Teale
There are over 600 species of spiders found in Ohio and most feed almost exclusively on insects. The spiders that are currently dominating (draping over?) landscapes are the Sheetweb Weavers (family Linyphiidae); the Funnel Weavers (family Agelenidae); and the Orb Weavers (family Araneidae).
Funnel weavers produce large, flat, sheet-like webs spun across grass, under rocks or boards, or over the branches of shrubs such as yews and junipers. The webs slope gently towards a narrow funnel or tube where the spider resides, awaiting its next victim. The spiders are medium-sized and resemble small wolf spiders. Funnel webs may measure more than 1' across and can become very evident with dew, or when they snare dust during droughty conditions.
Sheetweb weavers construct several types of webs depending upon the spider species. Some species spin flat or slightly curved webs that overlay vegetation and rival the sizes of webs spun by funnel weavers. However, there is no funnel in the web. The spiders hide beneath one edge of the web, or in plant foliage along the edge of the web, to await their prey.
One of the more interesting sheetweb weavers is the bowl and doily weaver (Frontinella communis). This is one of the few spider species with males capable of producing webs; however, females still dominate web weaving.
The spider constructs a complex web structure consisting of distinctly bowl-shaped webbing suspended from plant stems by a crisscrossing array of silk threads; this is the "bowl" in the common name. The bowl is anchored below by a horizontal array of interwoven silk threads; the "doily." Flying insects drop into the web-bowl after bouncing in pin-ball fashion off the interlacing silk threads used to suspend the web. Of course, when they drop into the web-bowl, they fall into the "arms" (and fangs!) of the awaiting spider!
As their common name describes, orb weavers produce flat, circular (orb) webs. The webs are intricate structures involving both sticky and non-sticky silk. Non-sticky silk is used for "radial threads" which radiate from a central point like spokes on a bicycle wheel. The non-sticky silk is also used for "frame threads" which encircle the web like a bicycle wheel to hold the radial threads in place and to attach the web to supports such as plant stems. "Spiral threads" are composed of sticky silk arranged in a spiral pattern emanating from the center of the web; it's the sticky silk that captures the spider's prey.
A "stabilimentum" is a vertical pattern off dense silk centered in the web that is produced by many orb weavers. The stabilimentum produced by the large, showy Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) usually has a zigzag pattern giving rise to the alternate common name of "Zigzag Spider." The dense webbing reflects ultraviolet light which attracts insects to their doom.
Look closely between the branch tips of shrubs and you may spot the diminutive Trashline Spider (Cyclosa spp.). The silk in their stabilimentum enshrouds the drained bodies of previous victims; the morbid structure is responsible for the "trashline" common name.
The spiders rest in the middle of their trashline. Their small size and mottled coloration makes them very difficult to see among their similarly sized and colored bundles of trash. Indeed, research has shown that the trash bundles serve to confuse predators, such as birds and wasps, intent on making a meal of the spider, and the greater the number of bundles, the greater the confusion.
Spider Web Photography
I'm certainly not a professional photographer which is no doubt why I find that spider webs are one of the most difficult things to photograph in nature. Frankly, I've "tossed" more spider web images than shots taken of any other subject. However, here are a few things that have increased my rate of success.
Morning dew is a great web highlighter. However, you can also position black paper or a black notebook in the background to provide contrast; whatever is handy.
I didn't invent "web printing." However, it's a nice way to capture web structure. I simply positioned my black notebook behind a web that was heavy with dew and carefully moved my notebook through the web to make this print.
NOTE: I only "shoot" with natural lighting; these shots we taken without a flash. I'm pretty certain flash photography could be more successful, but that's another level of technical photography that I've never tackled. Still, it's an option you may want to consider.