Naturalist Fact: Orchard Spider

orchard spider 2

Orchard spiders are very common on Little St. Simons Island.  You can often see them in the maritime forest, but these successful spiders don’t just thrive in Georgia’s humid heat.  Orchard spiders have an extensive range from southern Canada to central America.  Orchard spiders (genus Leucauge) are in the family Tetragnathidae, which also includes the common long-jawed orb weavers (genus Tetragnatha).  Both the orchard spiders and the common long-jawed orb weavers are considered long-jawed orb weavers and are distinguished from true orb weaver spiders by their long chelicerae (fangs).  Like the true orb weaver spiders, orchard spiders create webs which are in the shape of a circular grid.  All spiders in the Tetragnathidae family have eight eyes, and typically do not exceed one inch across.  Male spiders are usually about half the size of the females.

Although orchard spiders are in the long-jawed orb weaver family, they more closely resemble true orb weaver spiders (family Araneidae) than the species in the common long-jawed orb weaver genus (Tetragnatha).  Orchard spiders usually build webs only a few feet from the ground, and most webs are horizontal in orientation.  The spiders are typically seen hanging upside-down in the middle of their webs while waiting for prey to land in the web.  Webs are built in strategic locations to catch flies, moths, and other insects.  Birds and other small animals may predate on orchard spiders.

Although there is some variation in coloration for each species of orchard spider, most have bright coloration on their abdomen, and many have dark green to black legs.  Leucauge venusta is the most easily identifiable orchard spider in our area.  This species is easily seen on Little St. Simons Island and usually have orange markings on the underside of their abdomen.  A hike on backbone trail on LSSI may produce many opportunities to observe these beautiful little creatures.  Although a small spider, they can usually be photographed with relative ease because they often remain quite still hanging on their web.

Cool Fact:  This species is parasitized by a wasp larva which attaches to the spider at the junction of the cephalothorax and the abdomen!

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