Shelob, the Hairy Field Spider


If you are afraid of spiders, you might want to skip this one.  However, knowledge is power and learning a little more about these fascinating creatures may help you to overcome your fear.

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Winter, such that it was, ended overnight. We woke up one morning with the electric blanket on and went to bed that night with the air conditioner set to its coldest.

The heat is debilitating (it does not lend itself to any form of work!) and on top of that it is very dusty and dry – the bush looks like it will never recover and seems to get browner by the minute.

Out walking yesterday morning I noticed an encouraging sign; one lone green tree, an interloper peering out through the grey. The rains can’t be far off now and I’m really looking forward to that.

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When I got home and looked closer at the picture I had taken and noticed something else.

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Do you see them?

So, despite the sweltering heat and in the name of science I called the reluctant dogs and we all traipsed out again to get a closer look.

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And closer ...

Closer

And closer ...

And closer …

Closer still

Closer still

What lives in these messy nests? Looks like it could be a spider so, much to Piet’s disgust (he’s quite happy to face down a charging buffalo but the sight of a tiny spider will have him cowering and yelling for me to save him), I decided to take one home to open up and have a look.

I put the nest inside a plastic dish and the first thing that happened was a whole bunch of tiny spiders rushed out, waving their legs at me in indignation. It was like a spider village in there! They were mostly jumping spiders (Salticidae) but there were also a couple of other species, too small for my aging eyes to recognise.

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Most of those little black dots are spiders

A tiny salticidae

A tiny salticidae

On opening up the nest the first thing I  saw was a wasp nest. I find this interesting as often wasps predate on spiders, usually using them as a food source for their larvae, and I wonder what the relationship is in this case. It must be quite disconcerting for the spiders to live together with an animal which may be eyeing them out as a meal for its offspring!

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Next I found a nest-within-a-nest.

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And inside this nest was Shelob — the true boss of the place! She curled herself up and pretended to be dead, which made closer inspection a lot easier than if she was scurrying about trying to escape.

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I asked for help with identifying this spider from the Spider Club of Southern Africa Facebook page and was informed  that ‘Shelob’ belongs to a family of spiders known as Araneinae , or orb spiders, and that she has a delightful common name — Hairy Field Spider.

Shelob, the Hairy Field Spider

Shelob, the Hairy Field Spider

Hairy Field Spiders are not harmful to humans, but Piet was not sure that releasing Shelob into the rose-bush which grows under the light outside the lounge was a good idea. I know she will do good, helping the geckos and frogs to catch the mosquitoes that will come when the rains finally begin.

 

 

 

 

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