Halloween is being celebrated in some parts of the world and creepy spider images are often featured. This gives me a perfect excuse to share pictures of my much maligned eight-legged garden friends along with a backyard news update. Actually, the real reason I am writing a creature post is because my Lamington National Park walk photographs were poor quality and I’d like to revisit the area to improve on them. If you like blood sucking parasites and reading about lycra man suffering stay tuned for that story.
Before I launch into a little spider love, I’ll share some news of the furry and a feathered kind. Plentiful rain has seen a burst of activity in the garden.
The silky oaks are flowering again, attracting flocks of raucous rainbow lorikeets during the day and squabbling flying foxes at night. When combined with the possum parties on my roof and the entrepreneurial neighbours’ new poultry venture these activities make silence elusive.
One morning I heard an odd squawking near my front door and on inspection found this little guy.
Giving me the evil eye close by were its pied currawong parents. The adventurous chick could hop about and climb up branches so it was best to leave the parents to do their job.
I saw it yesterday and it seems to be thriving on food stolen from my ancient blind and deaf scruff-bag dog. I’m not sure this is such a good outcome as the local currawongs are increasing in population at the expense of many smaller birds. Unlike some species, currawongs have adapted well to suburban life and will eat the chicks of other birds. Each year double-barred finches nest in my bush lemon tree only to have their plump chicks consumed by currawongs. I have yet to see them successfully produce chicks in five years.
I’ve mentioned the shenanigans of my marsupial friends in past posts. Recently mother possum ejected her juvenile offspring from the garage ceiling and here is where it is now snoozing. I wouldn’t mind so much except that its urine is far from fragrant and it uses my car as a landing pad sometimes.
And now after lulling you into a warm and fuzzy state with a furry critter, let’s move on to something with fangs…
I will always be thankful to authors like E.B. White for having the imagination to devise tales such as Charlotte’s Web. Children’s stories sometimes portray spiders as evil, terrifying creatures. White’s story turned this around by making a spider a hero and friend, giving children an opportunity to view arachnids with fondness and curiosity. The use of a spider as a protagonist did cause some concern for White’s Harper & Row publicists as they thought readers would be repulsed. The book’s success proved them wrong though and is a reminder to budding authors out there not to be overly influenced by “experts.” If you’re interested in why he chose a pig and a spider for his main characters and his response to publicists’ concerns, here is an interesting link.
In Australia, we have a few highly venomous spiders but many are harmless and offer natural pest control. My garden and home are havens for arachnids as I don’t use pesticides. Sometimes there are so many webs across my garden paths I need to call on my ninja training to negotiate them without breaking their silk. It reminds me of movies where thieves use complicated gymnastic moves to manoeuvre around security laser beams.
This is particularly the case for the golden orb weaver spider which creates an enormous central web with outer thread barriers on each side.
The silk strands from golden orb weavers used to be woven into fabric in some parts of the world. In recent years this method was employed again to create a golden cape made from the silk of over a million golden orb weavers.
Australian golden orb weaver spiders are not aggressive or regarded as dangerous to humans. It can be difficult to take pictures of them because they do move away so quickly. I had to slowly move my hand to this position to show you a size comparison not because she’d bite me but because she’d scurry away. Being distracted and a little blind I’ve walked through many golden orb weavers’ webs on walks and never been bitten. Ticks, mosquitoes and sandflies have feasted on me though. Look carefully and you may see the much smaller male spider. Currently there are four male spiders living in this one’s web.
A quick count one morning found over thirty moulted exoskeletons of huntsmen spiders hanging in my garden so I know they must be hiding somewhere. Here are three lovely specimens.
Daddy-long-legs spiders such as in the picture below inhabit my eaves
I also see many species of tiny jumping and crab spiders as well as the common garden orb weaver.
To add to the Halloween mood here are a few more critters, many of which feature on an arachnid’s menu.
Without the presence of pesticides, ant species also flourish in my garden. Rattle ants make homes in bushes, trees and empty bird feeders. As soon as I disturb them they swarm out, vibrate their bodies and bite.
The second lot of large ants completely ignore me. They are wonderful excavators. UPDATE: Thanks to Rob for identifying these as banded sugar ants (moon ants). Here’s a link to his nature blog post about this species.
To finish up I have exciting news. Well, perhaps not exciting for you but it has me grinning like an idiot. I have a new camera. Some of you may remember my family offered to give me a new camera as a combined birthday and Christmas present last year. It’s taken me this long to choose a Powershot Canon SX60 HS. After a quick play I was delighted with its zoom and tracking feature for birds. Thanks to my generous family for the gift and also to a kind friend who gave me excellent camera advice and support this week. Now I just have to read and understand the 200 page manual and learn to drive it! Not an easy task for a technophobe.
And since some of you are celebrating Halloween and are enjoying flights into fantasy, here’s a quote for you from J.K. Rowling about the benefits of a little imagination. Enjoy…
Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared. – J.K.Rowling