Hentz’s Orbweaver (What Time is it in Nature)
This week’s What Time is it in Nature is brought to you by Kylie Piper. Kylie is junior at NCSU, majoring in environmental science and she is currently interning with citizen science at Prairie Ridge. Thanks Kylie!
Of the many spiders that roam Prairie Ridge, one noteworthy species is the Hentz’s Orbweaver (Neoscona crucifera), which can be seen on their nearly two foot wide webs around shrubs, fences, open woodland, and other sturdy structures around the grounds.
The Hentz’s Orbweaver belongs to the Araneidae family, the orb weaver spiders, and they get their name from their large, round webs. The Araneidae family includes over 10,000 species and members tend to have hairy legs, eight eyes in two rows, and make the beautiful round webs that come to mind when we think of the typical spider web. You can tell the Hentz’s Orbweaver apart from other orbweaver spiders by looking for the faint cross in the middle of the large oval abdomen. This cross pattern helped earn this spider its scientific name “Neoscona crucifera” because crucifera means “cross bearer” in Latin. Hentz’s Orbweavers are mainly black, red, orange, and brown in coloring. They range from 0.37-0.75 inches long, have a brown hairy abdomen, and have reddish-brown bands on their legs. This species is commonly found in North Carolina, but it has a very wide range including 40 other United States, Washington D.C., parts of Canada, Madeira, and the Canary Islands.
Webs made by the Hentz’s Orbweaver are slightly orb shaped and are usually built a few feet off the ground on a sturdy base such as a fence, tree, or wall. This spider is typically nocturnal, hunting at night by waiting for bugs to fly or jump into its web. This spider will take down the web each morning by eating it and then hide for the day. It builds a whole new web every night, as is typical of most orbweaver spiders. Though nocturnal, these spiders often spend more time out in daylight in the summer and fall, so now is the perfect time to try to spot one!
Interestingly, most observed Hentz’s Orbweavers are female because they’re the ones who spend most of their time on webs. The males spend most of their lives in search of a mate and rarely, if ever, build webs. After they’ve found a female to mate with, the males usually die, thus leaving little opportunity to be observed. The females are larger and more vibrant in coloring as well, so they most likely the ones you’ll see if you do a little observing.
The Hentz’s Orbweaver matures in July and August and the female lays her eggs in early fall. She will lay up to 1000 individual eggs and will tuck the egg sack in a secure place near her web. The following spring, the baby spiders will emerge and some will ride air currents far away from home to start their lives while others will stay nearby to make their own webs.
They may look intimidating, but these spiders aren’t venomous. If you see one around Prairie Ridge, don’t be afraid to go up and inspect their intricate webs – maybe even take a few pictures! These spiders are docile and non-aggressive, and it is very unusual for one to bite unless it is extremely threatened. Orbweaver spiders are common, but the Hentz’s Orbweaver is currently in its peak season. Don’t miss your chance to get a glimpse at these normally nocturnal and reclusive spiders on your next visit to Prairie Ridge!
What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Museum’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive.