Current Nature: A Seasonal Spin

Libby Buck Conservation Science and Land Steward at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation •

Yellow garden spider
A yellow garden spider. Photo by Jeremy Vandenberg

As the leaves turn gold and the crisp autumn breeze sweeps across Nantucket Island, nature's eight-legged architects take center stage. Yes, we're talking about the often misunderstood and unfairly maligned creatures: spiders. Fall on Nantucket isn't just about pumpkin spice lattes and cozy sweaters; it's also spider season. Get ready for an arachnid adventure like no other! We're exploring the world of spiders found on Nantucket, including orb-weavers, funnel-weavers, wolves, and crabs.

Nantucket is known for its natural beauty and unique ecosystems. While we may not have the Amazon rainforest's incredible biodiversity, Nantucket is home to a fantastic array of over 250 spider species.

One common sight during fall are orb-weaver spiders, typically the Yellow Garden Spider. These marvelous arachnids create intricate, symmetrical webs that glisten with dew in the early morning light. The translucent beauty of spider webs against autumn foliage is breathtaking. These masterpieces are engineering marvels and help control insect populations. Mosquitoes, flies, and moths become trapped in these webs and food for Garden Spiders. With their large, colorful abdomens adorned with intricate patterns, garden orb-weavers look like they're dressed in spooky costumes. While they may not hand out candy to trick-or-treaters, they certainly know how to create an eerily enchanting atmosphere.

1 Carolina Wolf Spider Seth Englebourg
A Carolina wolf spider. Photo Seth Engelbourg

While orb-weavers get all the attention for their elaborate creations, the humble funnel-weaver spiders have their own architectural prowess. Imagine a small, funnel-shaped web leading to the spider's lair, which is a perfectly camouflaged trap. These spiders use their speed and non-sticky webs to trap prey. You will find these brilliant designs scattered throughout the island’s open fields during autumn. If you’re fortunate, you may catch a glimpse of these seemingly unremarkable yet fascinating, speedy arachnids.

If you’re looking for action, look no further than wolf spiders. Nantucket has many Carolina Wolf Spiders. These nimble hunters prowl the island’s forests and gardens, stalking their prey with ninja-like precision. Fall is their prime time to shine as they pounce on unsuspecting insects. While they might not spin elaborate webs, their agility and stealth make them true masters of the hunt.

Crab spiders are the chameleons of the spider world, blending seamlessly with their surroundings. They patiently wait on flowers for unsuspecting pollinators to drop by for a snack. As fall blooms adorn Nantucket, our Northern Crab Spiders are at their trickiest, ready to surprise visiting insects. Their clever disguises and swift attacks make them a wonder of the fall wilderness.

4 Funnel Spider Web Peter Brace
A funnel spider web. Photo by Peter Brace

While spiders may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Nantucket is the perfect place to develop an appreciation for these incredible creatures. They are nature’s unsung heroes, playing a vital role in maintaining a balance of insects in the island's ecosystem. Spiders keep bothersome insects such as mosquitoes, flies, moths, and beetles from running rampant. They work silently and diligently, never asking for accolades- and actually receive much ire from humans.

Let’s take a moment to admire the artistry of spiders, their intricate webs, and their crucial role in balancing the island's ecology. Thank a local spider for creating an atmosphere of intrigue and wonder during this magical season! You may come to see these arachnids in a new light, and even start spinning your own tale about these marvelous creatures.

Stay tuned for more editions of Current Nature, a bi-weekly column featuring seasonal topics, natural history information, and advice on the outdoors from the staff at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation.

2 Crab Flower Spider k bullet
A yellow garden spider. Photo by Jeremy Vandenberg
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