This time of year when the morning humidity is just right it’s striking to see the hundreds, if not thousands of what I’ve been mistakenly calling “basket spider webs” up and down Parish Parkway in the park. These are made by a spider who hangs a small, compact basket-shaped web from tall grass and shrubs that droops with the fullness of the morning dew and are thus easy to spot. The webs tend to become invisible during the day after the dew evaporates.
It turns out the scientific name of the tiny “sheet web” spider responsible for this is Frontinella communis and its proper common name is Bowl and Doily Spider. It gets this term because its web, about the size of a human hand, is usually in two parts — a bowl shape that sits above a flatter disc shape, like an upside down halo. To some, this lower part resembles a doily but since I have never used a doily in my life I’ll probably continue to erroneously call them basket spiders. An old English superstition calls them “Money Spiders” because, and this is a stretch, if one of these spiders is found crawling on you it means they are there to spin you new clothes which means good fortune.
They have at least a couple of distinctive behaviors. They orient themselves perpendicular to the rays of the sun. Scientists think this must have something to do with the way they regulate their body temperature. As you know, a spider doesn’t simply sit around waiting for prey, it lurks. This spider does its lurking in the narrow space in between the bowl and the doily. When a gnat, fly or other small insect blunders into the bowl (this web is not sticky, so the insect has to sit still for a moment) the spider trots over and bites it from underneath through the web. This hiding spot inside the web is also imagined to give the animal a measure of protection from its equally small enemies, making it feel safe and secure in spite of living outdoors in such a fragile construct, waving in the wind with cars whizzing up and down the road.
If you get into the park early enough on one of these cool and humid autumn mornings you may be lucky to see these webs lining Parish Parkway, especially where the dew tends to linger down in the ditch. It’s a beautiful sight and if you look closely and see a Frontenella communis wave and say hello.
Close-up of a Bowl & Doily spider’s dew covered web. Note the small spider hiding in between the “bowl” and “doily.”