Just wanted to report my first sighting of a funnel-web spider web this morning. It was in a lawn, covered with dew, or I wouldn’t have noticed it, and had a textbook "funnel" in the center. On looking them up online, they seem to be pretty common in Massachusetts, but I’ve never seen one before and it was pretty nifty, so I thought other readers might enjoy hearing about it.
I didn’t see the actual spider, but one county extension site suggests gently tapping on the web to lure her out -- will have to give it a try.
-- Liz, Sheffield
This certainly is the best time of the year to observe spider webs because of the morning dew and, in many cases, the spiders themselves because of their larger size. I often go searching for the "monstrous" yellow and black garden spiders that are more obvious now than during the earlier part of the summer.
I will wager that a September has not passed since I began writing this column that I have not received queries regarding these arachnids. They, especially females, are large for a northeastern species, reaching a length of just over one inch; males are smaller, maxing at 3/8 inch.
Common in gardens (hence the name) and in tall plants and sometimes quite close to houses, but I digress; we are discussing the grass spider, a member of the funnel web weavers that is common throughout the United States. Found in fields, lawns, low shrubs and sometimes in homes, their webs are often obvious in late summer. Interesting, I think, is that unlike most webs we are familiar with, this family spins webs with no adhesive and must rely on speed to catch whatever flies into it. They are quick, and need to be to capture prey.
If you go looking for the webs while dew is still on the lawn, it should not be difficult to find them.
Our harmless local funnel web weavers are not to be confused with Australian species that cause a number of human deaths each year. There, it is apparently the male to be wary of, as it is about five times more poisonous than the female and "has an attitude," being particularly aggressive. Apparently there are South American species that cause nerve damage and deaths also.
In fact, ours are safe enough to tease with a straw or piece of grass; tap the web very gently and watch for its owner to rush out for a snack, and not finding any return to the safety of its tunnel.
Q: We have not seen any hummingbirds lately. Have they migrated already? It seems that last summer we had them daily through the last of August, at least.
-- George, West Stockbridge
A: It is difficult to determine if your neighborhood hummingbirds have begun their southern journey, some may leave as early as late July, while others linger through September.
Movement has certainly begun, if not southerly migration. At this season, they fatten up for their flight across the Gulf of Mexico, a 500-mile trip that takes 18 or more hours non-stop. In addition to nectar from flowers and the occasional sugar water treat from feeders, they consume quantities of small flying insects. The idea that sugar-water feeders will interfere with their timely migration is false. To the contrary, it may give them the added energy to get off to a good start.
Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email Naturewatch@live.com