On an early morning walk through the veld we came across an impressive spider web, a couple of metres across with a large ball in the centre. The web had three gossamer “curtains” hanging from much thicker anchor threads, tied firmly to branches and grasses. We sent a pic to Astri Leroy of the Spider Club of SA with a “What's this, Astri!?” message.

“It's Community Nest Spiders,” she said. “Quite common and widespread and their nests can house dozens of spiders.

“Adult spiders of most species are solitary and devote the greater part of their lives to catching prey, which can include prospective mates!” she added. “Should the opportunity arise, they tend to eat mates, brothers, sisters, parents and young, leaving a single, fat, well-fed individual!”

Not all spiders are anti-social, though. “Community web spiders, in the genus Stegodyphus,such as Stegodyphus dumicola, are our only truly social spiders in South Africa. They live in communities, cooperating in prey capture and brood care.” When a large insect lands in the web, it invites a “heaving scrum of spiders, which eventually overpowers most insects.

The nest - consisting of strong, hard, cardboard-like silk - starts off small but is enlarged as the colony grows. It has numerous holes and passageways. Large colonies can cover an entire tree in silk, says Astri.

For more info about the fascinating world of spiders, go to www.spiderclub.co.za, or buy Astri and John Leroy's book: Spiders of Southern Africa.

This article written by Helen Duigan, Editor of VeldTalk

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