Mantids and Spiders, oh my!

The past week here at Pokeberry Pines has been mostly cloudy, but still dry – only a few droplets of rain each day as thunderclouds pass above and below us. And yet, the native plants and animals continue to flourish and amaze us. September is a time of transitions – summer slides into autumn, birds and butterflies migrate, snakes hatch and wander, caterpillars pupate, insects mate and die, and adult spiders build lots of webs to capture prey and to mate. We’ve been lucky to witness some amazing spiders and praying mantis activity.

During the past few weeks we’ve noticed a significant increase in spider webs across our paths, in the yard, and on our front porch and deck. But the other night when RoadsEndNaturalist came over to black light our yard for caterpillars, we discovered just how many spiders had set up shop in the yard and gardens! I’m sure I screamed several times because they were so big and so abundant, and we were walking under and around them in the dark! This time of year, spiders have grown to full adulthood and some of the most obvious ones are the big orb weavers. With our flashlights we spotted dozens of webs stretching three and four feet across with big, fat spiders front and center!

One of the prettiest ones was the marbled orb weaver, which I went back and located tucked under a leaf on a tree the next day. I also found one spinning a web just above our trail camera down in the woods.

Marbled orb weaver
Marbled orb weaver spinning her web

One morning I woke up at 3 AM and, for some unknown reason, decided to look out the back door and flip on the porch light. There, right in front of my face, was the silhouette of a spider perched in the center of the web she’d woven in the frame outside our door.

Orb weaver at our back door

Looking out the window as I type this post, I see a web stretching under our eaves from our gutter to a little cedar tree we have in a pot on the deck. Its’ bridge and radial threads are at least six feet long.

But spiders aren’t the only critters that have caught our eyes this week. Mr. EndlessSeeker discovered something in the meadow that surprised us both. All of my life I’ve heard (and repeated to others) that female praying mantids will bite the heads and other body parts off their male partners while mating. Well, we found a female mantis, still engaged with her partner, but he no longer had a head or first pair of legs!

Female praying mantis with beheaded male mantis still in copulating position…

Truthfully, this doesn’t happen all the time – just 13 – 28% of the time – and usually only when the female is very hungry or gets irritated with the male (let that be a lesson to you guys!). That fact makes our discovery even more exciting and unusual, though. Female mantids who do eat their male partner’s body parts tend to lay twice as many eggs, so there is perhaps some method to this madness. Apparently during the fall, females eat males a lot, even when not mating!

A closer view of the female praying mantis with headless male still attached from mating.

So, even with the drought and the too-warm days of September upon us, our yard critters continue to do what they do best, living their best lives (or not) in the habitat we are nurturing for them.

Happy end of summer to you. Go find some fun critters in your own yard and let us know what you discover.

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