Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Seamy Side Of Charlotte's Web - Hummingbird Caught In Spider's Web

A female, Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the care of my handsome husband. Some of you know me well enough to ask if the hummingbird is alive. Yes, it's very much alive, and so is my husband.

See the residual spider's web on the bird's wing? She is resting after her ordeal. 

Areneus gemma and her orb web gems.
This isn't merely to gross you out. She's eating a bundle of flies. If she could subdue it, she would bundle and eat a hummingbird the same way.
     The Ruby-throated hummingbird had become ensnared in a spider's web. I happened to find her on my deck. Fearing she was dead, I picked her up, then felt her quiver. Gingerly, I picked away the web. By weight, the web had the strength of steel. The bird could not have been worse off had she been bound up in duct tape. Hummingbirds can die of strokes and heart attacks when frightened badly enough, so I worked quickly. Then, I set her on the end of the stick where she sat long enough for a few photos, and the tender ministrations of my husband. Who's cuter, him or her? Hhhhhmmmm. He's adorable, but I did remind him that the size of his head from her point of view was probably comparable to a meteor barrelling down on him.
     Hummingbirds use spider's web for nest material to affix lichens and mosses to tree branches. They also steal insects from webs for food before the spider gets to them. That's probably what this bird was doing when she got snarled up. In case you feel sorry for the humming bird, remember that the poor spider was a mother to some little spider somewhere.  
     A common, late summer spider here is the orb-weaver Araneus gemma. This large spider is sometimes called the "cat-face", "monkey-face" or "humpback" spider since it has a pattern of dark markings and raised areas on its back that look like a face. I turned the spider upside down on the above left so you can make that out. Now, don't be squeamish. Look at it. It's the same spider that Charlotte's Web  was written about, so how bad can it be?
     Females of this spider are generally rounded with angular 'shoulders' and can reach a size exceeding a quarter. They make webs in undisturbed corners, often near porch lights, and are found in late August and September around the eaves of houses. The spider hangs upside down waiting for prey. She remains in contact with the web via a "trap-line" thread that signals when insects have been ensnared, or perhaps, a hummingbird. When an insect hits the web, the spider rushes to it, bites it, then wraps it up like a burrito. A spider would have to be able to subdue a hummingbird in order to eat it, though technically, it could. More hummingbirds are eaten by Praying Mantises than spiders.
     These spiders are abundant in our yard right now. I counted twelve before I wrote this even after last night's hurricane winds. The webs are round, thus the family name, "orb-weaver," and big - almost two feet across. I admit they are sort of annoying when I walk into them face first. Since they like doorways, this happens frequently. Some people use a broom to clear them away. If you are one of those people, you may now leave the room. Would you whack a Praying Mantis? It's praying, for God's sake! Would you go at Charlie Weaver (may he rest in peace) with a broom? Where do you think he got that name? Orb-weavers lay eggs in a sack that they then carry to someplace that looks good and stuff it where it will later hatch hundreds of baby spiders. Many of them overwinter as tiny spiderettes until spring. The little spiders get around by 'ballooning.' They spin a thread of web then leap into the air where they are carried away on their web tethers. Would you whack at Charlotte or her children? Huh? 
     When I lived in Paraguay, tarantulas were plentiful. Most mornings when I arose, they were sauntering across the floor of my dwelling. Sometimes my cat, employed to keep the rats under control, would be playing hockey with them. The tarantulas would not have killed me if I had been bitten, but they would have killed my cat. Nonetheless, I did not whack at them with a broom. I used a broom to scoop them up and toss them out, even though each morning they returned. They ate a lot of cockroaches, so it seemed fair that I tolerated them. I have put my money where my mouth has been when it's come to putting up with spiders. Now, I must go find my broom so that I can whack at my husband to keep him away from the humming birds.


  1. Marvelous series of images and account of encounter with the web. Thanks for the background info. I have read of this happening but have never seen the direct evidence.

  2. Robin, that is so amazing! Excellent post! ~karen

  3. I swear, Robin--every time I come here, I never know which I love more: your photographs or your humor! This post has an abundance of both--and I'm oooh-ing and awwww-ing over the pics and laughing out loud at the text! Thanks so much for both!

    I have to admit, though, that I have a really deep-seated fear of spiders. I shiver just looking at these photos--and slide past as quickly as I can. I shivered all the way through "Charlotte's Web" the first time I read it. Then when I saw the movie, the shivering was even worse (that army of baby spiders rushing out?--yuck!). But I soldiered on because I was watching it with my (then) young son and didn't want to transfer my fear to him. Didn't work--it must be genetic. So I applaud your heroism, bravery, courage as you relate only using a broom as a shovel. I'd use a shovel (or a shotgun if I had one) to permanently rid my house of just one spider! Yeah, overkill it is--I know it but I can't seem to quell the urge.

    I am glad you were able to save the hummingbird, though. And of course you're right--hubby is adorable! And it gives such good perspective re: relative size when you show the tiny hummer on your husband's thumb. What a neat shot!

    Has your weather cleared up? And did the Art Show happen? Do let us know how it went.

    Rated. D
    Yarn Over
    September 05, 2010 10:48 AM.

  4. I have just come home after a long day at the Waterfront Art Show in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. The weather was picture perfect. I did sell things, though it was slow for all of the artists. There were scads of people (and DOGS, but that's another story), but not scads of sales. It was a grand day, though. To come home and read these comments could not be finer. Thank you each and every one for that. More later, must go to bed...........

  5. YOU are talented and funny. Love your blog. Rita

  6. Loved the humor Robin. Thanks for sharing the size comparison of the Hummer. I do hope hubby moved faster than the FAB.

  7. Yippe for the Hummingbird!

    What a great read but...I still don't like spiders!

  8. The hummingbird blog is interesting,it reminded me of the time when we had little peep in the house for about 5 weeks.
    Great egret shots.

  9. What a great blog... and the picutre of david... well, my heart is just racing>>>>

  10. I absolutely love David gently holding the hummingbird...Beautiful! The tornado picture is amazing which I have never seen one over water! Great arachnid photos...Charlotte's Web is a book I have read over 14 times to my students and I loved it even more each time.Hope all is well with you and your handsome husband.Love,Pam

  11. I'm glad you could save the hummingbird. They are so fragile...yet wonder how they survive from day to day. I didn't realize they could get caught in a spider web. Fascinating! I love your sense of humor :-)

  12. What an incredible story. Thanks for sharing.
    October 9 at 8:57am ·