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By Robert A. Vella

Sometimes, nature lovers don’t have to travel far to observe wildlife.  Sometimes, they can observe it from the comfort of home.  A few weeks ago, a female Araneus diadenatus – commonly known as a “Cross orb-weaver,” “European garden spider,” “Pumpkin spider,” or by other names – took up residence outside my bedroom window.  Since we were now neighbors, I started calling her “Gertrude.”

After constructing her translucent and difficult to see web, she immediately started catching all sorts of small flying insects especially fruit flies which are extremely prolific this time of year in the pacific northwest (to the point of annoyance, from my point of view!).  So many fruit flies got caught in her web that Gertrude released some of them alive because they were damaging her precious web.  But, the bounty of food allowed her to grow pretty rapidly.

This species of spider is fairly common around here in the autumn months and particularly so in October.  Whether their appearance is related to the seasonal fruit fly swarms, I do not know;  but, it seems logical to assume.  Gertrude is venomous, although 8 out of 10 bites are “dry” with no venom injected.  When threatened, these spiders typically try to flee or play dead.  They are also cannibalistic and prefer structural places such as around buildings, trees, and bushes.

Watching Gertrude’s daily activities from such proximity (just a foot or so) has been quite fascinating.  I’m not sure if she can see me, but my presence has never appeared to disturb her in any way.  I was wondering one day if I’d be lucky enough to see her mate, and to my surprise it happened!  A male showed up with only one thing on his mind:

I’m just a love machine
And I won’t work for nobody but you,
I’m just a love machine,
A huggin’, kissin’ fiend.

I think it’s high time you knew,
Whenever I think of you,
My mind blows a fuse.
When I look in you eyes,
My meter starts to rise, and I become confused.
My voltage regulator cools,
When I’m sitting next to you,
Electricity starts to flow,
And my indicator starts to glow, wo

[Chorus]

Na, na na na na, na na na na, woo-woo-wooo
Na, na na na na, na na na na, na naaah

[Chorus]

I’m gentle as a lamb,
I’m not that hard to program,
There’s no way that you can lose,
My chassis fits like a glove,
I’ve got a button for love,
That you have got-to-use.
If you look into my file,
I am sure you can find out how,
To turn me on just set my dial,
And let me love you for a little while, ooh

[Chorus]

Na, na na na na, na na na na, woo-woo-wo
Na, na na na na, na na na na, na naaah

I’m just a love machine
And I won’t work for nobody but you.
I’m just a love machine
A huggin’ kissin’ fiend.

The Miracles, 1975

“Gomer” (that’s what I named him) approached her web and started vibrating it at the edge like he was playing an acoustic bass guitar.  Gertrude’s initial reaction was a predatory response as if a large insect had been caught in her web, but she quickly recognized his song and calmed down.  At the center of her intricate trap, she began to reply with her own vibrations as if the two spiders were communicating in Morse code.

This concert continued for several minutes until Gomer got up enough nerve to move in.  It was very obvious that he was wary.  Gertrude was much bigger and stronger than the frail, gangly, bug-eyed male.  If he made even one wrong move, he’d fail.  Still, Gomer was determined to succeed.

Slowly, he approached her pausing frequently to see her reaction.  When Gomer finally reached her, he frenetically used his long legs to either subdue Gertrude or to put her into a trancelike state.  He might have been wrapping silk around her, but I couldn’t quite tell.  After she became passive and rolled into a ball, he would retreat to the edge of the web and wait anxiously.  Then, she would extend her legs out and he would move back in for another attempt.  This behavioral pattern repeated numerous times over the span of about forty-five minutes.

Eventually, Gomer seized the opportunity and went for it.  Whether they successfully mated or not, I don’t know because I missed seeing the actual moment.  However, I did observe a tiny clumsy spider on the edge of Gertrude’s web yesterday which could’ve been one of her babies since it was close to the end of the average gestation time of 2-3 weeks.

But, I do know what happened to poor Gomer.  She bit him, tied him into a tight ball, and took him up to her lair for dinner!

Adios, Gomer!  For about a day and a half afterwards, I didn’t see Gertrude.  She was probably sleeping-off such a big meal.  But now she is back to her usual routine.  In some of the pictures, you can see insects caught in her web.  I’ll update this post if more of her babies appear.

13 thoughts on “The Ecstasy and the Agony: The story of Gertrude and her mate

  1. I love the title of your post, Robert. Like Cindy, I was enthralled. Love that bit about Gomer’s move to woo his potential mate by “vibrating [Gertrude’s web] at the edge like he was playing an acoustic bass guitar.” Poor Gomer!

    Liked by 2 people

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