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Garden Orb Web Spider Prey on Dragonfly

Eriophora transmarina FAMILY ARANEIDAE

On the evening of later summer, in the bush along Bulimba Creek, we saw a dragonfly fly into the orb web of the Garden Spider. We recorded how the spider preyed on the dragonfly.
Most Garden Orb Web Spiders build their web at night and remove it before  dawn. In some cases, the spiders may leave their web as is during the daytime. On a late summer evening when we were walking along the Bulimba Creek and looking for insects, we notice a Garden Orb Web Spider just came out from its retreat and started to build its web. Because the old web its built on the day before was still there, we guessed it will remove the old web first and then build the new web. When we were watching the spider start actively checking its old web, suddenly we saw a dragonfly flied into its web and got entangled. The dragonfly look like the female Red Skimmer Dragonfly (Diplacodes haematodes).
At first the spider (on the far side of the camera, the blur brown object) was a bit sceptical on this for it could sense that the prey on its web was quite large. Spider can feel the size of the object on the web by sensing the movement, tension and vibration from the silks. The dragonfly was a skimmer and was pale yellow in colour. Its wings looked very new too. From its colour and wings conditions it could be a young adult just newly come out from its pupa.
The spider approach to its prey with high caution for it could be a predator. The way that spiders handle prey on their web are different from species to species, and its also depend on different prey. Some spiders will bite their prey first and retreat, wait and see. If prey become motionless, then they will warp their prey by silk. Some other spiders will pour silk onto the prey first, until their prey is fully entangled, then they will give them a bite. This will usually be the case if the prey is very large and may fright back. I saw a Garden Orb Web Spider in our backyard, a Giant Grasshopper fell into its web, when the spider approach, the grasshopper kicked violently with its back legs. The spider just poured a large amount of silk onto its back legs until they were entangled. Then the spider went to the other side of the grasshopper and bite on its head.
The spider approach to the dragonfly and find that there is not much hitting back. Then the spider held the dragonfly and gave it a good bite, until the dragonfly was motionless. Notices that the spider had prepared a large bundle of silk, which could be useful in case the dragonfly fright back.
After a few minutes, the spider found that the dragonfly was unconscious, the spider warp around the dragonfly by silk and make sure it is well connected to the web, then the spider check around its web to find out if the web was not damaged too badly. Usually, if the web is build for that night, the spider will repair it a little bit and than start to feed on its prey. For this spider, it just continues to remove the old web and start a new web again.
Spiders do not swallow nor chew solid foods. Spiders digest their food externally. They secrete their saliva that contains enzymes which can decompose the prey body. Once their food is liquefied, the liquid is sucked into the stomach. Food is then store in the midgut. For more information about spiders digest system, click here We also recorded how they build their webs.

Questions for Discussion

How can we show that spiders can sense the size of prey on theirs web?

There is a simple experiment that we can show the spiders can sense the size of prey on theirs web. Next time when you see a spider web with a spider sitting at the middle, try to find a thin, real thin, and long grass. Uses the tip of the grass to disturb the web. If the grass is really thin, the spider will think there is a small prey fall onto the web and the spider will rush to the point you disturbed and try to bite your grass and pour silk on it.
If you use a long stick or thick grass with the considerable mass, the reaction of the spider will be different. No matter how slightly you disturb the web by a stick, you body weight to transmit through the stick to the spider and its know a big thing is coming. It will run away back to its retreat, drop to the ground or run to the top of the web, whichever is easier for the spider.
Remember, when you do the about experiment, use a long enough grass or stick and make sure the spider cannot bite you at your figure. I am quite sure the spider will not run to your hand along the stick. Please also remember you are just joking with the spider, do not damage its web too much. For the spider have to spend hours to build it.

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Last updated: October 18, 2009.