The little spider turned out to be a Neoscona oaxacensis or Western Spotted Orbweaver, though it took a while to figure that out. Our Cochise County homestead was being shown to our new part time employee (hired as a part time companion for my disabled wife) and her husband. The eight-legged, small but colorful, was hanging out in midair between the rooftop of a propane shed and the top of a nearby propane bottle. I paused long enough to snap a quick photo…
…and that was that.
Had I known the light was perfect, able to produce an incredibly sharp picture of the spider, I’d have been rude to our guests and taken shots from more angles, but hey. One excellent snapshot is infinitely better than none.
Once identified, the Neoscona oaxacensis is unmistakable. The bright yellow pattern on the egg shaped abdomen is a dead giveaway even though each individual spider apparently sports a variation in patterning as unique as a human fingerprint. Some Western Spotted Orbweavers don’t even have spots! Additionally, the gray, somewhat wedge shaped head on this variety is also distinctive. The brown-black-and-yellowish banded legs are hairy, though the hairs are a bit widely spaced…or perhaps those “hairs” are really bristles; they certainly stick out like bristles.
What fooled me at first when it came to identifying this critter as an orbweaver was the simple fact that I didn’t see the typical round web of that clan. However, a bit of research informed me that (a) not all orbweavers spin those traditional webs, and (b) it’s common for an orbweaver to hang out at some distance from the killing web, suspended on a single thread of silk–as this one is. If you look closely, you can see that several “feet” (i.e. tips of legs) of the spider are touching the silk strand.
Which is apparently enough to support the entire spider just fine.
I’m guessing this one was a small male as the males of the species tend to range in size from less than a quarter inch to just a smidgen under half an inch in length–and our model was definitely not very big, hitting an estimated 3/8 inch in length, right in the middle of the known range for his gender. Grown-up girl Neoscona oaxacensis, on the other hand, can reach nearly two thirds of an inch in length and seldom top out at much less than half an inch.
So…as any intelligent reader might want to know, are these orbweavers dangerous?
Answer: To humans, no. Every spider packs venom, but (a) the Western Spotted Orbweaver does not bite unless it feels threatened, and (b) a Neoscona oaxacensis bite might feel like a bee sting but is not considered dangerous to humans at any life threatening level–unless you’re an arachnophobe, in which case the very thought of getting bitten might give you a heart attack.
To insects who stumble into its web, the orbweaver is of course very dangerous indeed.
It’s also usually a night hunter, which might explain why I’d not spotted one before this.