Greetings fellow Foxies,
In late spring I noticed a large number of orb shape (circular) spider webs, each with single dead leaf. After noticing that the leaf was always curled in the centre of the web the penny dropped. This belongs to the Leaf Curling Spider Phonognatha graeffei, an orb weaver (i.e. makes a symmetrical web) of the Tetraghaphidae family. These spiders are most common in summer and they are found in southern areas of Australia. They construct a part-orb web and then drag up a live leaf, and curl it. The web-lined leaf conceals the spider during the day but at night the spider leaves its shelter to consume prey that has become entangled in the web.
They are amazing engineers, which can lift leaves up to four times their weight. I inadvertently brought a curled leaf back home in the brim of my hat, and noticed it when the owner constructed a hatty web. Aha, recognising a chance to photograph web-making in action, I put the leaf with spider next to a little frame with a black background in a shed, and then forgot about it. When I rushed out to find it next morning the leaf had disappeared. I then noticed that the amazing spider had carted its leaf about a metre and a half further up to make a web over my head.
During mating, the male spider visits the boundary of the orb web of the female spider. According to another source the male shares a webby leaf with an immature female until she is old enough to mate. Either way,spiderlings emerging from the resultant egg sacs can survive weeks without food. When conditions improve, they spin a long thread of silk on which they are carried away and construct a web.
Incidentally, like the vast majority of spiders, they are no problem for humans. If you could corner one and it bit you, you would suffer no more than temporary local irritation. Message- please don’t harm our spiders?
Leaf Curling Spiders are hugely successful in the bush because they are well protected from birds, but I have never seen one in a back yard where Daddy Long Legs reign. More on why later.
Doug Sawkins is a friend of Foxes Lair