Orchard Orbweaver

Leucague argyra

orchard orbweaver

Orchard orbweaver, photographed in western Delray Beach, Palm Beach County, in September 2013.

It's called the orchard orbweaver, but there's a pretty good chance you've seen it somewhere on your house or in your yard. The good news is that it's harmless and helps keeps down the bug population.

We need to clarify a bit. There are at least three spiders commonly known as orchard orbweavers, all within the genus Leucauge. Here, we’re talking about Leucague argyra, which by our limited experience, might be the most common of the three locally. So when we say orchard orbweaver this is the one we’re talking about. One more note: Leucauge has 174 members worldwide.

All three species are restricted to the eastern United States, including Florida. Within the U.S., our orchard orbweaver is restricted to central and South Florida, but its global range includes Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America as far south as Argentina. It’s also been found in the Galapagos.

As one might expect from the name, orchard orbweavers are commonly found in orchards; in fact, they’re the most common spider found in Florida’s citrus groves.

They’re also commonly found in suburban and urban settings, building webs under eaves and in hedges. In more natural settings, they can be found in meadows and along the edges of woodlands. In places where food is plentiful, there might be a community of orchard orbweavers setting up shop.

They’re not huge spiders by any means, females with a body length of less than a half-inch, males topping out at about a quarter inch. An adult female, including her long legs might go an inch-and-a-quarter, or there about.

Orchard Orbweaver webs tend to be on the horizontal side, angled at less than 45 degrees.They’re made up of an anchor thread and frame threads, sticky spirals, radii and a raised hub where the resident spider — a female — sits. The preferred menu for orchard orbweavers includes various flies and mosquitos.

The method with which orchard orbweavers dispatch their prey is a bit on the gruesome side. First thing it does is crush and chew the hapless victim using its fangs and other body parts. It does this outside its own body. Then, it injects digestive enzymes into the would-be meal, which turns the innards into a liquid, then pumps said liquid into its stomach. Yum.

Thing is, there’s a bit of Karma involved.

Spiders of the genus Rhomphaea seem to be able to sneak into the webs of orchard orbweavers undetected and turn the tables, so to speak, capturing the host orbweaver, injecting it with digestive enzymes, then sucking out the orbweaver’s liquified innards. Karma.

Wasps also will prey on orchard orbweavers. In fact, they’re hosts to certain parasitic wasps in Central America.

Like spiders generally, the sex lives of orchard spiders is a tricky thing, perilous even, for the guys. Females will eat their partners, sometimes trapping them, not only for their nutritional value but also to prevent them from mating with other females.

The lifespan of an orchard orbweaver: about a year.

Orchard orbweavers, also known as orchard spiders, are members of Tetragnathidae, the family of long-jawed spiders.

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Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.