27 November 2011

Spider web stabilimenta

I first became aware of the stabilimenta in some spider webs when I lived in a house in a rural location in Kentucky and shared my couple acres with a number of Argiope spiders (Saint Andrews Cross spiders) who liked to weave their webs near my house where the lights presumably helped attract their prey at night.

Those particular spiders created a rather simple but still impressive vertical zig-zag line in the center of their webs.  From then until now my understanding was that the stabilimenta served to make the web visible to birds and other non-prey (and I was appreciative of their foresight when hiking along wooded trails).

But now I learn from the Wikipedia page that the stabilimenta may serve other purposes, including camouflage, or making the spider appear larger and more fearsome or more sexually attractive, or that it provides a thermoregulation function, or that the stabilimenta reflect ultraviolet light and thus attract insects.

I can't leave the topic without mentioning the most famous stabilimenta of all time:

In 1948 E.B. White wrote an essay for The Atlantic about the death of a favorite pig -
I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting. Even now, so close to the event, I cannot recall the hours sharply and am not ready to say whether death came on the third night or the fourth night. This uncertainty afflicts me with a sense of personal deterioration; if I were in decent health I would know how many nights I had sat up with a pig...
Some of you will enjoy reading the full essay at the link.  

Charlotte's Web image and link to the essay via Ghost of the Talking Cricket.  Top photo credit: Muhammed Karim.


  1. That is quite an impressive stabilimenta. And one terrific pig.

    I often find black and yellow argiope in the plants around the front porch, all with the usual vertical zigzags in their webs. The local Tennessee lore from my childhood was that if you saw your name written in the web, death would ensue. I have no idea about the origin of this, but always wondered if you'd die if you actually read your name in the web or if you'd die just because it appeared there whether you saw it or not. It made for one anxious summer for a 7-year old.

  2. Nah, it's a little doily. Bet if you look closely you'll find the same spider has antimacassars on its chairs.

  3. Skipweasel--LOL!

    M'Stan--have you ever linked to "Death of a Pig" here before? It's become one of my all-time favorite essays, but I can't remember for the life of me how I found it the first time. (BTW, did you see on the Wikipedia page about stabilementa that such a web design was White's inspiration for Charlotte's Web?)

    That is one exceedingly handsome spider. She looks like a silver brooch with that fancy setting.

    --Swift Loris

  4. Swift, you're partially right. I haven't linked to "Death of a Pig" before, but I did write a post about a book that gave the backstory behind the book -


  5. bunnits, I hadn't heard that lore before, but I just searched the topic and found lots of stuff. The key phrase to search is "writing spider."

  6. This is a great article, and a great topic to explore. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thanks for noting that you found the Charlotte's Web photo on the GhostofthetalkingCricket.squarepsace.com website. Your website is very interesting and thought provoking. Great roundup of curiosities and news! Thanks!

  8. Seems to me that I've seen video showing that some "thickened" web structures are also imitative of flower color patterns, as seem by many insects able to perceive in the ultraviolet range.


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