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Northland Nature: A walk through a dewy field

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

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A dew-covered spider orb web as seen during a recent morning. Note the threads (spokes) going toward the center, surrounded by sticky spiral threads. Contributed / Larry Weber
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August was warmer than normal, with several days hot and dry. Such days were not conducive for what I wanted to do. I waited for a clear night followed by a dew-covered cool morning with patchy fog. And this morning is worth waiting for. I take a walk in a dew-covered field; conditions are right. The field is wet. Virtually every plant is coated with dew and so I need to wear waders.

In the dawn, I hear calls from crows, ravens, sandhill cranes and loons. A few warblers are darting about. The field has huge growths of goldenrods of several species. This is goldenrod time and nearly all are in bloom. Most abundant is the tall goldenrod (solidago altissima).

Thick patches of these flowering plants, 3-4 feet tall, are impressive. Other goldenrods, asters and sunflowers are scattered about the field, all holding dew drops.

Later in the day, goldenrods will be buzzing with activity as bees, wasps, hornets, flower flies, beetles, moths, butterflies and predaceous dragonflies visit the flowers. Now it is quiet.

I see some bumble bees that have sought shelter under bent goldenrod plumes and a few dragonflies (meadowhawks) that sit on the flora, coated with dew. They are inactive now, but later, when the dew dissipates, they dry and warm their wings and take flight. I’m here mostly to look for and observe spider webs.

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A meadowhawk dragonfly is covered with dew after spending the night resting on a field plant. With the sunlight, the dew will dissipate and it will fly off. Contributed / Larry Weber

Webs from these eight-legged predators abound at this time on most any day, but dew covering allows them to show up better. Walking east in the new daylight, I see plenty of webs. There are four types of webs here. On the ground are funnel webs, looking like a cloth with a hole in the center (where the spider sits). Shrubs hold sheet webs, looking bowl-shaped. On top of many plants, I note irregular webs: cobwebs.

All are well-represented here, but I seek circular orb webs. I am not disappointed; I find many.

Making up the webs are non-sticky threads (spokes) that go to the center (hub). They are surrounded by sticky spiral threads from the edge to the hub. Insects get caught on these spirals. Typically, the spider sits inverted in the hub waiting to feel prey on the web.

Most webs were made at about dusk and remained in this vertical position all night, mostly trying to catch nocturnal insects like moths. As the night cools toward morning, dew condenses on the webs.

MORE FROM LARRY WEBER:

  • Northland Nature: Nursery spider webs abound Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.
  • Northland Nature: Spittlebugs froth along roadsides Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.
  • Northland Nature: The crab spider on the wall Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

Not all spiders appreciate the wet and heavy dew coating, and though I see many webs, I see few spiders. Some kinds make a retreat — a shelter — by curling over leaves at the edge of the web. Others go along the side and wait until the day warms. A few remain in the hub and get wet.
Typically, these circular webs are stretched between a couple plants, mostly goldenrods. Four kinds make webs here. Most common are shamrock spiders (araneus trifolium) and banded garden spiders (argiope trifasciata). Both are large and make big webs.

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During my walk, I find more than 100 webs, but only a few spiders. Some garden spiders remain on the web, one even repairing it. A shamrock spider was wrapping a recently caught insect. Most webs were empty.

With winds and warmth later in the day, webs will be gone, but not the spiders. After resting in the daylight, they will again make snares for more night feeding. And maybe if conditions are right the following morning, I will be here to see them again. I’m wet and cool, but the walk here at dawn was worth it.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

Katie Rohman has served as the managing editor of the Duluth News Tribune since 2019. She started with Duluth Media Group in 2017 as regional editor of the Superior Telegram, Pine Journal, Lake County News-Chronicle, Eastern Observer and Western Weekly. She has worked in newspapers around the Midwest since 2004.
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