Happy Halloween: New Giant Spiderweb Found!

You might remember my coverage of the giant spiderweb that ate Texas in 2007.  For Halloween 2010 I am happy to report for your creeping-out pleasure that a new giant spiderweb was recently reported in Maryland!

Greene, Albert; Coddington, Jonathan A.; Breisch, Nancy L.; De Roche, Dana M.; Pagac, Benedict B. (2010). An Immense Concentration of Orb-Weaving Spiders With Communal Webbing in a Man-Made Structural Habitat (Arachnida: Araneae: Tetragnathidae, Araneidae). American Entomologist, 56 (3), 146-156

The giant web was inside a waste water treatment plant, an open building covering almost 4 square acres.  And “immense” doesn’t really begin to cover it.  From the paper:

“We were unprepared for the sheer scale of the spider population and the extraordinary masses of both three dimensional and sheet-like webbing that blanketed much of the facility’s cavernous interior.  Far greater in magnitude than any previously recorded aggregation of orb-weavers, the visual impact of the spectacle was was nothing less than astonishing.  In places where the plant workers had swept aside the webbing to access equipment, the silk lay piled on the floor in rope-like clumps as thick as a fire hose.”

Remember, that paragraph was written by 5 mid-career professional entomologists and arachnologists.  If they were a bit freaked out by the size of the web….Well, you can draw your own conclusions.

One of the amazing bits of info in this paper was a quantification of just how much of this facility was filled with web. As you can see from this data table, in several areas over 95% of the space was filled with spider webbing.  The webbing was so dense that it actually pulled some of the 8-foot long fluorescent light fixtures out of place!  The authors also measured the number of individual spiders per cubic meter–and got up to 35, 176 spiders/m³ in some areas.

Oh, and the authors describe their estimates of total web volume as “markedly conservative” and “representing a minimum volume” (emphasis mine).  OMFG, indeed!

The researchers also mentioned the giant Texas spiderweb in their discussion, and suggest that giant multi-species webs may be more common than we realize.  Yay!

BTW, one of the authors on this paper also authored a recent paper on gigantism in spiders. I mention that mostly to  have an excuse to link to Kingdom of the Spiders.  William Shatner + Giant Spiders = Epically Bad Movie WIN!

(also, am I the only one that thinks that torch placement is….unfortunately suggestive?)

7 thoughts on “Happy Halloween: New Giant Spiderweb Found!

  1. Awesome and slightly freaky – there must be an equally disturbing amount of diptera in that facility!

  2. Kai–I think this is a great example of how ESA is missing the social media boat. If this article–and some of the other articles in American Entomologist–were open access, or made accessible to the media, there would be great coverage!
    The paper on dying with cochineal is a neat example–it doesn’t all have to be the OMGWTF articles :)

  3. Did the article mention what could have created such a condition? What insane prevalence of food, climate, or Subterranean Spider Goddess caused such an accumulation?

    and couldn’t agree more with you on the open-access article point!

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