White Micrathena – A Spider Wearing a Hat

(Reposted on 10/20/2008 as it is time for the fall spiders again!)
This past Sunday evening, I decided to take a stroll along a trail that winds through the woods near my house. My mission- to boldly walk into as many spider webs as I possibly could. It didn’t take long. First I came across a Barn Spider . This hairy, steroided appearing arachnid had just began setting up shop- that is, building her web for a nice evening of insect dining. I decided to bypass her. I don’t mess with scary looking spiders. ( Clicking on the Barn Spider link above will take you to a photo of the VERY spider that I almost bumped into.)

So, I continued walking- and it wasn’t long (less than five minutes) before I walked into another spider web. This web belonged to the tiny White Micrathena . Comparing the diminuitive size of the White Microthena to the large, bulky size of the Barn Spider is like comparing a Chihuahua with an English Mastiff . The White Micrathena is smaller than my pinkie fingernail. These spiders aren’t scary.

As with the Spined Micrathena , the White Micrathena specializes in creating “face level” spider webs. If you suffer from arachnophobia- then walking through the woods in the Fall isn’t a good idea- you WILL get plastered with spider silk. (One method to help prevent spider web plasterings: have a person or two walk in front of you to clear the path- just a tip. Another free, albeit unrelated tip- if a bear begins chasing you- don’t try to out run the bear- just try out running your hiking partners.)

The scientific name for this spider is Micrathena mitrata described by Nicholas Marcellus Hentz in 1850. For those of you who have been reading my blog entries- all 4 of you, you may remember that Mr. Hentz had also described a couple of other spiders already listed on this site: The Bowl and Doily Spider and the Green Lynx Spider . I discovered from bugguide.net that the English translation for Micrathena mitrata is “turban wearer.” I had to laugh. If there is one thing that I like- it is a scientist with a sense of humor. (I began performing research on Nicholas Hentz because of his sense of humor in naming this spider. He was a fascinating man who had emmigrated to the United States from France. I am working on an article regarding his life- I plan on posting it within the next few days. This scientist once lived in Florence, Alabama. I was raised in a suburb of Florence.)

The following is an excerpt from Hentz’s observations, in which he describes the spider- but instead of describing the spider’s abdomen as a “turban” he describes it as a a “bishop’s mitre” (he was raised Catholic.) Looking at the photo of the spider above- I believe Mr. Hentz was right- it does look like a Bishop’s hat!

40 Epeira mitrata PI 14 fig 11 Description Pale yellowish or rufous cephalothorax pice ous margin usually paler abdomen pale yellow or white varied with blackish spots and impressed dots above sides rugose two spines behind and two smaller ones a little lower and nearer together black with yellow spots beneath and at the sides feet rufous or piceous joints paler at base length 4 1 2 3 or frequently 1 4 2 3 Seldom large Observations The abdomen of this singular spider viewed above resembles a bishop's mitre Its cephalothorax is small and almost concealed by the base of the abdomen It usually makes its web in low grounds in forests Its second and third pairs of legs are always shorter than the fourth and first a character which departs from that of Epeira and which with several others it has in common with E rugosa It is not very rare Habitat North Carolina Alabama August October PI 18 fig 22 eyes Sometimes there are no transverse bands on the abdomen and then the black dots about twenty in number are more distinct Supplement Tribe VI STELLATJE Abdomen short and wide surrounded with short points