As I was wandering along the edge of a small prairie today, I saw something stuck to a grass stem. I only half noticed it as I walked past because I was looking at something else at the time. The piece of my brain that did notice it first interpreted it as a piece of cow manure that had gotten stuck on the grass on the way down. (I know it’s gross, but it was my honest reaction.) Upon second look, I saw it was a leaf that had been folded together and apparently stuck together with silk.
Well, that was intriguing, so I took a couple photos of it and then pried it open to see what was inside. The inhabitant was a small jumping spider. The spider appeared dead – all its legs were tightly curled up and it didn’t respond when I touched it. Maybe it really was dead, but I think it’s more likely it was in a state of diapause (dormancy).
Spiders, like many other invertebrates, have the ability to pause their development and greatly reduce their metabolism in order to survive long winters with no food. In addition, at least many spiders can produce compounds in their blood that act as anti-freeze and keep them from freezing solid. I’m guessing the jumping spider I saw had been comfortably (?) wrapped in its silk-lined winter retreat until I ripped it open.
Well, of course, I felt bad about peeling open the spider’s lodging, but I was also glad to learn what was inside. That poor spider had probably worked really hard to drag that leaf all the way up that grass stem – over 2 feet off the ground – and then attach it to the stem and sew together its shelter. Why so high off the ground? Does that protect it from predators? So many questions…
I did my best to stick everything back together and wished the spider good luck before leaving it to its winter rest.