A Surprising Winter Hideout

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).

When I opened up the silk-lined leaf, I found a cute, but nonmoving jumping spider.

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.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

2 thoughts on “A Surprising Winter Hideout

  1. One more reason not to clear your gardens down to bare ground in the autumn! Thanks for sharing this sacrificial exploration.

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