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Sheet-weaver spider swarm spins huge web

Jill Pengelley, June 16, 2020 7:00PM The Advertiser

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Ostearius melanopygius sheet-weaver spider webs at Lochiel Park, Campbelltown, South Australia. Picture: Rusty Ryder media_cameraOstearius melanopygius sheet-weaver spider webs at Lochiel Park, Campbelltown, South Australia. Picture: Rusty Ryder

animals

Reading level: green

Thousands of spiders are busily creating a rare natural sculpture in an Adelaide park.

Called sheet-weavers, the Ostearius melanopygius spiders have been spotted making vast sheets of webbing by the River Torrens, at Campbelltown, South Australia.

Rusty Ryder, of Tea Tree Gully, photographed the spiders last week after discovering them during a walk in Lochiel Park.

He said the spiders, about 3mm long, were behaving more like ants and interacting* with each other.

Supplied Editorial Ostearius melanopygius sheet-weaver spiders at Lochiel Park,  Campbelltown. Source: by Rusty Rider media_cameraOstearius melanopygius sheet-weaver spider webs swarming over their sheet-like web at Lochiel Park, Campbelltown, SA. Picture: Rusty Ryder

Spider enthusiast* Kris Messenger of Bugs n Slugs (a nature education group) said sheet-weavers were one of the few species of communal* spiders.

Most spider species are solitary* and act aggressively* towards other spiders, even those of the same species.

Also known as money spinners, these tiny sheet-weaver spiders have spread to Australia from across the world.

“It produces a puff of silk that’s lighter than air and can travel really long distances on air currents,” Ms Messenger said.

When the spiders catch prey, they cut a piece of their web to wrap it in before repairing the sheet.

Supplied Editorial Ostearius melanopygius sheet-weaver spiders at Lochiel Park,  Campbelltown. Source: by Rusty Rider media_cameraThe natural sculpture by the Ostearius melanopygius sheet-weaver spiders at Lochiel Park, Campbelltown, SA. Picture: Rusty Ryder

Most communal spider species are small but there is a species of huntsman, used in the 1990 film Arachnophobia, which also lives in large groups.

“That was before CGI*, before all the special effects we have now they had to use real spiders,” Ms Messenger said.

“The social huntsmen don’t produce a web; they live under bark in massive groups.”

Sheet-weaver spiders on web at Lochiel Park

GLOSSARY

  • interacting: acting in a way that has an effect on each other
  • enthusiast: someone who has an interest and knowledge in a special area
  • communal: shared by lots of animals or people
  • solitary: by itself, not in a group
  • aggressively: as though ready or likely to attack with anger or force
  • CGI: computer-generated imagery

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. Do most spider species live with other spiders or alone?
  2. What are two common names for Ostearius melanopygius?
  3. What do the sheet-weavers do when they catch some prey?
  4. What could movie makers use instead of real spiders now?
  5. Do social huntsman spin a web?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Webbing Sheets
These sheet-weaving spiders are pretty clever and produce a beautiful web. The article tells us that the sheets of webbing “produces a puff of silk that’s lighter than air and can travel really long distances on air currents”. These spiders also use the sheets to wrap up any insects they have caught to eat.

Thinking of this material and how it is made, come up with three alternative ways these sheets of webbing could be used in the modern world. Describe each of the uses.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Design and Technologies, Critical and creative thinking

2. Extension
In the Kids News article, it refers to these types of spiders also being called money spiders. This dates back to the superstition that if such a spider is seen running on you, it has come to spin you new clothes, meaning financial good fortune.

What other superstitions have you heard of like this? Talk with a friend and share what you know.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and social

VCOP ACTIVITY
Verb adventures
With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What is your favourite species of spider?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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