The Hoarder on the Deck: Our Trashline Orb-weaver

I don’t think we’ve reached the point where intervention is called for, but we have a hoarder in our backyard.  Not the kind that buys twenty tubes of toothpaste when it goes on sale, but more like the type that can’t throw away a pair of worn-out tennis shoes, because…..well, there’s the question.

It’s the trash that catches your attention, a vertical line of silk-wrapped corpses, egg sacs, and discarded skins.  The hoarder itself, who goes by the inelegant name of Trashline or Garbage Line Orb-Weaver, is pretty hard to see, being small and all nestled in with the garbage.  Let’s call her by the prettier name of Cyclosa turbinata, which has a nicer ring to it.

Trashline Orb-weaver (Cyclosa turbinata)

Trashline Orb-weaver (Cyclosa turbinata)

Now, I hesitate to try to guess why she does this, especially since a lot of people spend a lot of time trying to figure out the same thing, with results that still sound a lot like guesses to me.  The catch-all term for this type of web-decoration is “stabilimentum”, best known to most of us from the webs of the big orange and black Garden Spiders (Argiopes), who weave those little ladders and designs in the middle of their homes. Some folks say it’s to attract prey to the web.  Some say no way, it must be to keep birds and photographers from running headlong into it by making it more visible, especially since it seems to decrease prey capture.  Others suggest that, especially in the case of our little hoarder, these things function as camouflage or diversions to distract predators. That last one makes sense to me.  See the spider?

Cyclosa turbinata web decoration

Cyclosa turbinata "trashline" web decoration

Some have even suggested that they are forms of communication, maybe even inter-species! Still others suggest that spiders might be practicing spider art and have a sense of beauty.  I like that last one, although I personally wouldn’t hang the remains of my own meals around the house.  But that’s just me—–and Nadia, too, I bet.  But I have known people who hang heads of dead animals on their walls.

One of the earliest theories, and hence the name of the structure, was that they served to physically stabilize the web—–stabilimenta—–which hardly anyone believes anymore.  But let’s not be too hasty.  There are different kinds of stability, and we are talking about hoarding here, right?  Human hoarders seem to find a kind of stability in being surrounded by lots of familiar stuff, from piles of old newspapers, to those precious old worn-out sneakers.  I once knew two elderly German sisters in Illinois who kept neatly arranged rows of Prince Philip tobacco tins in one of their farm buildings, not far from piles of corn-cobs precisely sorted by size.  I think this, along with all of their other “collections” gave them a sense of place and comfort and…..stability?

Maybe that third bug from the top in the Cyclosa‘s trashline was a really good vintage, a meal to be remembered, or the one next to it put up an especially memorable fight.  Mementos.  Could it be?

Nah.  I’m going with camouflage.

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