Early Winter

The photos on this page were taken on December 11 following an early season snowstorm. It doesn’t typically snow in central North Carolina until January or February. This storm came early and left over a foot of snow in some areas.

The spider in the photos is a marbled orb weaver (Araneus marmoreus). Spiders can and do produce a type of antifreeze and they can survive cold while living in the leaf liter, crevices in trees or rocks, or even in the space between the snow and the ground, but this one seems to have been caught out in the cold.

Up and over the ice.

I wouldn’t have expected to see this spider after a hard freeze, which had already occurred prior to the snow, but there it was. Orb weavers tend to die during the first hard frost. As I walked the path next to our Farmyard here at the museum, I noticed Ranger Martha kneeling at the edge of the path where recently plowed snow had been piled. She was watching the spider slowly crawl along. The spider must have been living in a warm microclimatic location in order for it to be active this late in the season. I took some photos.

The spider was unmistakable with its bright orange abdomen and banded legs, but it looked small for a marbled orb weaver. It’s abdomen was shrunken to nearly half its normal size. It should look like a well inflated balloon. The spider had apparently just laid eggs.

Note the shriveled abdomen.

I placed the spider on a branch to the side of the path and left. The next time I passed this location, it was gone.

A heavy fragrance was wafting in on the cold moist air on the west side of the museum’s Gateway Park. The smell emanated from thousands of tiny bell-shaped flowers of thorny olive (Elaeagnus pungens) a winter blooming shrub or vine. It’s a powerful smell.

Thorny olive.

Thorny olive is a relative of autumn olive. It blooms in late fall and winter and bears fruit in late winter to spring. It tends to climb and overtake nearby trees and shrubs as it grows. Autumn olive blooms in spring and fruits in summer. It maintains a shrubby attitude. It will, though, take over the entire forest understory if not controlled.

Fragrant flowers of thorny olive.

The smell of thorny olive, which is more potent than its relative autumn olive, is very pleasant, according to some. It’s a bit much for my liking.

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