The Cicada and the Spider

Top Photo: Cicada caught in orb weaver’s web.

It’s fall, and orb weavers are becoming more and more conspicuous on trails and paths, around gardens, back porches and decks.

The other morning while I walked the outdoor loop here at the museum, I noticed a cicada struggling mightily about twenty feet above the path near the entrance to the boardwalk. It had gotten itself caught in the web of an orb weaver. Sticky stuff, those webs.

Cicada caught in a trap.
Spider silk entangles the cicada’s wings.

The cicada was flapping frantically and had managed to tear a portion of the web away, but was still entrapped. I didn’t see the spider and figured she was waiting till this rather large prize in her web settled down. At the rate it was flapping, the cicada would surely tire soon.

It was not until some twenty minutes later that the spider entered the scene. She rushed down one of the anchor lines of the web, took a quick synopsis of the situation and immediately began to strengthen the web surrounding the cicada. This prize was not going to get away.

I left her to her work.

Spider hurries down anchor line to survey the situation.
Spider approaches with caution. Cicada still too active to approach closely.
Spider strengthens web around cicada.
She quickly works while cicada tires.

When I checked in some three hours later, the spider had the situation well under her control. The cicada had been secured with silk, not completely wrapped up mummy style but immobilized just the same.

Cicada immobilized with thread and venom.
Silk, enzymes and venom do their work to secure cicada.

These spiders don’t eat their prey outright but must first partially immobilize the prey item. If the spider can get in close enough it injects venom into the victim to paralyze it. Once the prey is stationary the spider further injects digestive enzymes into the prey. The enzymes dissolve the prey from within allowing the spider to suck out the juices.

By this time, the spider appeared to have already injected enzymes which seemed to have taken effect. It looked to me as if the spider was in the act of consuming at least part of the cicada. It was heavily involved at the head end of the large insect.

The spider appears to be sucking the dissolved contents from the cicada.

The following morning a new web was in place and the cicada was gone. Had the spider hauled off what remained of the cicada for later consumption? She would have had to work hard to pull off such a feat, but I think she could have managed.

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