Entomologists divide spiders as hunters into two broad categories: ambushers and trappers. Some of the ambushing spiders prowl about and sneak up on their prey; others like the Crab Spider, sit very still in a flower blossom and wait for visitors.
Among the trappers, there is a further division of the category by the type of trap or web. One of the smaller trapper spiders, the House Spider spins a unconstructed, cloud of fibers to catch its prey. Other trapper spiders, the Orbweavers, such as this type, as well as the Spiny-bellied Orbweaver and Common Garden Spider varieties, spin complex, structured webs to capture unwary visitors.
In addition, although both the Cross Orbweaver and the two Garden Spider species spin an orb web, there is an interesting contrast between the characteristic web pattern of this spider and those of its cousins.
Look closely above and you'll see the irregular angles of the cross strands that extend between the radial elements, thus the Cross Orb-Weaver name. The way the silken lines are laid out, one might think it started in one direction, then changed its mind, and . . .
No, and its not that the web has had repairs over time; a freshly constructed web has the same disjointed look.
The Garden Spider, however, builds its webs with a consistent approximation of a right angle between the main radials and the strengthening cross lines. Interesting contrast, isn't it? (This view is color-shifted to emphasize the structure of the web.)
The Cross Orb Weaver has similar leg bands to its cousins, but it is considerably hairier; it differs also in not displaying the bright yellow and white torso markings of the Garden Spiders. Its dark color and the dull brown hair with which it is covered are consistent with its more reclusive nature.
Unlike the Garden Spiders, which are content for me to move in closely to get a picture, this type is easily disturbed and will abandon its web to flee to a place of safety in some dark corner if approached too closely. Araneus diadematus seems to favor locations on structures rather than out in the garden on vegetation, as do the various Garden Spiders. And, as I learned recently, it will also build its web in the bed of a 1989 Ford F150 pick-up truck—mine!
As I went out to haul some supplies from the local hardware store one morning, I looked down and discovered that this Cross Orb Weaver had set its web trap across the bed of my old truck. Because I managed to bump against the side of the truck, it disappeared, most likely, I knew from experience, to be gone for the day.
Knowing it was a nocturnal predator, I returned early the next morning and there it was!
By exercising some care this time, I managed not to alarm this normally skittish spider. Because it had strung its web between the sides of my truck bed, I was able to get my images from several vantage points, with minimal disturbance. (Other times I've been limited to crouching under a porch or deck overhang, which made stealth almost impossible.) All and all, this was a most favorable "sitting" for this most elusive subject!
When I first arrived early on this foggy August morning, it was busily engaged in wrapping an ensnared Yellowjacket (Member of the hornet family—Vespula squamosa) in a silken shroud. The perspective above is edgewise, across the plane of the web, just as this trapper began to wrap its catch.
Here is another shot through the web, edgewise. Reaching through the glistening web strands the Cross Orbweaver quickly shot out finer filaments of web silk around the paralyzed hornet.
In less than a minute, (above) this was the final package, ready to set aside for the next generation's hatchlings first meal.