Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Western Spotted Orbweaver, NEOSCONA OAXACENSIS, top view

from the September 16, 2012 Newsletter issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA
WESTERN SPOTTED ORBWEAVER

On a typically hot, windy, sun-baked afternoon while beating stone-hard clods into dust in a spot where eventually I wanted to sow a winter crop of turnips I noticed a slight commotion between wires atop the deer-fence. It was a medium-sized, dark spider wrapping something in silk. You can see her and her silk-tied package below.

Western Spotted Orbweaver, NEOSCONA OAXACENSIS, with silk-bundled exoskeleton

In the dazzling sunlight I couldn't see what she'd wrapped up but once the image was on the laptop screen it was clear that she'd been wrapping up an empty spider exoskeleton, probably her own. I don't believe that spiders eat their exoskeletons, so what was going on here? Whatever the case, our spider must have just shed her old "skin" so now her colors and designs were particularly vivid, as shown at the top of this page. Designs on the abdomen were especially beautiful, so I got a close-up, shown below:

Western Spotted Orbweaver, NEOSCONA OAXACENSIS, designs atop abdomen

I couldn't identify the little beauty so I posted her picture at BugGuide.Net and within a couple of hours a spider fan in British Columbia said she was most likely NEOSCONA OAXACENSIS, often known as the Western Spotted Orbweaver, found throughout the warmer US states through Mexico and Central America to Peru in South America. Pictures of the species on the Internet don't perfectly match ours, but the species is known to be variable, plus, so soon after shedding, our spider's colors may not have been fully developed. Other pictures show more colorful spiders, but with fewer intricate designs on the abdomen.

Isn't it something that such delightful patterns and designs can suddenly be offered to a sweaty guy beating clods with a shovel on a dusty plot of land like this?


from the July 13, 2014 Newsletter issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA
WESTERN SPOTTED ORBWEAVER VARIATION

This week I came upon a Western Spotted Orbweaver looking very different from the one we profiled in September, 2012. Before examining it closely, though, it's worth admiring how nicely this week's spider was camouflaged in a dead flowering head of a tuft of last season's Sawgrass, as seen below:

Western Spotted Orbweaver, NEOSCONA OAXACENSIS, camouflaged

Even close up the hunkering spider could be overlooked, as you can see in a view from its side, below:

Western Spotted Orbweaver, NEOSCONA OAXACENSIS, side view

However, once the little critter has been spooked from its shelter and we have a view of the body's top, you see the abdomen's amazing arabesques, which are very different from abdomen designs of our first spider, shown below:

Western Spotted Orbweaver, NEOSCONA OAXACENSIS, view from top

On the Internet there's plenty of talk about whether these extreme variations represent different races, or ages, or what. All I'm sure of is that the variations can occur in the same general locality.