Delilah and Eloise

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Two orb weaver spiders in composite photo

Hurricanes are named alphabetically. So are my orb weaver spiders. This season, I had the privilege of observing the life cycles of two lovely, leggy ladies, Delilah and Eloise. Perhaps they’re the offspring of Charlotte, the first orb weaver I studied who gave me a deep love and affection for these spectacular creatures. I like to believe they’re part of her legacy. Somehow that comforts me since she disappeared without a trace.

I first became aware of Delilah when she built her spectacular web across the walkway leading up to my house a couple of weeks before Halloween. I knew that was never going to work, so I did what any reasonable person would do. I purchased construction CAUTION tape and roped off the walkway from all potential disturbances. At first the tape could be passed off as Halloween decor, but after all other traces of the holiday disappeared, I basically looked like the neighborhood weirdo protecting a ginormous spider web. For weeks I’ve regaled delivery drivers, dog walkers, and other passersby with my spider stories. In fact, one curious Amazon driver regularly checks on Delilah. He doesn’t mind that he has to traipse over a gully of rocks and squeeze through shrubs to deliver my packages. He’s intrigued and also inspired to help in her preservation. Truthfully, this warms the cockles of my heart.

Eloise constructed her web in my backyard, in a location that was destined to give me a mouthful of spider in the dead of night. So I also blocked off a significant portion of the backyard so she could do her thing, protected from human interference. Fortunately, my gardeners have known me for years and none of this surprised them. For three months, they have worked respectfully around the two spider protection zones, never even batting an eye.

Physically, these ladies are as different as day and night. Delilah is a brilliant red color and essentially a clone of my beloved Charlotte. Eloise has a lustrous, dark brown body with reddish-colored appendages and is a few millimeters longer and wider than the petite-ish Delilah. But despite their differing appearance, they have the same steadfast goal to leave behind offspring that will continue the cycle of birth, life, and death.

Their daily habits have been typical of orb weavers. They’ve designed and built their elegant webs at dusk after consuming the contents of the previous web, including any prey, with the cycle continuing every day. Most prey has been standard fare like nats, flies, and the occasional honey bee (sigh) until Eloise caught the motherlode – a monarch butterfly (bigger sigh). In a normal year this would cause me inner turmoil, but this year monarchs have struggled to reproduce and were quite scarce in Southern California. So it broke my heart even more. I didn’t sleep well that night, tossing and turning and wondering if my ridiculous CAUTION tape had protected the web too well. I had broken my cardinal rule from past years and gotten directly involved, and that weighed on me like a 2-ton rock. I consoled myself with the fact that Eloise took care of business quickly and I never had to see the majestic creature struggle.

Now it’s late January, and both Delilah and Eloise’s days are numbered. In the last week, in the middle of record-breaking California rainstorms, they both laid their eggs and plastered them with fine silk to protect them from the elements. They’ve also stopped weaving their intricate webs, having conserved their energy for that final loving action of bringing their babies into the world. Eloise was the early bloomer, but Delilah was not far behind. Now I watch them as they spend their final days perched over their respective egg sacs, not doing much of anything at all. Do they have a sense of pride? Do they know the end is drawing near? Are they aware that they will likely never see their babies hatch and present themselves to the world? I hope they have no deeper understanding. At times, I wish I didn’t either. I’m just happy they let me share their precious world for as long as they have. Thank you, Delilah and Eloise!

Eloise guarding her egg sac
Delilah guarding her egg sac