Rain brings life: spiny spiders

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The yellow Gasteracantha cancriformis, the most common color variation on the island.

Curacao is not known for spiders. Potential visitors are shown her clear blue sea, white sandy beaches and the rugged Christoffel mountain. About spiders you’ll not hear much in marketing products, and perhaps rightly so.

Fear of spiders

Spiders are not really the favorite animals of most people. There is even an official name coined for people with a fear of spiders: arachnophobics. Arachnophobia is an international number 1 among all the other fears that there may exist. Even fear of darkness is not so prominent. Fifty percent of all women and ten percent of all men in the world suffer from arachnophobia. If these percentage are applied to our island, based on the population estimates of the Central Bureau of Statistics in Curacao, it would mean that six thousand five hundred and twenty-one (6,521) men and thirty-eight thousand four hundred eighty-eight (38,488) women on the island fear spiders. These numbers include the smallest children among us, but if we would filter the little ones out of and continue with the age group of 15+ then you’ll still end up with a total of four thousand nine hundred and eighty-seven (4987) males and thirty-one thousand one hundred and ninety-three (31,193) women!

Symptoms of arachnophobia

Arachnophobia can be triggered by different things. Sometimes just the thought of a spider is enough for some people to start screaming, in others a picture might do the trick. The ones suffering from an attack of spider-fear can really start showing physical symptoms such as accelerated breathing and increased heart rate, but also sweating, nausea and dizziness are reported. It might not even require a big spider to generates such levels of fear, sometimes the most minuscule creature is enough to trigger a violent response. Fortunately, I belong to the fifty percent of women who are not afraid of spiders. On the contrary, I find them so fascinating that I always try to take their picture. No matter how small or large the animal is.

A white spiny spider, most probably the same species as the yellow but it looks significantly different.

Spiders in Curacao

Curaçao has no large hairy spiders like the dreaded Tarantulas in South America. But those who hope that there are no spiders at all will be disappointed. They are here indeed, in all shapes and colors, but most people hardly notice their existence. That’s because most local spiders are camouflaged well in order to ‘disappear’ into the natural environment. They are predominantly grayish and brownish in color and therefore appear inconspicuous against the brown and gray colors that are often predominant in nature during the dry periods. However, when the rains begin to fall and the plants and trees are being dressed in their green suits with brightly colored fresh flowers, it starts to be noticeable that some things crawl around that have eight legs and bear the name spider.

The most striking spiders that’ll ‘swoop in’ during this period and start constructing cobwebs eagerly with dozens of individuals simultaneously are called Spiny Orb Weavers and are members of the family of Gasteracantha. The name says enough about the appearance of the animals, and sometimes you can not believe your eyes when you see them. An angular-looking animal with spines on its abdomen that give it the appearance of a cactus. The web of these animals is spectacular to see, especially with drops of morning dew on it, a sight that you can expect regularly for the next few months. The speed with which they construct their web is also impressive. Every time a fly or butterfly flies into the web, a big piece of the web is destroyed by the frantic movements of the trapped insect. Within one hour, however, it has been repaired by the spider. The insect unfortunate enough to fly into the web is wrapped in cobwebs in no time, and usually kept until the spider is hungry. Meanwhile, the enzymes that the spider injected into the victim make sure that internally the prey is converted into a jelly that can be easily sucked up by the spider, a handy solution if you do not have teeth. These spiny spiders can grow to quite large sizes. The largest in our garden reached a size of almost 3 centimeters in diameter.

The underside of the white variety. The round shape at the top is the organ which excretes the silk with which the web is constructed. The spider produces different types and qualities of this amazing material, depending on the intended function within the web.

A group with secrets

There are many species of spiny spiders known throughout the world. The species present on Curacao and other islands in the Caribbean is called Gasteracantha cancriformis,  a yellow spiny spider. But besides this common yellow variety we have encountered orange, light blue and white spiny spiders in our garden, too, that look noticeably different. With more or less black dots and longer or shorter spines. Are these other related species? Or variants within the same species? An official in depth determination of these animals has not been done for the island. Another group of animals of which we know little or nothing, especially with respect to their life-cycles and behavior!

Michelle da Costa Gomez

About Michelle da Costa Gomez

One Response to “Rain brings life: spiny spiders”

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  1. Dr.A K Panigrahi says:

    good study