By Laurie Sheppard
Who hates spiders? I can hear you now. Statistically, more than 30% of you experience some level of fear when it comes to spiders, but for a few, that fear is a true phobia. For that reason, when I found a Green Lynx Spider tending an egg sac in the Butterfly Garden, I kept the location a secret until the new spiderlings dispersed. It was captivating to see the attentiveness of the mother while I watched and took pictures from a distance.
The Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) is sometimes viewed as a beneficial spider. Their use as pest control warriors on soybean or peanut farms has been proposed in Florida. Without a doubt, this species’ members are effective and aggressive “ambush” predators of insects, including many that are larger than the spider itself. They have been observed feeding on many species of moths and larvae, including some of the most destructive crop pests. Unfortunately, they are also indiscriminate feeders and are just as likely to prey upon needed pollinators. At Hagerman, a keen observer may see them on or under the petals of a flower awaiting an unsuspecting honeybee, moth, or syrphid fly.
Green Lynx Spiders are bright green and often lurk camouflaged in the green foliage of a plant. They are slender and average a half inch in length for males to under an inch for females. The upper side of their abdomen is marked with chevron-like marks and their eight legs are long, light in color, and punctuated with black spots. As spiders go, they are attractive and eye-catching and are a favorite of some photographers.
I hope I haven’t lost you already, because I want to share my fascination in finding a spider securing her egg sac on a Frostweed plant in the back row of the Butterfly Garden. I was looking for butterflies to photograph (as I often do) and noticed a spider astride a dull brown ball. It took a small amount of research to discover this was a female Green Lynx Spider on her egg case. A female will construct one or more truffle-sized egg sacs in September and October, each with 25 to 600 bright orange eggs.
Over the next several days, I watched the spider move her egg case to a location under a broad flower head and secure it with silken threads to the plant’s stalks. For the next few weeks, she stayed close and kept a cautious eye on me as I maneuvered to take photos to document the incubation. Females vigorously guard their egg sacs and will attack anything that comes near. In fact, they even have the ability to spit venom as ultimate protection.
Female Green Lynx Spiders have a very unusual quality – they can change their body color to match their surroundings. The transformation takes several days. The color of both sexes often fades late in the season so whether the color on our spider mother was changed to match her location or is simply a natural fading late in the season is unknown.
It takes roughly two weeks for the eggs to hatch and another two weeks before the spiderlings emerge, so the mother spider had been tending the egg sac for a while before I saw it. Juvenile Green Lynx Spiders undergo eight instars before they reach full adulthood. Upon hatching, the first instar remains inside the egg sac until their first molt. The mother helps the young emerge by tearing open the egg case. As she did so, the exterior of the egg case was littered with tiny exoskeletons, looking like ghostly spiders. The young had orange abdomens bearing the characteristic chevrons and were fully functional spiders. They moved away from the egg sac, but many stayed together and under their mother’s watchful protection for a week or more as I watched their numbers gradually decrease. On their own, the young spiders will feed on whatever tiny insects they can find and will overwinter in a protected location.
Green Lynx Spiders live for only one year. The babies I saw are just starting out, but their mother was reaching the end of her life. I felt privileged to wish the new lives on their way and to see her tend her final brood. If I see a Green Lynx Spider at the refuge next spring, I will wonder if it is one from the Frostweed nursery.