Crazy fly lady syndrome

I’ve been getting worried about the spider colony lately — I saw a phenomenon last year that I’m seeing again, where elderly female spiders begin hoarding the carcasses of their prey, and building thick, tangled webs that they hunker down in and don’t move. They wrap up all these dead flies into a mass and also scrabble up random debris to make a nest (the latter is probably normal) and they cease being productive. I also see the production of dead egg collections, often without even bothering to build an egg sac. Here’s an example:

Yuck. Filthy. You might spot the yellowish egg clumps at the top right and near the center. I’ve never seen this in the wild — usually the webs are regularly purged of dead prey — and it could be that this is a normal consequence of aging (senile spiders!) or I could have cause and effect reversed…maybe it’s the accumulation of filth that makes for unhappy spiders. I should just clean up the cage and see if it makes them happy and ‘normal’ again!

One problem with that is that inside those nice sterilite cages, I have simple cardboard frames for them to build a web on that are made by cutting up cases of soda pop minicans.

Convenient. Cheap. Disposable. Except that to get them, I have to buy 10 minicans of soda pop, and I don’t drink pop anymore. I could just throw the filthy frame out, cut up some more cardboard, and put the female in a new, clean home and see how it goes. But, you know, I have two dozen cages, and that’s a lot of minicans. It’s also cheap cardboard, so it’s not exactly washable and reusable.

So I started a little crafting project, to build simple reusable frames from inexpensive materials. To start, I bought a bunch of foot-long 1/4″ wooden dowels and bamboo strips, and cut them down to an appropriate size with a small saw and stuck them together with hot glue. This is a classic popsicle stick and hot glue kind of project.

The end result is a slender but reasonably sturdy frame that fits perfectly in my cages.

If it gets dirty (it will), I can just wipe it down with a damp cloth. It’s also lighter and the frame is more delicate, obscuring spider observation less. The only question is, will the spiders like it?

To test that, I put one of my spiders who is particularly far gone in corpse-hoarding/bad egg laying syndrome, and put her in this nice, classy softwood home with simple Scandinavian styling, and an absence of garish soda pop advertising.

She liked it! She immediately circumnavigated the frame and started laying down a new web. I have high hopes that Mrs Yara will be revitalized by her new clean surroundings. If all is well tomorrow, I’ll start transferring the whole colony to new digs.

She has already picked out a corner for her new home/nest!


  1. fredbrehm says

    You’ve learned a lot about spider husbandry in the last year.

    Is there no source of information that can give you hints on what to do? Surely, other researches have kept spiders for observation.

  2. says

    The inquiring scientist in me wants to further test this with two other alternatives:

    Daubing the “new” frames with pigments and lacquers/varnishes of similar composition to that on the cardboard boxes

    “Old style” cages made of “virgin” cardboard of the same weight and grade, but no pigments or lacquers/varnishes

    My null hypothesis (based on what I’ve seen happen in book and magazine warehouses) is that there’s continued outgassing of some kind from the pigments that is trapped under the lacquer/varnish, and released as the lacquer deteriorates over time. Of course, that means testing needs more spiders… bwahahahaha.

  3. says

    Oops. Inverted the null hypothesis while fixing something; the null would be “there is no outgassing (or other effect).”

  4. jacobletoile says

    I have 2 thoughts about your spider issues. Are they going through the behaivours you dont like at particular times? Do they normally go through a dormant period that they are not getting? Or do they normally die of exposure? I had a garden orb spider last summer that behaived simalarly, just as the frosts were starting, she died shortly aftarwards, despite doing quite well all summer, and being in my house unexposed to the elements. The other thought is have you considered feeding less? Most of the wild animals i have kept seem to do better if kept more hungry, not starving by any means, but just a little edge of hunger. Good luck, keeping wild things is a trip, no matter how small:)

  5. says

    The majority die off — it’s -26° C out there right now! Some survive by hiding out in human habitations, and they produce more offspring over the winter.

    This could just be senescence. They’re not used to living over a year.

  6. wajim says

    Phenomenal. I don’t raise spiders (just dogs, cats, and the occasional goat), but I know great prose when I read it, crisp, lean, precise language, shine like gems. Jebus dude. Met my match, have I? Supposed to say “Yar” here but, c’mon. There are limits. Please say more.

  7. lochaber says

    Thanks for the pics of the new spider furniture! :)

    Any chance they are using the corpses due to lack of other material? maybe provide them with some “clean” debris? – not sure what would be appropriately sized, cheap, and easy to acquire, maybe the little paper circles that collect in the tray of a 3-hole punch? Though, I guess that doesn’t really help with the nesting issue…

    I’m not terribly fond of spiders, but I find these posts about them interesting, and enjoy the updates.

  8. says

    Yes! I provided them with hole punch paper — they just ignored it. When I feed them waxworms, though, they are often in loose woodshavings, and some of those end up in the web…and they do collect those. They seem to be finicky about what kind of debris they’ll build a refuge with.