“Early in February, I noticed what looked like rubbish hanging on one of the hooks that I used to suspend orchid pots under the eves of my house. The mess turned out to be the beginnings of a nest being constructed by a pair of Olive-Backed Sunbirds (Nectarina jugularis) (below left)
“Work proceeded apace, with the female doing most of the construction (above right).
“A week later, the mess was beginning to take the shape of a typical sunbird nest, with trailing loose ends that disguise it as just another clump of dried vegetation (below left).
“Abruptly, work stopped. A spider had moved into the site, and had incorporated the incomplete nest into its web. The spider had tied up the trailing ends and bent them back so that the incomplete nest was now hook-shaped (above right).
“The bemused parents hung around for another two days, then abandoned the project. They have not returned for a fortnight (left).
“Though the spider is small, a long way from adult size, it appears to be one of the Saint Andrew’s Cross spiders (Argiope sp.) though I am not sure which one exactly.
“Why was such a small spider to chase away birds so much larger than itself?
“There are two interesting but unproven theories about this group of spiders, who get their name from their habit of sitting in the centre of their webs with their eight legs arranged into four pairs, like a huge letter X, or the cross of Saint Andrew. From the tips of their legs, they add highly-visible embellishments to the web.
“A theory has been put forward that though the spider webs are hard to see, the embellishments are very visible, and warn birds away so that they do not fly through accidentally and damage the spider’s work. Are birds scared of the webs of this type of spider?
“The other theory is that the embellishments reflect ultra-violet light, which attracts insects, and lures them into the web.
“Which do you think applies in this case?
“Forgive the slight fuzziness of the pictures, as they were all shot through the glass panes of my living room and my kitchen. Opening the windows would have frightened away the birds.”
Lee Chiu San
2nd March 2014