From: Reuters
Published September 1, 2007 11:07 AM

Texas Spiders' Monstrous Webs Baffle Scientists

LAKE TAWAKONI STATE PARK, Texas - Texans like to say everything in their state is bigger. They can now add spider webs to that list.


A monstrous network of sheet-like webs covering several acres has been spun over trees in this state park 50 miles (80 kms) east of Dallas, baffling scientists who say it is an almost-unheard-of occurrence in the region.


"The dominant spiders here seem to be long-jawed spiders but this is unusual. Social spiders build communal nests in the tropics but the longjaws are not social," said Mike Quinn, a Texas state insect biologist.


"We still don't have a clear answer for what is going on here," he said as he stood beneath the ghostly canopy of webbing which shrouded a patch of oak and juniper trees.


The eerie scene evoked a B-grade horror movie. Thunder rumbled in the distance as spiders skittered across Quinn's wide-brimmed hat.


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He was collecting samples by using a metal rod to thrash branches over a "beat sheet" -- a sheet nailed to criss-crossed pieces off wood into which bugs would fall.


A startling number of creepy-crawlers fell from a single branch which Quinn thrashed, including several long-jawed spiders, also known as orb weavers.


"You would not want to be the prey item on the end of that," Quinn said as he held up one of the aptly named long jaws, a spindly but sinister looking thing with fangs jutting out at the end of its raptor-like jaws.


There are 10 species of longjaw in Texas and Quinn said he needed to take the specimens to other experts to determine precisely which ones they were.


There were several other species of spider in the webs, including large garden spiders.


"I've never seen anything like this before," said Ray Owings, who had come from Tyler 50 miles to the east just to look at the webbing.


Other scientists agreed it was an odd affair.


"You see this more often in tropical rain forests. Longjaws typically make the classic kind of orb web and not a sheet web," Roy Vogtsberger, an assistant professor with the biology department at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, told Reuters by phone.


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