A great egret looks for breakfast at Calamvale Creek


Scientific stuff

Leaf-curling spider or
leafcurling spider

Phonognatha graeffei
Family: Tetragnathidae
Order: Araneida
Class: Arachnida

Leaf-curling spiders get their name from their habit of curling a leaf and making it their home.

Usually their retreat is a dry leaf, but sometimes they curl a fresh green leaf to live in. Fresh leaves are a popular choice with juvenile leaf-curlers, but the spider featured on this page started with a dry leaf, then moved to a fresh leaf, then over the next three weeks created two successive dry-leaf retreats.

Leafcurling spiders have amber brown legs and thorax, and the abdomen is a white or off-white rounded oval shape with tea-leaf shaped black or dark brown markings.

As with most spiders, female leaf-curling spiders are much larger than males.

Female adults may grow to 12 millimetres (half inch); males are roughly half that size.

Nervous. Only leaves its retreat to quickly grab insects that fly into the web, or to fix its web (usually at night). Will rush back to its leaf at the slightest disturbance.

Using our photos

Photos on this website are copyright. If you want to use any, email us at: creeklife@gmail.com

Lydia's photos

Lydia is one of a number of leaf-curling spiders around Calamvale Creek and the areas surrounding it.

The photographer said:
“I watched Lydia over about five weeks whenever I passed her home.

“Leaf-curling spiders rarely come outside their leaf during daylight, and when they do they are usually so fast you can't focus your camera and get a clear photo before they are gone.

“It was common to see her legs sticking out from the bottom of the leaf. She rests her legs on silk threads attached to her leaf so she can detect the vibrations of insects that fly into the web.

“Leaf-curlers are pretty little spiders. I was fortunate to see Lydia a few times outside her web, although I took more than 100 photos of her legs, leaf, and web before I saw her fully outside the leaf.

“The times I did see her outside were mostly when she quickly grabbed prey or else it was around sunset when she came out to repair the web.

“The photo below caught one of those times.

leaf-curling_spider_sidebar (11K)

“Why did I call her Lydia? Well, she reminded me of two famous Lydias. In an old Marx Brothers film, Groucho Marx sang a song about 'Lydia the tattooed lady' in a circus. The markings on the spider's back reminded me of tattoos.

“The other famous Lydia was a well-to-do businesswoman mentioned in the Bible. She was a seller of fine purple dye.

“For some reason, both of these descriptions came to my mind when I was looking for a name for this leaf-curling spider.”

Critters of Calamvale Creek

Lydia the leaf-curling spider

Phonognatha graeffei

leaf-curling_spider_1 (15K)Hi. I'm Lydia the leaf-curling spider.

I live inside a curled-up dry leaf at the top of a fan-shaped web.

Although the photo at right shows me outside my leaf, it is rare to see me this way.

Mostly, all you will see of me outside my leaf home are my legs touching the threads of my web so I can detect insects that fly or fall into it.

The leaf I now live in is my fourth in five weeks. It's a lovely home, as you can see.

leaf-curling_spider_2 (21K)

My previous homes

My first home at my current address was the double-pointed leaf in the photo below. I brought it up from the ground by attaching some sticky threads of web to it and raising it up. You can see my feet sticking out at the bottom of the leaf.

leaf-curling_spider_3 (32K)

leaf-curling_spider_5 (18K)It was fashionable at the time, but it looked like I was twisted around inside it, so I decided to try a more open plan. That's when I built my next home in the fresh green leaf shown in the photo at right.

The fresh leaf gave me plenty of sunhine and fresh air, but when the rain fell I got soaked because the leaf was facing up.

Many young leaf-curling spiders start out using fresh leaves. Fresh leaves are more pliable, easier to find, and easier to roll than dry leaves. But you grow out of the fresh-leaf stage after a while.

I decided to go back to a dry-leaf home. My next attempt was the leaf shown in the photo in the sidebar at far right.

Searching for a new home

Phonognatha_graeffei_4 (21K)I kept that one for about 10 days, but when it started to need repairs I went off in search of another nice dry leaf. It's a shame there was no photographer there to take a photo of me travelling over a piece of wood to find the leaf.

There's a lot involved in making a home out of a leaf, you know.

First I have to find a suitable leaf. This involves surveying the ground to select a leaf of a suitable size, shape, and texture. I want a distinctive leaf that doesn't look like every other leaf-curling spider's home.

Building my home

Phonognatha_graeffei_6 (11K)Here, I've found a leaf that looks perfect. I'll test it out. Yes, that's fine. I'll climb up the bush I've chosen for my web and hoist this leaf up.

When I've climbed up the bush I string threads between two branches — about 60 centimetres (two feet) apart — and make two-thirds of an orb web. I attach the leaf by threads to the top part of the web and use sticky silk to curl it.

Am I dangerous?

leaf-curling_spider_8 (7K)I'm not likely to bite you unless you provoke me heavily.

Leaf-curling spiders generally don't like to be seen. If I'm out of my web, I will rush back at the sign of any disturbance and hide in my leaf.

My bite may cause swelling, itching, and mild local pain to humans, but if you leave me alone I'll leave you alone.

I eat small insects that wander into my web — mosquitoes, flies, aphids, small grasshoppers or crickets, assassin bugs, atractomorphas … any critters like that.

Different personalities like different homes

Leaf-curling spiders may have many different leaf homes in their lifetime. The photo below shows just a few of the variety of leaves used around the creek.

leaf-curling_spider_7 (25K)

Sometimes we don't use leaves at all. We may use a fine piece of paperbark, or even a snail's shell.

— Lydia the leaf-curling spider