The year 2020 brought along a new set of challenges as we had to hunker down and avoid an invisible enemy. This meant a lot of time spent at home, with no office commutes or travel plans. During those pandemic months, the world seemed to reveal itself in ways that I hadn’t bothered to observe before. The more I walked around, the more I watched and learnt – I discovered a whole new world in the small 6 ft x 6 ft space in front of my door. That small space is where an iron railing separates my house from the Pongam (Millettia pinnata) tree in front of it.

Within this tiny world, all through September 2020, I saw a colony of wasps coming up just above my gate – Paper Wasps (Ropalidia cyathiformes). Such nests are common around houses.

After about a month of this, around mid-October, I saw that a young Signature Spider (Argiope sp.) had woven a web above the gate, and she and her web seemed to be regularly catching various kinds of prey.

On closer inspection, one of the insects caught turned out to be a wasp. Was it an individual from the colony near the gate? Talk about “location”! Slowly, the numbers in the wasp colony started going down, and it was only a matter of time before the colony was completely empty. The Argiope, meanwhile, continued to find prey and grow. You can see the empty colony in the background, below her head and between her forelegs.

The Argiope’s success started attracting the attention of kleptoparasites; seen here is an Argyrodes sp., also known as Dewdrop Spider. They live on other orb-weaver webs, taking small portions off kills, or feeding on smaller kills that the host spider ignores.

The Pongam tree in front of the house had meanwhile started shedding its leaves in October; Pongams usually shed their leaves around Dec-Jan, sprouting fresh shoots by February, and flowering in March and April. What was odd was that the Mango tree beside the Pongam too was flowering and fruiting, behaving like it was summer, and calling forth a swarm of fly pollinators. Another Pongam on the opposite side of the road looked on, as if ignoring these off-season upstarts, while sticking rigidly to its usual annual schedule.

The NE monsoons lead to a wet November, on the heels of an already excessively wet October. Cyclone Nivar also contributed to the general gloominess of the days.

The Argiope’s supply, however, never seemed to diminish, and she was growing well into an adult.

December arrived, wet and overcast – it felt like we would never be done with the monsoon. Over the weeks, the sun emerged reluctantly, staying on for longer stretches each time. Winter finally showed up in Bangalore. The Pongam tree in front of the house had sprouted fresh green leaves and developed a canopy. Red flower buds had also started to appear, and it looked like a matter of time before it would start flowering, much earlier than its usual Mar-Apr flowering season.

The Argiope took her cue and moved under the tree, not too far from the gate. She seemed to have grown into her maximum size.

2020 ended, and the new year brought some hope that 2021 would be different, with good things to look forward to. As if to welcome the new year, the Pongam started flowering. And with the flowers came the bees: along with the usual Apis dorsata and Apis cerana, the off-season flowering brought along Leafcutter Bees (Megachile lanata). Blue-banded Bees (Amegilla sp) made cameo appearances, solitary and never spending too much time around any specific spots.

Indian Honeybees (Apis cerana indica) weren’t far behind – the most in number, and spending the most time at each flower, taking their time drinking in.

Carpenter Bees (Xylopcopa sp.) descended on the flowers, pulling the branches down with their larger, heavier bodies as they settled on the flowers.

All this meant a bounty for the Argiope. However, a few times, she had to deal with just flowers getting trapped in her web.

But soon, there were bees getting trapped almost every day. Again, it was all about getting the right “location” for the web.

Many a time, there was enough extra prey to keep in storage for later.

It made for a daily spectacle – watching the Pongam in bloom, the different types of bees buzzing around the flowers, and the lone Argiope with her regular supply of prey. A profusion of life at my doorstep! Despite all my forebodings, I started feeling hopeful, like things should and would change soon. Spiders don’t live long lives: for many orb-weavers, their life is usually done when they lay their egg sacs. I did not know what was in store for this Argiope spider, but I watched her every day looking for cues. The feeding continued, but the frequency wound down along with the Pongam’s flowering. The web started showing more debris accumulation, and fewer repairs than usual.

A mud-dauber wasp also appeared near the door, barely 6 feet from the Argiope. Wasps are major predators of spiders, but whether a large spider like the Argiope would be on the menu for this wasp wasn’t clear to me.

The Argiope was still there, even though I knew it would be a matter of time. She still found her prey and was storing them away.

And then one morning, she was gone. Her web was empty, and an empty Argiope web is ominous as they usually tend to consume and re-weave their webs if and when they relocate.

I looked around and found what looked like an embalmed Argiope, of the same size as the one I’d been watching all these months; it turned out to be the egg-sac.

This brief life of 3-4 months leading to egg-sac(s) seems to be common among spiders of the Araneid family – Giant Wood Spiders which appear around September seem to disappear towards the end of December. Ornamental Tree-trunk Spiders (Herennia sp) also seem to die/disappear after laying their egg-sacs.

Winter led to a brief Bangalore spring. The Pongam in front of my house was long past its flowering. Sunbirds showed up, attracted by its old flowers. The other Pongam tree on the opposite side of the road kept to its schedule. The Mango tree also promised summer fruits. The Argiope’s egg-sac seemed to have hatched, but I never caught any spiderlings coming out. The cycle of life churned on, as it always does and always will, and with that hope, we must move on.