Matt Moore was poking around the pond dam near his Bulloch County home one night last July when he found something he’d only ever seen before in books.
“I was out with a headlamp looking around for snakes and spiders,” said Moore, a self-taught naturalist and a field tech with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “I shined the light and I saw an ogre-faced spider.”
Named for their big fangs and bulgy eyes, ogre-faced spiders are actually harmless and are notable for more than their looks. They are the only spiders known to create a cast net-like web they throw over their prey. That’s what made the I.D. unmistakable.
“You know it when you see it because of the way they operate,” Moore said. “They have a net made of silk hanging from their front legs.”
Emerging just after dark, these spiders build a silk scaffold a few feet off the ground and then hang from the web head-down. They also spin their capture net of fluffy silk, which they hold stationary in their front four legs.
Moore has seen them hunt, feeding one a grasshopper and tricking another into covering a tiny stick with its net.
“They wrap it around whatever comes in front of them,” he said. “They just drape it over.”
Until Moore’s find, ogre-faced spiders had only been recorded from extreme southern Alabama, Florida and Jamaica. The Statesboro one was 150 miles north of any previous record of the species and the first in Georgia. But not the last.
Working with Dirk Stevenson, a friend and fellow spider enthusiast who directs the Longleaf Savannas Initiative for the nonprofit Orianne Society, Moore has since documented ogre-faced spiders at the Altama Plantation Wildlife Management Area in Glynn County and on the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve near Lumber City in Telfair County. Future surveys could show that this spider is widely distributed throughout much of the coastal plain region of southern Georgia.
Anyone who wants to help document more of them will have to go hunting at night. Ogre-faced spiders are “sight hunters.” Two of their eight eyes are unusually large and forward-facing, with the capabilities of a fish-eye lens that give them extraordinary night vision. But their eyes don’t work well in daylight, making the spiders solely nocturnal.
Moore suggests waiting until dark then looking on palmetto fronds or the foliage of shrubs about 1-4 feet off the ground.
“If you have a headlight or flashlight you can get a great photo,” Stevenson said. “They’re just not wary.”