Those that believe in magic know that the faeries have been very busy. That is one way to explain the wondrous webs that have covered the ground, fields, and woodland understory on recent cool, wet mornings. These silky structures glimmer with dew and seemingly disappear with the warmth of the sun.

Oak Bluffs resident Susan Desmarais, who has an eye for the enchanted and a way with words, described the phenomena. She calls these constructions faerie tents, explaining their presence and sharing their lore. 

“My Irish grandmother used to tell me they were tents woven by faeries and wee people to sleep under after they danced all night under the moon and performed their magic. One is never supposed to harm the tents in any way...when the faeries awake they will dismantle the tents and go on their merry way. To have them dance then sleep in your yard is very auspicious as they leave some of their magic behind.”

Magic and science both can explain the presence of these webs. While I don’t discount the hard work of faeries, other organisms might also have a role in their emergence.

Consider spiders. Ground, grass, sheet and funnel spiders can weave webs on the ground and in vegetation. However, these types of webs often have a hole or funnel for the spider to go through and hide within or below. Spider webs also linger, remaining after the sun comes out and the dew dries from their fibers. And if you look carefully, you can usually find the spider in or below their creation.

British naturalist David Attenborough observed the same thing on his side of the ocean, explaining this behavior and, simultaneously, making arachnophobes everywhere shudder.

“On autumn mornings, the countryside is often draped with gossamer. Much of it will have come from spiderlings that have landed after making their first journeys....Some filaments will have been laid down by resident adult spiders as they prowled across their territories at night during their hunts. It is perhaps only on such mornings, when the low rays of the rising sun illuminate vast shining sheets of silt, that many of us can get any idea of just how successful and abundant spiders are in our countryside. A hectare of meadow may contain over a million of them.”

If spiders are not to blame, there might be another culprit, a fungus among us. Fungal mycelium (the vegetative part of the fungus) can grow aboveground and resemble webs. A few types of fungus that produce above ground web-like structures include pythium, brown patch fungus, and dollar spot fungus. These fungal varieties, however, are usually found on grasses, especially lawns and turfgrass, not on the bare or leaf-littered ground and woodlands.

Only you can ascertain the origin of the fanciful threads in your yard. I can assure you that the mythology of faeries and secularity of science are not in conflict. Perhaps we can agree that these ephemeral objects are a marriage of magic and science. Both of which I believe are required in our world.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature.