My wife pointed to a giant spider web as I was about to leave home one August morning. Jane took multiple pictures, trying to capture its remarkable size and intricate detail in the early sunlight.
“You want me to knock it down or leave it there so we can walk into it later?” I asked. My preference was for immediate action, knowing at some point the other option might lead to a series of contorted maneuvers. I’ve done the spider web dance many times. It’s not a pretty sight.
“Let’s don’t bother it,” she said with noticeable intrigue. “I want to see what happens.”
Despite serious misgivings, I made no objection. My approach to spiders is like Garfield the cartoon cat. He rarely passes up a chance to flatten one with a newspaper. I realize spiders help eliminate other pests, but it’s hard for me to let them walk away. Arachnid attacks can be devastating.
According to the research department at Joiner’s Corner, there are two major categories of spiders. A single bite from any in the first group can kill a grown man or a small horse. Getting bitten by a member of the second grouping is not terminal, but the venom causes temporary paralysis. Mobility gradually returns in three to five hours and requires no treatment. A full recovery can be expected, unless the spider begins wrapping you in its fiber. Your only option then is prayer.
I’m kidding about death and paralysis, but serious about there being two categories of spiders. The most dangerous group includes those that will hurt you. In the other group are the ones that cause you to hurt yourself. Some people, including my mother, contend there is a third category for those that are harmless. Maybe they’re right, but I’m not interested in venturing unarmed into the land of good spiders. They just don’t seem trustworthy.
The massive web that attracted Jane’s attention was magnificently constructed. It measured about three feet across in every direction and had an artistic symmetry of connecting silk threads. The feature which made it unique, however, was the long span of its support lines.
About 20 feet off the ground, the top strand was attached to a magnolia tree. The other end was secured to a shrub almost 40 feet away. That’s a good leap even for Spiderman, so I couldn’t figure out how a little web-slinger with no wings could sail across. That seemingly impossible feat caused me to think she might not be so little. That’s when I decided to head to the farm.
Later that day I read how spiders make their webs. I’ll confess it increased my admiration for them. They drop a silk line from whatever point they choose and let the wind float the lower loose end to another anchor spot. I don’t know if they check the weather forecasts or just give it a shot and see what happens. Instinct is beyond my comprehension, especially for insects.
It’s amazing that something the size of a fifty-cent piece can generate a fiber light enough to float yet strong enough to stabilize an extensive suspension bridge. To that top anchor line, the spider adds more silk to strengthen it, then adeptly weaves a web below.
Around 8:30 that morning is when I left home. About two hours later Jane was in the yard and saw the spider taking the web down. An insect had been captured, but we don’t know what it was. When my wife began videoing, the helpless prey was already bound up mummy style. The spider pushed the web strands together, like rolling up a window shade, then gathered it along with her sack lunch. Some spiders go through this routine every night or day. They spin a web, catch a bug, then recycle the silk. Those spiders are females, I presume. Men don’t even like to make up a bed.
Our backyard buddy was an orb-weaver, we believe. They have eight eyes, which explains why I’ve seldom had success sneaking up behind them. Orkin’s website said orb-weavers rarely bite and when they do it’s comparable to a bee sting. I don’t know if that means the tolerable sting of a honeybee or something horrendous like a yellow jacket. It probably depends on the size of the spider and their attitude. And whether they recognize you from prior encounters.
The video Jane took has mellowed my thinking about spiders. Their ingenuity has caused me to reconsider my harsh approach. I don’t claim to have made a complete turnaround. It’s possible, however, I may feel a tinge of regret the next time I swat one of those creepy little crawlers into eternity.