Thursday, February 18, 2010

Oh, What Webs They Weave!

Spiders.  So many of them in the world!  They scurry fast and if they're big, I must admit they scare the daylights out of me. In the fall, just before winter, they sense the need to claim warmth and shelter, and living close to the earth as we do here just off the one-lane road, we obviously must clamp down on the number of boarders we can take in during the upcoming cold weather.  So, yes, if truth be told I annihilate them, but only when they come inside. They hide in the wood we bring in, they zip under the doormats, build homes in the corners of the windows, and even emerge in early fall through the drainpipes into sinks.  I should be ashamed of my housekeeping, right?

Well, I'm not. It's one of the little things one accepts as being quite natural out here JOTOLR.  As much as (humanly) possible I avoid using insect sprays in the belief that I would be asphyxiating and poisoning MM and me just as much as the potential target.  Even for the dratted flies in the summer, I use the old remedy:  flypaper.  Yes they're ugly (changing them frequently avoids that) but it's environmentally friendly, easy to dispose of, and there are better versions of that product today than in the past.) And I have fly swatters tucked about the house for corporal flogging when needed on flies, beetles and spiders, too.

On the other hand, I am a devotee of the spiders' WEBS.  That is to say, I admire them for their highly engineered and wondrous beauty.  The tensile strength of spider silk is actually greater than the same weight of steel and has much greater elasticity.  Its microstructure is under investigation for possible applications in industry, including bullet-proof vests and artifical tendons.  About 30,000 species of spiders have been named so far, representing what is believed to be about one fourth of the total. 

I love to photograph spider webs.  They always present such a challenge to a photographer as the tiniest of breezes sets the structure in motion and it's difficult to get a photo that is properly in focus.

As gardeners, we love and need spiders.  They often live in the soil and pop out unexpectedly, but they are our companions, helping us to grow our own food,  since their diet is comprised of many pests we seek to eradicate. As wood-gatherers, as housekeepers, out here in the country, living side by side with animals of all kinds, one learns to cultivate an attitude toward living things in general, other than "bugs" or "germs" that need to be doused with Raid or Lysol.  There's no ability to be selective in what you kill when you broadcast sprays.

We lived in Australia back in the early 1970's near now-famous Cairns (which had not yet been "discovered")  The little house we bought had a version of "outdoor" plumbing.  The commode had modern, flush-type plumbing.  It was just a little "outside" house.  It even had a regular door knob with a lock on it.  The first time I went out to use the facilities, I shut the door, sat down, and there, on the back of the door, looking at me, was the biggest dad-gummed spider I'd ever seen.  That sucker was at least five inches across.  I just know the people in Jakarta heard my scream.  MM came flying out, burst through the door, took one look and headed back out.  "Just sit still!" he hollered. "I'm getting a shovel to kill it!" And kill it he did.  But you know the sad part of the story?  We shouldn't have killed the spider.  Turned out (we learned from the neighbors) the spider was not only harmless to humans, but the old (now my age!) couple from whom we bought the house, had cultivated those spiders for years, as semi-pets that kept the outside toilet free of other less-desirable insects.  Those spiders were built-in environmentally friendly insecticides.  And we (dumbos) blew this effective system to smithereens. 

Spiders are Arachnids.  The name derives from Greek mythology.  Arachne was a peasant girl who became an expert spinner and weaver of cloth.  (I am a handspinner, too, but not as good as either Arachne or spiders.)  No human could spin or weave as well as Arachne.  She became famous throughout Greece.  But she also became arrogant, boasting that she was better even than Athena, goddess of wisdom who invented spinning and weaving.  So Athena took offense and decided to put an end to her rival's claims.  She disguised herself as an old woman and came to earth and challenged Arachne to a weaving contest.  Arachne's work, it turned out, was every bit as good as Athena's.  Arachne boasted that she had produced the superior cloth.  Whereupon the goddess revealed her true identity, tore apart Arachne's weaving and beat her with the shuttle from the loom.  Out of despair, Arachne took a rope and hanged herself.  But ultimately, Athena took pity on her and changed the rope into a web, and then turned Arachne into a spider.

The moral of the story seems to suggest that one should not be overly prideful of one's abilities and boasting may result in overconfidence, which could then result in a vastly different and perhaps unpleasant outcome than what had been intended.  Olympians, take note!

See you again tomorrow...on the WORLD WIDE WEB.


  1. Hi Elora and MM:

    As usual, another great post on the JOTOLR blog. I always learn something new when I pop in for a cyber visit.

    Spiders are indeed one of the gardener’s best friends. Spiders, ground beetles, and a host of other predatory creatures that live in or on the soil are the reason why we have transitioned to low/no till gardening. Plowing and tilling the soil significantly reduces the populations of these predators, and because they are such an important part of our integrated pest management strategy here at OOHF, we do all we can to promote them. Our garden is simply full of them; however, there is a downside. Because they are generalist, they will prey upon both beneficial insects and garden pests. Still, I have noticed their contribution, particularly after we laid out our garden with permanent clover/grass walkways in between the planting beds. The walkways give them cover and are only disturbed by periodic mowing on my mower’s highest setting (6 inches). At that height, I can run over box turtles, snakes, toads, frogs, and other animals and not cause damage.

    Speaking of spider webs, I’m sure you’ve seen the spider webs across your driveway or other farm trails that really stand out in the fall when the heavy dew accentuates their form. What impresses me the most is the spider’s ability to spin a thread between two branches in the road that are eight feet apart and eight feet off the ground using nothing but the wind or breeze to float them to the other side. Can they actually “see” that far away to know there is a branch in which to attach that first strand? I had to actually do a little research to find out how they did it since it seemed impossible to me how they could span such distances.

    I hope all is going well on the farm. I’m tired of expending so much energy on such menial tasks. It seems like the cold, wind, and snow make the most mundane chores ten times harder. Talk to you soon.

  2. We have a fair number of spiders in our old farmhouse. I like having them around as natural fly traps, (I had a little one on the inside of the windscreen of my landrover for years),and only vacuum up the webs when guests are coming to stay.(My best friend and her daughters are terrified of spiders.) The only thing I don't like is when one is on the ceiling directly over the bed because they have a habit of dropping onto your face and that is not nice. Our cool & wet summers means that we don't get many flies inside. Occasionally I chase a solitary bluebottle around the kitchen because its buzzing and the thought of it landing on work surfaces drives me bonkers.No insecticides at all here apart from one very old can of spray bought when some ants started comming indoors.I sometimes get bitten by the midges or horse flies when I'm outside which is irritating as my skin reacts to bites and insect repellants don't seem to work but I put up with it.