Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Two legs good, eight legs better.

By Bill Kirton

I know people are scared of spiders. They’re the sort of template for creepy, unnatural monsters. That brilliant old movie The Incredible Shrinking Man has many very scary sequences, but the best is the one with the spider. They seem to represent all the dark, nasty things that lurk in our subconscious. They’re also much better than we are in ways other than making webs or knowing the best recipes which have flies as the main ingredient. I don’t know if they have muscles but, whether they do or not, whatever it is that makes them able to scuttle so effectively works much better than our tendons and things.

I’m writing about them because I’ve just had to get rid of one from the bath. I’ve been cleaning the bit of the house I use as a study because it’s also where guests stay when they come (the only occasions when it sees a vacuum cleaner or duster). This spider had been in the bath for about a week (it’s a spare bathroom). I’d seen it every day and marvelled at the fact that it was often in exactly the same place it had been when I’d looked several hours or even a whole day before. We’re incapable of standing still that long and, even if we did, when we eventually decided to move, we’d creak, be racked with pain, stagger and generally feel terrible. But, if they’re disturbed, they can take off at top speed immediately and you don’t hear any spidery cries of ‘Oh shit, that hurts’.

Another thing. When I eventually had to get rid of my creepy visitor, I got a glass, put it over him, slipped a sheet of paper under the glass to keep him in and took him to the front door to let him go. I upended the glass, he fell about four feet (the equivalent of us jumping from the 6th storey I’d guess), landed perfectly without bouncing and took off at Usain Bolt speed right away. Which is all very impressive.

Coincidentally, the following day I heard a spider expert on the radio talking about them. (BTW, don’t quote any of this in your PhD thesis on arachnids because I haven’t checked the facts and may be remembering them wrongly.) I’m sure he said they had 8 eyes, some on top of their head, some in front, and the tactics they have to use when they mate could very usefully be employed by most if not all men.

They’re scared stiff of females. Certainly some, if not all, make sure they tap out some great rhythms on her web before they actually sidle up to her. I don’t know if they’re special, agreed signals or the latest in arachnid Zumba routines, but they let her know they’re not a Big Spidery Mac. Makes sense when you think of what the female might do to you otherwise.

And the pièce de résistance is delivered by the one (or maybe more) which has (have) the courtesy and common sense to bring her a gift of a juicy meal. This level of romanticism is rewarded when she’s so busy enjoying it that she doesn’t notice him having his evil way with her as she eats.

We can learn a lot from these enterprising creatures if only we stop squishing them.


Jackie King said...

Loved the article on spiders! I once had a teensy-weensy spider who lived in the wooden salad bowl that say beside my range-top. Even though I'm scared of big spiders (well, maybe not granddaddy longlegs) I came to be very fond on this little girl. (She insisted she was a female.) She raised her family in my bowel and resided there until her natural demise.

The friend I often walked with would ask about her from time to time. Therefore, I loved it that you set your spider outside. I probably would have done that with my lady spider, had it been necessary.

Other than that, I think crickets and ladybugs are the only tiny-leggy creature I've ever captured and carried outside.

I'm glad to learn that lady spiders have their bluff in on the guys. Maybe they could teach us two-legged creatures their secret?

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks Jean. I know what you mean about the tiny versions but it doesn't stop us being scared by their big cousins. Silly really because they pose no threat to us at all. But it's a visceral thing, isn't it? They look like nightmares.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Jackie is much more humane that I am with spiders, Bill. Depending on how large the spider is, and where it happens to be in the house, I use my hairspray arsenal. I'm not very good at capturing arachnids on a nine-foot ceiling.

Bill Kirton said...

Maybe if I had a 'hair spray arsenal' I'd choose to use that instead, Jean. For that, though, I'd need more hair.