Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tales from the Tuffet

I know I'm weird. Spiders have always fascinated me. When I was a child, I would wander around my backyard armed with a flyswatter to catch flies and drop them into webs. I had learned that the spiders would not come out if the fly wasn't struggling in the sticky silk, so I would only swat the flies hard enough to knock them out. Go ahead, call me cruel. Say, "Poor fly!" I hope you remember that next Spring when you set out your bug zappers and wave at the flies that make it impossible for you to enjoy the outdoors.

That is the point, after all. Spiders are nature's bug zappers. They can sense the difference between a breeze blowing through their web and a moth fluttering helplessly. They are incredible hunters, expert at stalking and pouncing. I would say they are the cats of the insect world. We were once amazed by a tiny jumping spider we found at a friend's house. It was no bigger than a sesame seed, but it followed the movement of my fingers, crept up to me and jumped as if it were the fiercest tiger.

All spiders produce silk, but they use it in different ways. Spider silk is an incredible material. It's clotting factors have been well known in folk medicine. Cobwebs have been used to pack serious wounds to slow blood loss. It's stronger than steel thread of the same thickness. Scientists have even consider making bulletproof vests from it. It is the versatile tool of this creative creature. Webbing can be sticky or non-sticky. Some spiders use it underground and build trapdoors to surprise their prey. Some have learned to fish. Some weave incredible orb webs. Webbing wraps their food for storage and protects their eggs.

We have met many protective mother spiders. The one in the picture had laid her eggs on a picnic blanket in the yard. Instead of leaving, she circled the eggs protectively. Another time, we had the pleasure of watching an egg sac burst open with baby spiders and were surprised when we realized the mother was cocooned with her babies. (I say pleasure because it happened outside. I don't think I would have been as happy to witness this inside!) One kind of spider will actually sacrifice herself as her babies' first meal. Now that's mother love!

And so another lesson for my series, You can Learn a lot from Watching Animals:

Remember to pack a lunch.

Author's note: I want to thank my factfinders, Marina and Chase, for contributing heavily to this edition. Apparently I'm not the only one in the family who is fascinated by spiders.


Bonni said...

Thanks to all three of you for a good write-up on spiders! I keep wanted to add to your theme, however my useless dog doesn't seem to lend herself usefulness. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps I'm more agile after having her underfoot for the better part of 5 years.

TobyBo said...

well, I do not like spiders but I do like your title. :)

B&B said...

My spouse is ALWAYS picking up spiders, YUCK!! I came home one night and found a wolf spider mommy had 'delivered' all her thousands of babies in the master bathroom. First I noticed the crazy amount of infants hanging from EVERYWHERE on their little tiny threads. Then I noticed the tp was black covered in tiny black dots! Then I saw the momma! Yikes! Outside would be wonderful.
Inside totally gross!

I have also learned that you have to be really careful when you lean your head away from a web while riding a horse. It can cause the horse to walk deeper into the web!

BTW ~ I hate spiders!! lol.

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