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The Life of the Spider

The Labyrinth Spider
While the Epeirae, with their gorgeous net-tapestries, are incomparable weavers, many
other Spiders excel in ingenious devices for filling their stomachs and leaving a lineage
behind them: the two primary laws of living things. Some of them are celebrities of long-
standing renown, who are mentioned in all the books.
Certain Mygales {36} inhabit a burrow, like the Narbonne Lycosa, but of a perfection
unknown to the brutal Spider of the waste-lands. The Lycosa surrounds the mouth of her
shaft with a simple parapet, a mere collection of tiny pebbles, sticks and silk; the others
fix a movable door to theirs, a round shutter with a hinge, a groove and a set of bolts.
When the Mygale comes home, the lid drops into the groove and fits so exactly that there
is no possibility of distinguishing the join. If the aggressor persist and seek to raise the
trap-door, the recluse pushes the bolt, that is to say, plants her claws into certain holes on
the opposite side to the hinge, props herself against the wall and holds the door firmly.
Another, the Argyroneta, or Water Spider, builds herself an elegant silken diving-bell, in
which she stores air. Thus supplied with the wherewithal to breathe, she awaits the
coming of the game and keeps herself cool meanwhile. At times of scorching heat, hers
must be a regular sybaritic abode, such as eccentric man has sometimes ventured to build
under water, with mighty blocks of stone and marble. The submarine palaces of Tiberius
are no more than an odious memory; the Water Spider’s dainty cupola still flourishes.
If I possessed documents derived from personal observation, I should like to speak of
these ingenious workers; I would gladly add a few unpublished facts to their life-history.
But I must abandon the idea. The Water Spider is not found in my district. The Mygale,
the expert in hinged doors, is found there, but very seldom. I saw one once, on the edge
of a path skirting a copse. Opportunity, as we know, is fleeting. The observer, more than
any other, is obliged to take it by the forelock. Preoccupied as I was with other
researches, I but gave a glance at the magnificent subject which good fortune offered.
The opportunity fled and has never returned.
Let us make up for it with trivial things of frequent encounter, a condition favourable to
consecutive study. What is common is not necessarily unimportant. Give it our
sustained attention and we shall discover in it merits which our former ignorance
prevented us from seeing. When patiently entreated, the least of creatures adds its note to
the harmonies of life.
In the fields around, traversed, in these days, with a tired step, but still vigilantly
explored, I find nothing so often as the Labyrinth Spider (Agelena labyrinthica,
CLERCK.). Not a hedge but shelters a few at its foot, amidst grass, in quiet, sunny
nooks. In the open country and especially in hilly places laid bare by the wood-man’s
axe, the favourite sites are tufts of bracken, rock-rose, lavender, everlasting and rosemary
cropped close by the teeth of the flocks. This is where I resort, as the isolation and