The Life of the Spider
The Narbonne Lycosa: The Climbing-Instinct
The month of March comes to an end; and the departure of the youngsters begins, in
glorious weather, during the hottest hours of the morning. Laden with her swarming
burden, the mother Lycosa is outside her burrow, squatting on the parapet at the
entrance. She lets them do as they please; as though indifferent to what is happening, she
exhibits neither encouragement nor regret. Whoso will goes; whoso will remains behind.
First these, then those, according as they feel themselves duly soaked with sunshine, the
little ones leave the mother in batches, run about for a moment on the ground and then
quickly reach the trellis-work of the cage, which they climb with surprising alacrity.
They pass through the meshes, they clamber right to the top of the citadel. All, with not
one exception, make for the heights, instead of roaming on the ground, as might
reasonably be expected from the eminently earthly habits of the Lycosae; all ascend the
dome, a strange procedure whereof I do not yet guess the object.
I receive a hint from the upright ring that finishes the top of the cage. The youngsters
hurry to it. It represents the porch of their gymnasium. They hang out threads across the
opening; they stretch others from the ring to the nearest points of the trellis-work. On
these foot-bridges, they perform slack-rope exercises amid endless comings and goings.
The tiny legs open out from time to time and straddle as though to reach the most distant
points. I begin to realize that they are acrobats aiming at loftier heights than those of the
I top the trellis with a branch that doubles the attainable height. The bustling crowd
hastily scrambles up it, reaches the tip of the topmost twigs and thence sends out threads
that attach themselves to every surrounding object. These form so many suspension-
bridges; and my beasties nimbly run along them, incessantly passing to and fro. One
would say that they wished to climb higher still. I will endeavour to satisfy their desires.
I take a nine-foot reed, with tiny branches spreading right up to the top, and place it
above the cage. The little Lycosae clamber to the very summit. Here, longer threads are
produced from the rope-yard and are now left to float, anon converted into bridges by the
mere contact of the free end with the neighbouring supports. The rope-dancers embark
upon them and form garlands which the least breath of air swings daintily. The thread is
invisible when it does not come between the eyes and the sun; and the whole suggests
rows of Gnats dancing an aerial ballet.
Then, suddenly, teased by the air-currents, the delicate mooring breaks and flies through
space. Behold the emigrants off and away, clinging to their thread. If the wind be
favourable, they can land at great distances. Their departure is thus continued for a week
or two, in bands more or less numerous, according to the temperature and the brightness
of the day. If the sky be overcast, none dreams of leaving. The travellers need the kisses
of the sun, which give energy and vigour.