The Life of the Spider
The Garden Spiders: Building The Web
The fowling-snare is one of man’s ingenious villainies. With lines, pegs and poles, two
large, earth-coloured nets are stretched upon the ground, one to the right, the other to the
left of a bare surface. A long cord, pulled, at the right moment, by the fowler, who hides
in a brushwood hut, works them and brings them together suddenly, like a pair of
Divided between the two nets are the cages of the decoy-birds—Linnets and Chaffinches,
Greenfinches and Yellowhammers, Buntings and Ortolans—sharp-eared creatures which,
on perceiving the distant passage of a flock of their own kind, forthwith utter a short
calling note. One of them, the Sambé, an irresistible tempter, hops about and flaps his
wings in apparent freedom. A bit of twine fastens him to his convict’s stake. When,
worn with fatigue and driven desperate by his vain attempts to get away, the sufferer lies
down flat and refuses to do his duty, the fowler is able to stimulate him without stirring
from his hut. A long string sets in motion a little lever working on a pivot. Raised from
the ground by this diabolical contrivance, the bird flies, falls down and flies up again at
each jerk of the cord.
The fowler waits, in the mild sunlight of the autumn morning. Suddenly, great
excitement in the cages. The Chaffinches chirp their rallying-cry:
There is something happening in the sky. The Sambé, quick! They are coming, the
simpletons; they swoop down upon the treacherous floor. With a rapid movement, the
man in ambush pulls his string. The nets close and the whole flock is caught.
Man has wild beast’s blood in his veins. The fowler hastens to the slaughter. With his
thumb, he stifles the beating of the captives’ hearts, staves in their skulls. The little birds,
so many piteous heads of game, will go to market, strung in dozens on a wire passed
through their nostrils.
For scoundrelly ingenuity the Epeira’s net can bear comparison with the fowler’s; it even
surpasses it when, on patient study, the main features of its supreme perfection stand
revealed. What refinement of art for a mess of Flies! Nowhere, in the whole animal
kingdom, has the need to eat inspired a more cunning industry. If the reader will
meditate upon the description that follows, he will certainly share my admiration.
First of all, we must witness the making of the net; we must see it constructed and see it
again and again, for the plan of such a complex work can only be grasped in fragments.
To-day, observation will give us one detail; to-morrow, it will give us a second,
suggesting fresh points of view; as our visits multiply, a new fact is each time added to
the sum total of the acquired data, confirming those which come before or directing our
thoughts along unsuspected paths.