The Life of the Spider
The Garden Spiders: The Telegraph-Wire
Of the six Garden Spiders that form the object of my observations, two only, the Banded
and the silky Epeira, remain constantly in their webs, even under the blinding rays of a
fierce sun. The others, as a rule, do not show themselves until nightfall. At some
distance from the net, they have a rough and ready retreat in the brambles, an ambush
made of a few leaves held together by stretched threads. It is here that, for the most part,
they remain in the daytime, motionless and sunk in meditation.
But the shrill light that vexes them is the joy of the fields. At such times, the Locust hops
more nimbly than ever, more gaily skims the Dragon-fly. Besides, the limy web, despite
the rents suffered during the night, is still in serviceable condition. If some giddy-pate
allow himself to be caught, will the Spider, at the distance whereto she has retired, be
unable to take advantage of the windfall? Never fear. She arrives in a flash. How is she
apprised? Let us explain the matter.
The alarm is given by the vibration of the web, much more than by the sight of the
captured object. A very simple experiment will prove this. I lay upon a Banded Epeira’s
lime-threads a Locust that second asphyxiated with carbon disulphide. The carcass is
placed in front, or behind, or at either side of the Spider, who sits moveless in the centre
of the net. If the test is to be applied to a species with a daytime hiding-place amid the
foliage, the dead Locust is laid on the web, more or less near the centre, no matter how.
In both cases, nothing happens at first. The Epeira remains in her motionless attitude,
even when the morsel is at a short distance in front of her. She is indifferent to the
presence of the game, does not seem to perceive it, so much so that she ends by wearing
out my patience. Then, with a long straw, which enables me to conceal myself slightly, I
set the dead insect trembling.
That is quite enough. The Banded Epeira and the Silky Epeira hasten to the central floor;
the others come down from the branch; all go to the Locust, swathe him with tape, treat
him, in short, as they would treat a live prey captured under normal conditions. It took
the shaking of the web to decide them to attack.
Perhaps the grey colour of the Locust is not sufficiently conspicuous to attract attention
by itself. Then let us try red, the brightest colour to our retina and probably also to the
Spiders’. None of the game hunted by the Epeirae being clad in scarlet, I make a small
bundle out of red wool, a bait of the size of a Locust. I glue it to the web.
My stratagem succeeds. As long as the parcel is stationary, the Spider is not roused; but,
the moment it trembles, stirred by my straw, she runs up eagerly.
There are silly ones who just touch the thing with their legs and, without further
enquiries, swathe it in silk after the manner of the usual game. They even go so far as to
dig their fangs into the bait, following the rule of the preliminary poisoning. Then and