The Life of the Spider by J. Henri Fabre - HTML preview

PLEASE NOTE: This is an HTML preview only and some elements such as links or page numbers may be incorrect.
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.

The Life of the Spider
J. Henri Fabre

The Life of the Spider

The Life of the Spider ......................................................................................................... 2


The Black-Bellied Tarantula............................................................................................... 3


The Banded Epeira............................................................................................................ 16


The Narbonne Lycosa ....................................................................................................... 26


The Narbonne Lycosa: The Burrow ................................................................................. 33


The Narbonne Lycosa: The Family .................................................................................. 43


The Narbonne Lycosa: The Climbing-Instinct ................................................................. 50


The Spiders’ Exodus ......................................................................................................... 56


The Crab Spider ................................................................................................................ 66


The Garden Spiders: Building The Web........................................................................... 72


The Garden Spiders: My Neighbour................................................................................. 79


The Garden Spiders: The Lime-Snare .............................................................................. 88


The Garden Spiders: The Telegraph-Wire........................................................................ 92


The Garden Spiders: Pairing And Hunting....................................................................... 97


The Garden Spiders: The Question Of Property............................................................. 105


The Labyrinth Spider ...................................................................................................... 110


The Clotho Spider ........................................................................................................... 121 Footnotes......................................................................................................................... 135

The Black-Bellied Tarantula

The Spider has a bad name: to most of us, she represents an odious, noxious animal, which every one hastens to crush under foot. Against this summary verdict the observer sets the beast’s industry, its talent as a weaver, its wiliness in the chase, its tragic nuptials and other characteristics of great interest. Yes, the Spider is well worth studying, apart from any scientific reasons; but she is said to be poisonous and that is her crime and the primary cause of the repugnance wherewith she inspires us. Poisonous, I agree, if by that we understand that the animal is armed with two fangs which cause the immediate death of the little victims which it catches; but there is a wide difference between killing a Midge and harming a man. However immediate in its effects upon the insect entangled in the fatal web, the Spider’s poison is not serious for us and causes less inconvenience than a Gnat-bite. That, at least, is what we can safely say as regards the great majority of the Spiders of our regions.

Nevertheless, a few are to be feared; and foremost among these is the Malmignatte, the terror of the Corsican peasantry. I have seen her settle in the furrows, lay out her web and rush boldly at insects larger than herself; I have admired her garb of black velvet speckled with carmine-red; above all, I have heard most disquieting stories told about her. Around Ajaccio and Bonifacio, her bite is reputed very dangerous, sometimes mortal. The countryman declares this for a fact and the doctor does not always dare deny it. In the neighbourhood of Pujaud, not far from Avignon, the harvesters speak with dread of Theridion lugubre, {1} first observed by Léon Dufour in the Catalonian mountains; according to them, her bite would lead to serious accidents. The Italians have bestowed a bad reputation on the Tarantula, who produces convulsions and frenzied dances in the person stung by her. To cope with ‘tarantism,’ the name given to the disease that follows on the bite of the Italian Spider, you must have recourse to music, the only efficacious remedy, so they tell us. Special tunes have been noted, those quickest to afford relief. There is medical choreography, medical music. And have we not the tarentella, a lively and nimble dance, bequeathed to us perhaps by the healing art of the Calabrian peasant?

Must we take these queer things seriously or laugh at them? From the little that I have seen, I hesitate to pronounce an opinion. Nothing tells us that the bite of the Tarantula may not provoke, in weak and very impressionable people, a nervous disorder which music will relieve; nothing tells us that a profuse perspiration, resulting from a very energetic dance, is not likely to diminish the discomfort by diminishing the cause of the ailment. So far from laughing, I reflect and enquire, when the Calabrian peasant talks to me of his Tarantula, the Pujaud reaper of his Theridion lugubre, the Corsican husbandman of his Malmignatte. Those Spiders might easily deserve, at least partly, their terrible reputation.

The most powerful Spider in my district, the Black-bellied Tarantula, will presently give us something to think about, in this connection. It is not my business to discuss a medical point, I interest myself especially in matters of instinct; but, as the poison-fangs play a leading part in the huntress’ manoeuvres of war, I shall speak of their effects by the way. The habits of the Tarantula, her ambushes, her artifices, her methods of killing her prey: these constitute my subject. I will preface it with an account by Léon Dufour, {2} one of those accounts in which I used to delight and which did much to bring me into closer touch with the insect. The Wizard of the Landes tells us of the ordinary Tarantula, that of the Calabrias, observed by him in Spain:

Lycosa tarantula by preference inhabits open places, dry, arid, uncultivated places, exposed to the sun. She lives generally—at least when full-grown—in underground passages, regular burrows, which she digs for herself. These burrows are cylindrical; they are often an inch in diameter and run into the ground to a depth of more than a foot; but they are not perpendicular. The inhabitant of this gut proves that she is at the same time a skilful hunter and an able engineer. It was a question for her not only of constructing a deep retreat that could hide her from the pursuit of her foes: she also had to set up her observatory whence to watch for her prey and dart out upon it. The Tarantula provides for every contingency: the underground passage, in fact, begins by being vertical, but, at four or five inches from the surface, it bends at an obtuse angle, forms a horizontal turning and then becomes perpendicular once more. It is at the elbow of this tunnel that the Tarantula posts herself as a vigilant sentry and does not for a moment lose sight of the door of her dwelling; it was there that, at the period when I was hunting her, I used to see those eyes gleaming like diamonds, bright as a cat’s eyes in the dark.

The outer orifice of the Tarantula’s burrow is usually surmounted by a shaft constructed throughout by herself. It is a genuine work of architecture, standing as much as an inch above the ground and sometimes two inches in diameter, so that it is wider than the burrow itself. This last circumstance, which seems to have been calculated by the industrious Spider, lends itself admirably to the necessary extension of the legs at the moment when the prey is to be seized. The shaft is composed mainly of bits of dry wood joined by a little clay and so artistically laid, one above the other, that they form the scaffolding of a straight column, the inside of which is a hollow cylinder. The solidity of this tubular building, of this outwork, is ensured above all by the fact that it is lined, upholstered within, with a texture woven by the Lycosa’s {3} spinnerets and continued throughout the interior of the burrow. It is easy to imagine how useful this cleverlymanufactured lining must be for preventing landslip or warping, for maintaining cleanliness and for helping her claws to scale the fortress.

‘I hinted that this outwork of the burrow was not there invariably; as a matter of fact, I have often come across Tarantulas’ holes without a trace of it, perhaps because it had been accidentally destroyed by the weather, or because the Lycosa may not always light upon the proper building-materials, or, lastly, because architectural talent is possibly declared only in individuals that have reached the final stage, the period of perfection of their physical and intellectual development.
‘One thing is certain, that I have had numerous opportunities of seeing these shafts, these out-works of the Tarantula’s abode; they remind me, on a larger scale, of the tubes of certain Caddis-worms. The Arachnid had more than one object in view in constructing them: she shelters her retreat from the floods; she protects it from the fall of foreign bodies which, swept by the wind, might end by obstructing it; lastly, she uses it as a snare by offering the Flies and other insects whereon she feeds a projecting point to settle on. Who shall tell us all the wiles employed by this clever and daring huntress?

‘Let us now say something about my rather diverting Tarantula-hunts. The best season for them is the months of May and June. The first time that I lighted on this Spider’s burrows and discovered that they were inhabited by seeing her come to a point on the first floor of her dwelling—the elbow which I have mentioned—I thought that I must attack her by main force and pursue her relentlessly in order to capture her; I spent whole hours in opening up the trench with a knife a foot long by two inches wide, without meeting the Tarantula. I renewed the operation in other burrows, always with the same want of success; I really wanted a pickaxe to achieve my object, but I was too far from any kind of house. I was obliged to change my plan of attack and I resorted to craft. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.

‘It occurred to me to take a stalk, topped with its spikelet, by way of a bait, and to rub and move it gently at the orifice of the burrow. I soon saw that the Lycosa’s attention and desires were roused. Attracted by the bait, she came with measured steps towards the spikelet. I withdrew it in good time a little outside the hole, so as not to leave the animal time for reflexion; and the Spider suddenly, with a rush, darted out of her dwelling, of which I hastened to close the entrance. The Tarantula, bewildered by her unaccustomed liberty, was very awkward in evading my attempts at capture; and I compelled her to enter a paper bag, which I closed without delay.

‘Sometimes, suspecting the trap, or perhaps less pressed by hunger, she would remain coy and motionless, at a slight distance from the threshold, which she did not think it opportune to cross. Her patience outlasted mine. In that case, I employed the following tactics: after making sure of the Lycosa’s position and the direction of the tunnel, I drove a knife into it on the slant, so as to take the animal in the rear and cut off its retreat by stopping up the burrow. I seldom failed in my attempt, especially in soil that was not stony. In these critical circumstances, either the Tarantula took fright and deserted her lair for the open, or else she stubbornly remained with her back to the blade. I would then give a sudden jerk to the knife, which flung both the earth and the Lycosa to a distance, enabling me to capture her. By employing this hunting-method, I sometimes caught as many as fifteen Tarantulae within the space of an hour.

‘In a few cases, in which the Tarantula was under no misapprehension as to the trap which I was setting for her, I was not a little surprised, when I pushed the stalk far enough down to twist it round her hiding-place, to see her play with the spikelet more or less contemptuously and push it away with her legs, without troubling to retreat to the back of her lair.
‘The Apulian peasants, according to Baglivi’s {4} account, also hunt the Tarantula by imitating the humming of an insect with an oat-stalk at the entrance to her burrow. I quote the passage:

‘“ Ruricolæ nostri quando eas captare volunt, ad illorum latibula accedunt, tenuisque avenacæ fistulæ sonum, apum murmuri non absimilem, modulantur. Quo audito, ferox exit Tarentula ut muscas vel alia hujus modi insecta, quorum murmur esse putat, captat; captatur tamen ista a rustico insidiatore.” {5}

‘The Tarantula, so dreadful at first sight, especially when we are filled with the idea that her bite is dangerous, so fierce in appearance, is nevertheless quite easy to tame, as I have often found by experiment.

‘On the 7th of May 1812, while at Valencia, in Spain, I caught a fair-sized male Tarantula, without hurting him, and imprisoned him in a glass jar, with a paper cover in which I cut a trap-door. At the bottom of the jar I put a paper bag, to serve as his habitual residence. I placed the jar on a table in my bedroom, so as to have him under frequent observation. He soon grew accustomed to captivity and ended by becoming so familiar that he would come and take from my fingers the live Fly which I gave him. After killing his victim with the fangs of his mandibles, he was not satisfied, like most Spiders, to suck her head: he chewed her whole body, shoving it piecemeal into his mouth with his palpi, after which he threw up the masticated teguments and swept them away from his lodging.

‘Having finished his meal, he nearly always made his toilet, which consisted in brushing his palpi and mandibles, both inside and out, with his front tarsi. After that, he resumed his air of motionless gravity. The evening and the night were his time for taking his walks abroad. I often heard him scratching the paper of the bag. These habits confirm the opinion, which I have already expressed elsewhere, that most Spiders have the faculty of seeing by day and night, like cats.

‘On the 28th of June, my Tarantula cast his skin. It was his last moult and did not perceptibly alter either the colour of his attire or the dimensions of his body. On the 14th of July, I had to leave Valencia; and I stayed away until the 23rd. During this time, the Tarantula fasted; I found him looking quite well on my return. On the 20th of August, I again left for a nine days’ absence, which my prisoner bore without food and without detriment to his health. On the 1st of October, I once more deserted the Tarantula, leaving him without provisions. On the 21st, I was fifty miles from Valencia and, as I intended to remain there, I sent a servant to fetch him. I was sorry to learn that he was not found in the jar, and I never heard what became of him.

‘I will end my observations on the Tarantulae with a short description of a curious fight between those animals. One day, when I had had a successful hunt after these Lycosae, I picked out two full-grown and very powerful males and brought them together in a wide jar, in order to enjoy the sight of a combat to the death. After walking round the arena several times, to try and avoid each other, they were not slow in placing themselves in a warlike attitude, as though at a given signal. I saw them, to my surprise, take their distances and sit up solemnly on their hind-legs, so as mutually to present the shield of their chests to each other. After watching them face to face like that for two minutes, during which they had doubtless provoked each other by glances that escaped my own, I saw them fling themselves upon each other at the same time, twisting their legs round each other and obstinately struggling to bite each other with the fangs of the mandibles. Whether from fatigue or from convention, the combat was suspended; there was a few seconds’ truce; and each athlete moved away and resumed his threatening posture. This circumstance reminded me that, in the strange fights between cats, there are also suspensions of hostilities. But the contest was soon renewed between my two Tarantulae with increased fierceness. One of them, after holding victory in the balance for a while, was at last thrown and received a mortal wound in the head. He became the prey of the conqueror, who tore open his skull and devoured it. After this curious duel, I kept the victorious Tarantula alive for several weeks.’

My district does not boast the ordinary Tarantula, the Spider whose habits have been described above by the Wizard of the Landes; but it possesses an equivalent in the shape of the Black-bellied Tarantula, or Narbonne Lycosa, half the size of the other, clad in black velvet on the lower surface, especially under the belly, with brown chevrons on the abdomen and grey and white rings around the legs. Her favourite home is the dry, pebbly ground, covered with sun-scorched thyme. In my harmas {6} laboratory there are quite twenty of this Spider’s burrows. Rarely do I pass by one of these haunts without giving a glance down the pit where gleam, like diamonds, the four great eyes, the four telescopes, of the hermit. The four others, which are much smaller, are not visible at that depth.

Would I have greater riches, I have but to walk a hundred yards from my house, on the neighbouring plateau, once a shady forest, to-day a dreary solitude where the Cricket browses and the Wheat-ear flits from stone to stone. The love of lucre has laid waste the land. Because wine paid handsomely, they pulled up the forest to plant the vine. Then came the Phylloxera, the vine-stocks perished and the once green table-land is now no more than a desolate stretch where a few tufts of hardy grasses sprout among the pebbles. This waste-land is the Lycosa’s paradise: in an hour’s time, if need were, I should discover a hundred burrows within a limited range.

These dwellings are pits about a foot deep, perpendicular at first and then bent elbowwise. The average diameter is an inch. On the edge of the hole stands a kerb, formed of straw, bits and scraps of all sorts and even small pebbles, the size of a hazel-nut. The whole is kept in place and cemented with silk. Often, the Spider confines herself to drawing together the dry blades of the nearest grass, which she ties down with the straps from her spinnerets, without removing the blades from the stems; often, also, she rejects this scaffolding in favour of a masonry constructed of small stones. The nature of the kerb is decided by the nature of the materials within the Lycosa’s reach, in the close neighbourhood of the building-yard. There is no selection: everything meets with approval, provided that it be near at hand.

Economy of time, therefore, causes the defensive wall to vary greatly as regards its constituent elements. The height varies also. One enclosure is a turret an inch high; another amounts to a mere rim. All have their parts bound firmly together with silk; and all have the same width as the subterranean channel, of which they are the extension. There is here no difference in diameter between the underground manor and its outwork, nor do we behold, at the opening, the platform which the turret leaves to give free play to the Italian Tarantula’s legs. The Black-bellied Tarantula’s work takes the form of a well surmounted by its kerb.

When the soil is earthy and homogeneous, the architectural type is free from obstructions and the Spider’s dwelling is a cylindrical tube; but, when the site is pebbly, the shape is modified according to the exigencies of the digging. In the second case, the lair is often a rough, winding cave, at intervals along whose inner wall stick blocks of stone avoided in the process of excavation. Whether regular or irregular, the house is plastered to a certain depth with a coat of silk, which prevents earth-slips and facilitates scaling when a prompt exit is required.

Baglivi, in his unsophisticated Latin, teaches us how to catch the Tarantula. I became his rusticus insidiator; I waved a spikelet at the entrance of the burrow to imitate the humming of a Bee and attract the attention of the Lycosa, who rushes out, thinking that she is capturing a prey. This method did not succeed with me. The Spider, it is true, leaves her remote apartments and comes a little way up the vertical tube to enquire into the sounds at her door; but the wily animal soon scents a trap; it remains motionless at mid-height and, at the least alarm, goes down again to the branch gallery, where it is invisible.

Léon Dufour’s appears to me a better method if it were only practicable in the conditions wherein I find myself. To drive a knife quickly into the ground, across the burrow, so as to cut off the Tarantula’s retreat when she is attracted by the spikelet and standing on the upper floor, would be a manoeuvre certain of success, if the soil were favourable. Unfortunately, this is not so in my case: you might as well try to dig a knife into a block of tufa.

Other stratagems become necessary. Here are two which were successful: I recommend them to future Tarantula-hunters. I insert into the burrow, as far down as I can, a stalk with a fleshy spikelet, which the Spider can bite into. I move and turn and twist my bait. The Tarantula, when touched by the intruding body, contemplates self-defence and bites the spikelet. A slight resistance informs my fingers that the animal has fallen into the trap and seized the tip of the stalk in its fangs. I draw it to me, slowly, carefully; the Spider hauls from below, planting her legs against the wall. It comes, it rises. I hide as best I may, when the Spider enters the perpendicular tunnel: if she saw me, she would let go the bait and slip down again. I thus bring her, by degrees, to the orifice. This is the difficult moment. If I continue the gentle movement, the Spider, feeling herself dragged out of her home, would at once run back indoors. It is impossible to get the suspicious animal out by this means. Therefore, when it appears at the level of the ground, I give a sudden pull. Surprised by this foul play, the Tarantula has no time to release her hold; gripping the spikelet, she is thrown some inches away from the burrow. Her capture now becomes an easy matter. Outside her own house, the Lycosa is timid, as though scared, and hardly capable of running away. To push her with a straw into a paper bag is the affair of a second.

It requires some patience to bring the Tarantula who has bitten into the insidious spikelet to the entrance of the burrow. The following method is quicker: I procure a supply of live Bumble-bees. I put one into a little bottle with a mouth just wide enough to cover the opening of the burrow; and I turn the apparatus thus baited over the said opening. The powerful Bee at first flutters and hums about her glass prison; then, perceiving a burrow similar to that of her family, she enters it without much hesitation. She is extremely ill-advised: while she goes down, the Spider comes up; and the meeting takes place in the perpendicular passage. For a few moments, the ear perceives a sort of deathsong: it is the humming of the Bumble-bee, protesting against the reception given her. This is followed by a long silence. Then I remove the bottle and dip a long-jawed forceps into the pit. I withdraw the Bumble-bee, motionless, dead, with hanging proboscis. A terrible tragedy must have happened. The Spider follows, refusing to let go so rich a booty. Game and huntress are brought to the orifice. Sometimes, mistrustful, the Lycosa goes in again; but we have only to leave the Bumble-bee on the threshold of the door, or even a few inches away, to see her reappear, issue from her fortress and daringly recapture her prey. This is the moment: the house is closed with the finger, or a pebble and, as Baglivi says, ‘captatur tamen ista a rustico insidiatore,’ to which I will add, ‘adjuvante Bombo.’ {7}

The object of these hunting methods was not exactly to obtain Tarantulae; I had not the least wish to rear the Spider in a bottle. I was interested in a different matter. Here, thought I, is an ardent huntress, living solely by her trade. She does not prepare preserved foodstuffs for her offspring; {8} she herself feeds on the prey which she catches. She is not a ‘paralyzer,’ {9} who cleverly spares her quarry so as to leave it a glimmer of life and keep it fresh for weeks at a time; she is a killer, who makes a meal off her capture on the spot. With her, there is no methodical vivisection, which destroys movement without entirely destroying life, but absolute death, as sudden as possible, which protects the assailant from the counter-attacks of the assailed.

Her game, moreover, is essentially bulky and not always of the most peaceful character. This Diana, ambushed in her tower, needs a prey worthy of her prowess. The big Grasshopper, with the powerful jaws; the irascible Wasp; the Bee, the Bumble-bee and other wearers of poisoned daggers must fall into the ambuscade from time to time. The duel is nearly equal in point of weapons. To the venomous fangs of the Lycosa the Wasp opposes her venomous stiletto. Which of the two bandits shall have the best of it? The struggle is a hand-to-hand one. The Tarantula has no secondary means of defence, no cord to bind her victim, no trap to subdue her. When the Epeira, or Garden Spider, sees an insect entangled in her great upright web, she hastens up and covers the captive with corded meshes and silk ribbons by the armful, making all resistance impossible. When the prey is solidly bound, a prick is carefully administered with the poison-fangs; then the Spider retires, waiting for the death-throes to calm down, after which the huntress comes back to the game. In these conditions, there is no serious danger.

In the case of the Lycosa, the job is riskier. She has naught to serve her but her courage and her fangs and is obliged to leap upon the formidable prey, to master it by her dexterity, to annihilate it, in a measure, by her swift-slaying talent.

Annihilate is the word: the Bumble-bees whom I draw from the fatal hole are a sufficient proof. As soon as that shrill buzzing, which I called the death-song, ceases, in vain I hasten to insert my forceps: I always bring out the insect dead, with slack proboscis and limp legs. Scarce a few quivers of those legs tell me that it is a quite recent corpse. The Bumble-bee’s death is instantaneous. Each time that I take a fresh victim from the terrible slaughter-house, my surprise is renewed at the sight of its sudden immobility.

Nevertheless, both animals have very nearly the same strength; for I choose my Bumblebees from among the largest (Bombus hortorum and B. terrestris). Their weapons are almost equal: the Bee’s dart can bear comparison with the Spider’s fangs; the sting of the first seems to me as formidable as the bite of the second. How comes it that the Tarantula always has the upper hand and this moreover in a very short conflict, whence she emerges unscathed? There must certainly be some cunning strategy on her part. Subtle though her poison may be, I cannot believe that its mere injection, at any point whatever of the victim, is enough to produce so prompt a catastrophe. The ill-famed rattlesnake does not kill so quickly, takes hours to achieve that for which the Tarantula does not require a second. We must, therefore, look for an explanation of this sudden death to the vital importance of the point attacked by the Spider, rather than to the virulence of the poison.

What is this point? It is impossible to recognize it on the Bumble-bees. They enter the burrow; and the murder is committed far from sight. Nor does the lens discover any wound upon the corpse, so delicate are the weapons that produce it. One would have to see the two adversaries engage in a direct contest. I have often tried to place a Tarantula and a Bumble-bee face to face in the same bottle. The two animals mutually flee each other, each being as much upset as the other at its captivity. I have kept them together for twenty-four hours, without aggressive display on either side. Thinking more of their prison than of attacking each other, they temporize, as though indifferent. The experiment has always been fruitless. I have succeeded with Bees and Wasps, but the murder has been committed at night and has taught me nothing. I would find both insects, next morning, reduced to a jelly under the Spider’s mandibles. A weak prey is a mouthful which the Spider reserves for the calm of the night. A prey capable of resistance is not attacked in captivity. The prisoner’s anxiety cools the hunter’s ardour.

The arena of a large bottle enables each athlete to keep out of the other’s way, respected by her adversary, who is respected in her turn. Let us reduce the lists, diminish the enclosure. I put Bumble-bee and Tarantula into a test-tube that has only room for one at the bottom. A lively brawl ensues, without serious results. If the Bumble-bee be underneath, she lies down on her back and with her legs wards off the other as much as she can. I do not see her draw her sting. The Spider, meanwhile, embracing the whole circumference of the enclosure with her long legs, hoists herself a little upon the slippery surface and removes herself as far as possible from her adversary. There, motionless, she awaits events, which are soon disturbed by the fussy Bumble-bee. Should the latter occupy the upper position, the Tarantula protects herself by drawing up her legs, which keep the enemy at a distance. In short, save for sharp scuffles when the two champions are in touch, nothing happens that deserves attention. There is no duel to the death in the narrow arena of the test-tube, any more than in the wider lists afforded by the bottle. Utterly timid once she is away from home, the Spider obstinately refuses the battle; nor will the Bumble-bee, giddy though she be, think of striking the first blow. I abandon experiments in my study.

We must go direct to the spot and force the duel upon the Tarantula, who is full of pluck in her own stronghold. Only, instead of the Bumble-bee, who enters the burrow and conceals her death from our eyes, it is necessary to substitute another adversary, less inclined to penetrate underground. There abounds in the garden, at this moment, on the flowers of the common clary, one of the largest and most powerful Bees that haunt my district, the Carpenter-bee (Xylocopa violacea), clad in black velvet, with wings of purple gauze. Her size, which is nearly an inch, exceeds that of the Bumble-bee. Her sting is excruciating and produces a swelling that long continues painful. I have very exact memories on this subject, memories that have cost me dear. Here indeed is an antagonist worthy of the Tarantula, if I succeed in inducing the Spider to accept her. I place a certain number, one by one, in bottles small in capacity, but having a wide neck capable of surrounding the entrance to the burrow.

As the prey which I am about to offer is capable of overawing the huntress, I select from among the Tarantulae the lustiest, the boldest, those most stimulated by hunger. The spikeleted stalk is pushed into the burrow. When the Spider hastens up at once, when she is of a good size, when she climbs boldly to the aperture of her dwelling, she is admitted to the tourney; otherwise, she is refused. The bottle, baited with a Carpenter-bee, is placed upside down over the door of one of the elect. The Bee buzzes gravely in her glass bell; the huntress mounts from the recesses of the cave; she is on the threshold, but inside; she looks; she waits. I also wait. The quarters, the half-hours pass: nothing. The Spider goes down again: she has probably judged the attempt too dangerous. I move to a second, a third, a fourth burrow: still nothing; the huntress refuses to leave her lair.

Fortune at last smiles upon my patience, which has been heavily tried by all these prudent retreats and particularly by the fierce heat of the dog-days. A Spider suddenly rushes from her hole: she has been rendered warlike, doubtless, by prolonged abstinence. The tragedy that happens under the cover of the bottle lasts for but the twinkling of an eye. It is over: the sturdy Carpenter-bee is dead. Where did the murderess strike her? That is easily ascertained: the Tarantula has not let go; and her fangs are planted in the nape of the neck. The assassin has the knowledge which I suspected: she has made for the essentially vital centre, she has stung the insect’s cervical ganglia with her poison-fangs. In short, she has bitten the only point a lesion in which produces sudden death. I was delighted with this murderous skill, which made amends for the blistering which my skin received in the sun.

Once is not custom: one swallow does not make a summer. Is what I have just seen due to accident or to premeditation? I turn to other Lycosae. Many, a deal too many for my patience, stubbornly refuse to dart from their haunts in order to attack the Carpenter-bee. The formidable quarry is too much for their daring. Shall not hunger, which brings the wolf from the wood, also bring the Tarantula out of her hole? Two, apparently more famished than the rest, do at last pounce upon the Bee and repeat the scene of murder before my eyes. The prey, again bitten in the neck, exclusively in the neck, dies on the instant. Three murders, perpetrated in my presence under identical conditions, represent the fruits of my experiment pursued, on two occasions, from eight o’clock in the morning until twelve midday.

I had seen enough. The quick insect-killer had taught me her trade as had the paralyzer {10} before her: she had shown me that she is thoroughly versed in the art of the butcher of the Pampas. {11} The Tarantula is an accomplished desnucador. It remained to me to confirm the open-air experiment with experiments in the privacy of my study. I therefore got together a menagerie of these poisonous Spiders, so as to judge of the virulence of their venom and its effect according to the part of the body injured by the fangs. A dozen bottles and test-tubes received the prisoners, whom I captured by the methods known to the reader. To one inclined to scream at the sight of a Spider, my study, filled with odious Lycosae, would have presented a very uncanny appearance.

Though the Tarantula scorns or rather fears to attack an adversary placed in her presence in a bottle, she scarcely hesitates to bite what is thrust beneath her fangs. I take her by the thorax with my forceps and present to her mouth the animal which I wish stung. Forthwith, if the Spider be not already tired by experiments, the fangs are raised and inserted. I first tried the effects of the bite upon the Carpenter-bee. When struck in the neck, the Bee succumbs at once. It was the lightning death which I witnessed on the threshold of the burrows. When struck in the abdomen and then placed in a large bottle that leaves its movements free, the insect seems, at first, to have suffered no serious injury. It flutters about and buzzes. But half an hour has not elapsed before death is imminent. The insect lies motionless upon its back or side. At most, a few movements of the legs, a slight pulsation of the belly, continuing till the morrow, proclaim that life has not yet entirely departed. Then everything ceases: the Carpenter-bee is a corpse.

The importance of this experiment compels our attention. When stung in the neck, the powerful Bee dies on the spot; and the Spider has not to fear the dangers of a desperate struggle. Stung elsewhere, in the abdomen, the insect is capable, for nearly half an hour, of making use of its dart, its mandibles, its legs; and woe to the Lycosa whom the stiletto reaches. I have seen some who, stabbed in the mouth while biting close to the sting, died of the wound within the twenty-four hours. That dangerous prey, therefore, requires instantaneous death, produced by the injury to the nerve-centres of the neck; otherwise, the hunter’s life would often be in jeopardy.

The Grasshopper order supplied me with a second series of victims: Green Grasshoppers as long as one’s finger, large-headed Locusts, Ephippigerae. {12} The same result follows when these are bitten in the neck: lightning death. When injured elsewhere, notably in the abdomen, the subject of the experiment resists for some time. I have seen a Grasshopper, bitten in the belly, cling firmly for fifteen hours to the smooth, upright wall of the glass bell that constituted his prison. At last, he dropped off and died. Where the Bee, that delicate organism, succumbs in less than half an hour, the Grasshopper, coarse ruminant that he is, resists for a whole day. Put aside these differences, caused by unequal degrees of organic sensitiveness, and we sum up as follows: when bitten by the Tarantula in the neck, an insect, chosen from among the largest, dies on the spot; when bitten elsewhere, it perishes also, but after a lapse of time which varies considerably in the different entomological orders.

This explains the long hesitation of the Tarantula, so wearisome to the experimenter when he presents to her, at the entrance to the burrow, a rich, but dangerous prey. The majority refuse to fling themselves upon the Carpenter-bee. The fact is that a quarry of this kind cannot be seized recklessly: the huntress who missed her stroke by biting at random would do so at the risk of her life. The nape of the neck alone possesses the desired vulnerability. The adversary must be nipped there and no elsewhere. Not to floor her at once would mean to irritate her and make her more dangerous than ever. The Spider is well aware of this. In the safe shelter of her threshold, therefore, prepared to beat a quick retreat if necessary, she watches for the favourable moment; she waits for the big Bee to face her, when the neck is easily grabbed. If this condition of success offer, she leaps out and acts; if not, weary of the violent evolutions of the quarry, she retires indoors. And that, no doubt, is why it took me two sittings of four hours apiece to witness three assassinations.

Formerly, instructed by the paralysing Wasps, I had myself tried to produce paralysis by injecting a drop of ammonia into the thorax of those insects, such as Weevils, Buprestes, {13} and Dung-beetles, whose compact nervous system assists this physiological operation. I showed myself a ready pupil to my masters’ teaching and used to paralyze a Buprestis or a Weevil almost as well as a Cerceris {14} could have done. Why should I not to-day imitate that expert butcher, the Tarantula? With the point of a fine needle, I inject a tiny drop of ammonia at the base of the skull of a Carpenter-bee or a Grasshopper. The insect succumbs then and there, without any other movement than wild convulsions. When attacked by the acrid fluid, the cervical ganglia cease to do their work; and death ensues. Nevertheless, this death is not immediate; the throes last for some time. The experiment is not wholly satisfactory as regards suddenness. Why? Because the liquid which I employ, ammonia, cannot be compared, for deadly efficacy, with the Lycosa’s poison, a pretty formidable poison, as we shall see.

I make a Tarantula bite the leg of a young, well-fledged Sparrow, ready to leave the nest. A drop of blood flows; the wounded spot is surrounded by a reddish circle, changing to purple. The bird almost immediately loses the use of its leg, which drags, with the toes doubled in; it hops upon the other. Apart from this, the patient does not seem to trouble much about his hurt; his appetite is good. My daughters feed him on Flies, bread-crumb, apricot-pulp. He is sure to get well, he will recover his strength; the poor victim of the curiosity of science will be restored to liberty. This is the wish, the intention of us all. Twelve hours later, the hope of a cure increases; the invalid takes nourishment readily; he clamours for it, if we keep him waiting. But the leg still drags. I set this down to a temporary paralysis which will soon disappear. Two days after, he refuses his food. Wrapping himself in his stoicism and his rumpled feathers, the Sparrow hunches into a ball, now motionless, now twitching. My girls take him in the hollow of their hands and warm him with their breath. The spasms become more frequent. A gasp proclaims that all is over. The bird is dead.

There was a certain coolness among us at the evening-meal. I read mute reproaches, because of my experiment, in the eyes of my home-circle; I read an unspoken accusation of cruelty all around me. The death of the unfortunate Sparrow had saddened the whole family. I myself was not without some remorse of conscience: the poor result achieved seemed to me too dearly bought. I am not made of the stuff of those who, without turning a hair, rip up live Dogs to find out nothing in particular.

Nevertheless, I had the courage to start afresh, this time on a Mole caught ravaging a bed of lettuces. There was a danger lest my captive, with his famished stomach, should leave things in doubt, if we had to keep him for a few days. He might die not of his wound, but of inanition, if I did not succeed in giving him suitable food, fairly plentiful and dispensed at fairly frequent intervals. In that case, I ran a risk of ascribing to the poison what might well be the result of starvation. I must therefore begin by finding out if it was possible for me to keep the Mole alive in captivity. The animal was put into a large receptacle from which it could not get out and fed on a varied diet of insects—Beetles, Grasshoppers, especially Cicadae {15}—which it crunched up with an excellent appetite. Twenty-four hours of this regimen convinced me that the Mole was making the best of the bill of fare and taking kindly to his captivity.

I make the Tarantula bite him at the tip of the snout. When replaced in his cage, the Mole keeps on scratching his nose with his broad paws. The thing seems to burn, to itch. Henceforth, less and less of the provision of Cicadae is consumed; on the evening of the following day, it is refused altogether. About thirty-six hours after being bitten, the Mole dies during the night and certainly not from inanition, for there are still half a dozen live Cicadae in the receptacle, as well as a few Beetles.

The bite of the Black-bellied Tarantula is therefore dangerous to other animals than insects: it is fatal to the Sparrow, it is fatal to the Mole. Up to what point are we to generalize? I do not know, because my enquiries extended no further. Nevertheless, judging from the little that I saw, it appears to me that the bite of this Spider is not an accident which man can afford to treat lightly. This is all that I have to say to the doctors.

To the philosophical entomologists I have something else to say: I have to call their attention to the consummate knowledge of the insect-killers, which vies with that of the paralyzers. I speak of insect-killers in the plural, for the Tarantula must share her deadly art with a host of other Spiders, especially with those who hunt without nets. These insect-killers, who live on their prey, strike the game dead instantaneously by stinging the nerve-centres of the neck; the paralyzers, on the other hand, who wish to keep the food fresh for their larvae, destroy the power of movement by stinging the game in the other nerve-centres. Both of them attack the nervous chain, but they select the point according to the object to be attained. If death be desired, sudden death, free from danger to the huntress, the insect is attacked in the neck; if mere paralysis be required, the neck is respected and the lower segments—sometimes one alone, sometimes three, sometimes all or nearly all, according to the special organization of the victim—receive the daggerthrust.

Even the paralyzers, at least some of them, are acquainted with the immense vital importance of the nerve-centres of the neck. We have seen the Hairy Ammophila munching the caterpillar’s brain, the Languedocian Sphex munching the brain of the Ephippigera, with the object of inducing a passing torpor. But they simply squeeze the brain and do even this with a wise discretion; they are careful not to drive their sting into this fundamental centre of life; not one of them ever thinks of doing so, for the result would be a corpse which the larva would despise. The Spider, on the other hand, inserts her double dirk there and there alone; any elsewhere it would inflict a wound likely to increase resistance through irritation. She wants a venison for consumption without delay and brutally thrusts her fangs into the spot which the others so conscientiously respect.

If the instinct of these scientific murderers is not, in both cases, an inborn predisposition, inseparable from the animal, but an acquired habit, then I rack my brain in vain to understand how that habit can have been acquired. Shroud these facts in theoretic mists as much as you will, you shall never succeed in veiling the glaring evidence which they afford of a pre-established order of things.

The Banded Epeira

In the inclement season of the year, when the insect has nothing to do and retires to winter quarters, the observer profits by the mildness of the sunny nooks and grubs in the sand, lifts the stones, searches the brushwood; and often he is stirred with a pleasurable excitement, when he lights upon some ingenious work of art, discovered unawares. Happy are the simple of heart whose ambition is satisfied with such treasure-trove! I wish them all the joys which it has brought me and which it will continue to bring me, despite the vexations of life, which grow ever more bitter as the years follow their swift downward course.

Should the seekers rummage among the wild grasses in the osier-beds and copses, I wish them the delight of finding the wonderful object that, at this moment, lies before my eyes. It is the work of a Spider, the nest of the Banded Epeira (Epeira fasciata, LATR.).

A Spider is not an insect, according to the rules of classification; and as such the Epeira seems out of place here. {16} A fig for systems! It is immaterial to the student of instinct whether the animal have eight legs instead of six, or pulmonary sacs instead of air-tubes. Besides, the Araneida belong to the group of segmented animals, organized in sections placed end to end, a structure to which the terms ‘insect’ and ‘entomology’ both refer.

Formerly, to describe this group, people said ‘articulate animals,’ an expression which possessed the drawback of not jarring on the ear and of being understood by all. This is out of date. Nowadays, they use the euphonious term ‘Arthropoda.’ And to think that there are men who question the existence of progress! Infidels! Say, ‘articulate,’ first; then roll out, ‘Arthropoda;’ and you shall see whether zoological science is not progressing!

In bearing and colouring, Epeira fasciata is the handsomest of the Spiders of the South. On her fat belly, a mighty silk-warehouse nearly as large as a hazel-nut, are alternate yellow, black and silver sashes, to which she owes her epithet of Banded. Around that portly abdomen, the eight long legs, with their dark- and pale-brown rings, radiate like spokes.

Any small prey suits her; and, as long as she can find supports for her web, she settles wherever the Locust hops, wherever the Fly hovers, wherever the Dragon-fly dances or the Butterfly flits. As a rule, because of the greater abundance of game, she spreads her toils across some brooklet, from bank to bank among the rushes. She also stretches them, but not assiduously, in the thickets of evergreen oak, on the slopes with the scrubby greenswards, dear to the Grasshoppers.

Her hunting-weapon is a large upright web, whose outer boundary, which varies according to the disposition of the ground, is fastened to the neighbouring branches by a number of moorings. The structure is that adopted by the other weaving Spiders. Straight threads radiate at equal intervals from a central point. Over this framework runs a continuous spiral thread, forming chords, or cross-bars, from the centre to the circumference. It is magnificently large and magnificently symmetrical.

In the lower part of the web, starting from the centre, a wide opaque ribbon descends zigzag-wise across the radii. This is the Epeira’s trade-mark, the flourish of an artist initialling his creation. ‘Fecit So-and-so,’ she seems to say, when giving the last throw of the shuttle to her handiwork.

That the Spider feels satisfied when, after passing and repassing from spoke to spoke, she finishes her spiral, is beyond a doubt: the work achieved ensures her food for a few days to come. But, in this particular case, the vanity of the spinstress has naught to say to the matter: the strong silk zigzag is added to impart greater firmness to the web.

Increased resistance is not superfluous, for the net is sometimes exposed to severe tests. The Epeira cannot pick and choose her prizes. Seated motionless in the centre of her web, her eight legs wide-spread to feel the shaking of the network in any direction, she waits for what luck will bring her: now some giddy weakling unable to control its flight, anon some powerful prey rushing headlong with a reckless bound.

The Locust in particular, the fiery Locust, who releases the spring of his long shanks at random, often falls into the trap. One imagines that his strength ought to frighten the Spider; the kick of his spurred levers should enable him to make a hole, then and there, in the web and to get away. But not at all. If he does not free himself at the first effort, the Locust is lost.

Turning her back on the game, the Epeira works all her spinnerets, pierced like the rose of a watering-pot, at one and the same time. The silky spray is gathered by the hind-legs, which are longer than the others and open into a wide arc to allow the stream to spread. Thanks to this artifice, the Epeira this time obtains not a thread, but an iridescent sheet, a sort of clouded fan wherein the component threads are kept almost separate. The two hind-legs fling this shroud gradually, by rapid alternate armfuls, while, at the same time, they turn the prey over and over, swathing it completely.

The ancient retiarius, when pitted against a powerful wild beast, appeared in the arena with a rope-net folded over his left shoulder. The animal made its spring. The man, with a sudden movement of his right arm, cast the net after the manner of the fishermen; he covered the beast and tangled it in the meshes. A thrust of the trident gave the quietus to the vanquished foe.

The Epeira acts in like fashion, with this advantage, that she is able to renew her armful of fetters. Should the first not suffice, a second instantly follows and another and yet another, until the reserves of silk become exhausted.

When all movement ceases under the snowy winding-sheet, the Spider goes up to her bound prisoner. She has a better weapon than the bestiarius’ trident: she has her poisonfangs. She gnaws at the Locust, without undue persistence, and then withdraws, leaving the torpid patient to pine away.

Soon she comes back to her motionless head of game: she sucks it, drains it, repeatedly changing her point of attack. At last, the clean-bled remains are flung out of the net and the Spider returns to her ambush in the centre of the web.

What the Epeira sucks is not a corpse, but a numbed body. If I remove the Locust immediately after he has been bitten and release him from the silken sheath, the patient recovers his strength to such an extent that he seems, at first, to have suffered no injury. The Spider, therefore, does not kill her capture before sucking its juices; she is content to deprive it of the power of motion by producing a state of torpor. Perhaps this kindlier bite gives her greater facility in working her pump. The humours, if stagnant, in a corpse, would not respond so readily to the action of the sucker; they are more easily extracted from a live body, in which they move about.

The Epeira, therefore, being a drinker of blood, moderates the virulence of her sting, even with victims of appalling size, so sure is she of her retiarian art. The long-legged Tryxalis, {17} the corpulent Grey Locust, the largest of our Grasshoppers are accepted without hesitation and sucked dry as soon as numbed. Those giants, capable of making a hole in the net and passing through it in their impetuous onrush, can be but rarely caught. I myself place them on the web. The Spider does the rest. Lavishing her silky spray, she swathes them and then sucks the body at her ease. With an increased expenditure of the spinnerets, the very biggest game is mastered as successfully as the everyday prey.

I have seen even better than that. This time, my subject is the Silky Epeira ( Epeira sericea, OLIV.), with a broad, festooned, silvery abdomen. Like that of the other, her web is large, upright and ‘signed’ with a zigzag ribbon. I place upon it a Praying Mantis, {18} a well-developed specimen, quite capable of changing rôles, should circumstances permit, and herself making a meal off her assailant. It is a question no longer of capturing a peaceful Locust, but a fierce and powerful ogre, who would rip open the Epeira’s paunch with one blow of her harpoons.

Will the Spider dare? Not immediately. Motionless in the centre of her net, she consults her strength before attacking the formidable quarry; she waits until the struggling prey has its claws more thickly entangled. At last, she approaches. The Mantis curls her belly; lifts her wings like vertical sails; opens her saw-toothed arm-pieces; in short, adopts the spectral attitude which she employs when delivering battle.

The Spider disregards these menaces. Spreading wide her spinnerets, she pumps out sheets of silk which the hind-legs draw out, expand and fling without stint in alternate armfuls. Under this shower of threads, the Mantis’ terrible saws, the lethal legs, quickly disappear from sight, as do the wings, still erected in the spectral posture.

Meanwhile, the swathed one gives sudden jerks, which make the Spider fall out of her web. The accident is provided for. A safety-cord, emitted at the same instant by the spinnerets, keeps the Epeira hanging, swinging in space. When calm is restored, she packs her cord and climbs up again. The heavy paunch and the hind-legs are now bound. The flow slackens, the silk comes only in thin sheets. Fortunately, the business is done. The prey is invisible under the thick shroud.

The Spider retires without giving a bite. To master the terrible quarry, she has spent the whole reserves of her spinning-mill, enough to weave many good-sized webs. With this heap of shackles, further precautions are superfluous.

After a short rest in the centre of the net, she comes down to dinner. Slight incisions are made in different parts of the prize, now here, now there; and the Spider puts her mouth to each and sucks the blood of her prey. The meal is long protracted, so rich is the dish. For ten hours, I watch the insatiable glutton, who changes her point of attack as each wound sucked dries up. Night comes and robs me of the finish of the unbridled debauch. Next morning, the drained Mantis lies upon the ground. The Ants are eagerly devouring the remains.

The eminent talents of the Epeirae are displayed to even better purpose in the industrial business of motherhood than in the art of the chase. The silk bag, the nest, in which the Banded Epeira houses her eggs, is a much greater marvel than the bird’s nest. In shape, it is an inverted balloon, nearly the size of a Pigeon’s egg. The top tapers like a pear and is cut short and crowned with a scalloped rim, the corners of which are lengthened by means of moorings that fasten the object to the adjoining twigs. The whole, a graceful ovoid, hangs straight down, amid a few threads that steady it.

The top is hollowed into a crater closed with a silky padding. Every other part is contained in the general wrapper, formed of thick, compact white satin, difficult to break and impervious to moisture. Brown and even black silk, laid out in abroad ribbons, in spindle-shaped patterns, in fanciful meridian waves, adorns the upper portion of the exterior. The part played by this fabric is self-evident: it is a waterproof cover which neither dew nor rain can penetrate.

Exposed to all the inclemencies of the weather, among the dead grasses, close to the ground, the Epeira’s nest has also to protect its contents from the winter cold. Let us cut the wrapper with our scissors. Underneath, we find a thick layer of reddish-brown silk, not worked into a fabric this time, but puffed into an extra-fine wadding. It is a fleecy cloud, an incomparable quilt, softer than any swan’s-down. This is the screen set up against loss of heat.

And what does this cosy mass protect? See: in the middle of the eiderdown hangs a cylindrical pocket, round at the bottom, cut square at the top and closed with a padded lid. It is made of extremely fine satin; it contains the Epeira’s eggs, pretty little orangecoloured beads, which, glued together, form a globule the size of a pea. This is the treasure to be defended against the asperities of the winter.
Now that we know the structure of the work, let us try to see in what manner the spinstress sets about it. The observation is not an easy one, for the Banded Epeira is a night-worker. She needs nocturnal quiet in order not to go astray amid the complicated rules that guide her industry. Now and again, at very early hours in the morning, I have happened to catch her working, which enables me to sum up the progress of the operations.

My subjects are busy in their bell-shaped cages, at about the middle of August. A scaffolding is first run up, at the top of the dome; it consists of a few stretched threads. The wire trellis represents the twigs and the blades of grass which the Spider, if at liberty, would have used as suspension-points. The loom works on this shaky support. The Epeira does not see what she is doing; she turns her back on her task. The machinery is so well put together that the whole thing goes automatically.

The tip of the abdomen sways, a little to the right, a little to the left, rises and falls, while the Spider moves slowly round and round. The thread paid out is single. The hind-legs draw it out and place it in position on that which is already done. Thus is formed a satin receptacle the rim of which is gradually raised until it becomes a bag about a centimetre deep. {19} The texture is of the daintiest. Guy-ropes bind it to the nearest threads and keep it stretched, especially at the mouth.

Then the spinnerets take a rest and the turn of the ovaries comes. A continuous shower of eggs falls into the bag, which is filled to the top. The capacity of the receptacle has been so nicely calculated that there is room for all the eggs, without leaving any space unoccupied. When the Spider has finished and retires, I catch a momentary glimpse of the heap of orange-coloured eggs; but the work of the spinnerets is at once resumed.

The next business is to close the bag. The machinery works a little differently. The tip of the belly no longer sways from side to side. It sinks and touches a point; it retreats, sinks again and touches another point, first here, then there, describing inextricable zigzags. At the same time, the hind-legs tread the material emitted. The result is no longer a stuff, but a felt, a blanketing.

Around the satin capsule, which contains the eggs, is the eiderdown destined to keep out the cold. The youngsters will bide for some time in this soft shelter, to strengthen their joints and prepare for the final exodus. It does not take long to make. The spinning-mill suddenly alters the raw material: it was turning out white silk; it now furnishes reddishbrown silk, finer than the other and issuing in clouds which the hind-legs, those dexterous carders, beat into a sort of froth. The egg-pocket disappears, drowned in this exquisite wadding.

The balloon-shape is already outlined; the top of the work tapers to a neck. The Spider, moving up and down, tacking first to one side and then to the other, from the very first spray marks out the graceful form as accurately as though she carried a compass in her abdomen.
Then, once again, with the same suddenness, the material changes. The white silk reappears, wrought into thread. This is the moment to weave the outer wrapper. Because of the thickness of the stuff and the density of its texture, this operation is the longest of the series.

First, a few threads are flung out, hither and thither, to keep the layer of wadding in position. The Epeira takes special pains with the edge of the neck, where she fashions an indented border, the angles of which, prolonged with cords or lines, form the main support of the building. The spinnerets never touch this part without giving it, each time, until the end of the work, a certain added solidity, necessary to secure the stability of the balloon. The suspensory indentations soon outline a crater which needs plugging. The Spider closes the bag with a padded stopper similar to that with which she sealed the eggpocket.

When these arrangements are made, the real manufacture of the wrapper begins. The Spider goes backwards and forwards, turns and turns again. The spinnerets do not touch the fabric. With a rhythmical, alternate movement, the hind-legs, the sole implements employed, draw the thread, seize it in their combs and apply it to the work, while the tip of the abdomen sways methodically to and fro.

In this way, the silken fibre is distributed in an even zigzag, of almost geometrical precision and comparable with that of the cotton thread which the machines in our factories roll so neatly into balls. And this is repeated all over the surface of the work, for the Spider shifts her position a little at every moment.

At fairly frequent intervals, the tip of the abdomen is lifted to the mouth of the balloon; and then the spinnerets really touch the fringed edge. The length of contact is even considerable. We find, therefore, that the thread is stuck in this star-shaped fringe, the foundation of the building and the crux of the whole, while every elsewhere it is simply laid on, in a manner determined by the movements of the hind-legs. If we wished to unwind the work, the thread would break at the margin; at any other point, it would unroll.

The Epeira ends her web with a dead-white, angular flourish; she ends her nest with brown mouldings, which run down, irregularly, from the marginal junction to the bulging middle. For this purpose, she makes use, for the third time, of a different silk; she now produces silk of a dark hue, varying from russet to black. The spinnerets distribute the material with a wide longitudinal swing, from pole to pole; and the hind-legs apply it in capricious ribbons. When this is done, the work is finished. The Spider moves away with slow strides, without giving a glance at the bag. The rest does not interest her: time and the sun will see to it.

She felt her hour at hand and came down from her web. Near by, in the rank grass, she wove the tabernacle of her offspring and, in so doing, drained her resources. To resume her hunting-post, to return to her web would be useless to her: she has not the wherewithal to bind the prey. Besides, the fine appetite of former days has gone. Withered and languid, she drags out her existence for a few days and, at last, dies. This is how things happen in my cages; this is how they must happen in the brushwood.

The Silky Epeira ( Epeira sericea, OLIV.) excels the Banded Epeira in the manufacture of big hunting-nets, but she is less gifted in the art of nest-building. She gives her nest the inelegant form of an obtuse cone. The opening of this pocket is very wide and is scalloped into lobes by which the edifice is slung. It is closed with a large lid, half satin, half swan’s-down. The rest is a stout white fabric, frequently covered with irregular brown streaks.

The difference between the work of the two Epeirae does not extend beyond the wrapper, which is an obtuse cone in the one case and a balloon in the other. The same internal arrangements prevail behind this frontage: first, a flossy quilt; next, a little keg in which the eggs are packed. Though the two Spiders build the outer wall according to special architectural rules, they both employ the same means as a protection against the cold.

As we see, the egg-bag of the Epeirae, particularly that of the Banded Epeira, is an important and complex work. Various materials enter into its composition: white silk, red silk, brown silk; moreover, these materials are worked into dissimilar products: stout cloth, soft eiderdown, dainty satinette, porous felt. And all of this comes from the same workshop that weaves the hunting-net, warps the zigzag ribbon-band and casts an entangling shroud over the prey.

What a wonderful silk-factory it is! With a very simple and never-varying plant, consisting of the hind-legs and the spinnerets, it produces, by turns, rope-maker’s, spinner’s, weaver’s, ribbon-maker’s and fuller’s work. How does the Spider direct an establishment of this kind? How does she obtain, at will, skeins of diverse hues and grades? How does she turn them out, first in this fashion, then in that? I see the results, but I do not understand the machinery and still less the process. It beats me altogether.

The Spider also sometimes loses her head in her difficult trade, when some trouble disturbs the peace of her nocturnal labours. I do not provoke this trouble myself, for I am not present at those unseasonable hours. It is simply due to the conditions prevailing in my menagerie.

In their natural state, the Epeirae settle separately, at long distances from one another. Each has her own hunting-grounds, where there is no reason to fear the competition that would result from the close proximity of the nets. In my cages, on the other hand, there is cohabitation. In order to save space, I lodge two or three Epeirae in the same cage. My easy-going captives live together in peace. There is no strife between them, no encroaching on the neighbour’s property. Each of them weaves herself a rudimentary web, as far from the rest as possible, and here, rapt in contemplation, as though indifferent to what the others are doing, she awaits the hop of the Locust.

Nevertheless, these close quarters have their drawbacks when laying-time arrives. The cords by which the different establishments are hung interlace and criss-cross in a confused network. When one of them shakes, all the others are more or less affected. This is enough to distract the layer from her business and to make her do silly things. Here are two instances.

A bag has been woven during the night. I find it, when I visit the cage in the morning, hanging from the trellis-work and completed. It is perfect, as regards structure; it is decorated with the regulation black meridian curves. There is nothing missing, nothing except the essential thing, the eggs, for which the spinstress has gone to such expense in the matter of silks. Where are the eggs? They are not in the bag, which I open and find empty. They are lying on the ground below, on the sand in the pan, utterly unprotected.

Disturbed at the moment of discharging them, the mother has missed the mouth of the little bag and dropped them on the floor. Perhaps even, in her excitement, she came down from above and, compelled by the exigencies of the ovaries, laid her eggs on the first support that offered. No matter: if her Spider brain contains the least gleam of sense, she must be aware of the disaster and is therefore bound at once to abandon the elaborate manufacture of a now superfluous nest.

Not at all: the bag is woven around nothing, as accurate in shape, as finished in structure as under normal conditions. The absurd perseverance displayed by certain Bees, whose egg and provisions I used to remove, {20} is here repeated without the slightest interference from me. My victims used scrupulously to seal up their empty cells. In the same way, the Epeira puts the eiderdown quilting and the taffeta wrapper round a capsule that contains nothing.

Another, distracted from her work by some startling vibration, leaves her nest at the moment when the layer of red-brown wadding is being completed. She flees to the dome, at a few inches above her unfinished work, and spends upon a shapeless mattress, of no use whatever, all the silk with which she would have woven the outer wrapper if nothing had come to disturb her.

Poor fool! You upholster the wires of your cage with swan’s-down and you leave the eggs imperfectly protected. The absence of the work already executed and the hardness of the metal do not warn you that you are now engaged upon a senseless task. You remind me of the Pelopaeus, {21} who used to coat with mud the place on the wall whence her nest had been removed. You speak to me, in your own fashion, of a strange psychology which is able to reconcile the wonders of a master craftsmanship with aberrations due to unfathomable stupidity.

Let us compare the work of the Banded Epeira with that of the Penduline Titmouse, the cleverest of our small birds in the art of nest-building. This Tit haunts the osier-beds of the lower reaches of the Rhone. Rocking gently in the river breeze, his nest sways pendent over the peaceful backwaters, at some distance from the too-impetuous current. It hangs from the drooping end of the branch of a poplar, an old willow or an alder, all of them tall trees, favouring the banks of streams.
It consists of a cotton bag, closed all round, save for a small opening at the side, just sufficient to allow of the mother’s passage. In shape, it resembles the body of an alembic, a chemist’s retort with a short lateral neck, or, better still, the foot of a stocking, with the edges brought together, but for a little round hole left at one side. The outward appearances increase the likeness: one can almost see the traces of a knitting-needle working with coarse stitches. That is why, struck by this shape, the Provençal peasant, in his expressive language, calls the Penduline lou Debassaire, the Stocking-knitter.

The early-ripening seedlets of the widows and poplars furnish the materials for the work. There breaks from them, in May, a sort of vernal snow, a fine down, which the eddies of the air heap in the crevices of the ground. It is a cotton similar to that of our manufactures, but of very short staple. It comes from an inexhaustible warehouse: the tree is bountiful; and the wind from the osier-beds gathers the tiny flocks as they pour from the seeds. They are easy to pick up.

The difficulty is to set to work. How does the bird proceed, in order to knit its stocking? How, with such simple implements as its beak and claws, does it manage to produce a fabric which our skilled fingers would fail to achieve? An examination of the nest will inform us, to a certain extent.

The cotton of the poplar cannot, of itself, supply a hanging pocket capable of supporting the weight of the brood and resisting the buffeting of the wind. Rammed, entangled and packed together, the flocks, similar to those which ordinary wadding would give if chopped up very fine, would produce only an agglomeration devoid of cohesion and liable to be dispelled by the first breath of air. They require a canvas, a warp, to keep them in position.

Tiny dead stalks, with fibrous barks, well softened by the action of moisture and the air, furnish the Penduline with a coarse tow, not unlike that of hemp. With these ligaments, purged of every woody particle and tested for flexibility and tenacity, he winds a number of loops round the end of the branch which he has selected as a support for his structure.

It is not a very accurate piece of work. The loops run clumsily and anyhow: some are slacker, others tighter; but, when all is said, it is solid, which is the main point. Also, this fibrous sheath, the keystone of the edifice, occupies a fair length of branch, which enables the fastenings for the net to be multiplied.

The several straps, after describing a certain number of turns, ravel out at the ends and hang loose. After them come interlaced threads, greater in number and finer in texture. In the tangled jumble occur what might almost be described as weaver’s knots. As far as one can judge by the result alone, without having seen the bird at work, this is how the canvas, the support of the cotton wall, is obtained.

This warp, this inner framework, is obviously not constructed in its entirety from the start; it goes on gradually, as the bird stuffs the part above it with cotton. The wadding, picked up bit by bit from the ground, is teazled by the bird’s claws and inserted, all fleecy, into the meshes of the canvas. The beak pushes it, the breast presses it, both inside and out. The result is a soft felt a couple of inches thick.

Near the top of the pouch, on one side, is contrived a narrow orifice, tapering into a short neck. This is the kitchen-door. In order to pass through it, the Penduline, small though he be, has to force the elastic partition, which yields slightly and then contracts. Lastly, the house is furnished with a mattress of first-quality cotton. Here lie from six to eight white eggs, the size of a cherry-stone.

Well, this wonderful nest is a barbarous casemate compared with that of the Banded Epeira. As regards shape, this stocking-foot cannot be mentioned in the same breath with the Spider’s elegant and faultlessly-rounded balloon. The fabric of mixed cotton and tow is a rustic frieze beside the spinstress’ satin; the suspension-straps are clumsy cables compared with her delicate silk fastenings. Where shall we find in the Penduline’s mattress aught to vie with the Epeira’s eiderdown, that teazled russet gossamer? The Spider is superior to the bird in every way, in so far as concerns her work.

But, on her side, the Penduline is a more devoted mother. For weeks on end, squatting at the bottom of her purse, she presses to her heart the eggs, those little white pebbles from which the warmth of her body will bring forth life. The Epeira knows not these softer passions. Without bestowing a second glance an it, she abandons her nest to its fate, be it good or ill.

The Narbonne Lycosa

The Epeira, who displays such astonishing industry to give her eggs a dwelling-house of incomparable perfection, becomes, after that, careless of her family. For what reason? She lacks the time. She has to die when the first cold comes, whereas the eggs are destined to pass the winter in their downy snuggery. The desertion of the nest is inevitable, owing to the very force of things. But, if the hatching were earlier and took place in the Epeira’s lifetime, I imagine that she would rival the bird in devotion.

So I gather from the, analogy of Thomisus onustus, WALCK., a shapely Spider who weaves no web, lies in wait for her prey and walks sideways, after the manner of the Crab. I have spoken elsewhere {22} of her encounters with the Domestic Bee, whom she jugulates by biting her in the neck.

Skilful in the prompt despatch of her prey, the little Crab Spider is no less well-versed in the nesting art. I find her settled on a privet in the enclosure. Here, in the heart of a cluster of flowers, the luxurious creature plaits a little pocket of white satin, shaped like a wee thimble. It is the receptacle for the eggs. A round, flat lid, of a felted fabric, closes the mouth.

Above this ceiling rises a dome of stretched threads and faded flowerets which have fallen from the cluster. This is the watcher’s belvedere, her conning-tower. An opening, which is always free, gives access to this post.

Here the Spider remains on constant duty. She has thinned greatly since she laid her eggs, has almost lost her corporation. At the least alarm, she sallies forth, waves a threatening limb at the passing stranger and invites him, with a gesture, to keep his distance. Having put the intruder to flight, she quickly returns indoors.

And what does she do in there, under her arch of withered flowers and silk? Night and day, she shields the precious eggs with her poor body spread out flat. Eating is neglected. No more lying in wait, no more Bees drained to the last drop of blood. Motionless, rapt in meditation, the Spider is in an incubating posture, in other words, she is sitting on her eggs. Strictly speaking, the word ‘incubating’ means that and nothing else.

The brooding Hen is no more assiduous, but she is also a heating-apparatus and, with the gentle warmth of her body, awakens the germs to life. For the Spider, the heat of the sun suffices; and this alone keeps me from saying that she ‘broods.’

For two or three weeks, more and more wrinkled by abstinence, the little Spider never relaxes her position. Then comes the hatching. The youngsters stretch a few threads in swing-like curves from twig to twig. The tiny rope-dancers practise for some days in the sun; then they disperse, each intent upon his own affairs.
Let us now look at the watch-tower of the nest. The mother is still there, but this time lifeless. The devoted creature has known the delight of seeing her family born; she has assisted the weaklings through the trap-door; and, when her duty was done, very gently she died. The Hen does not reach this height of self-abnegation.

Other Spiders do better still, as, for instance, the Narbonne Lycosa, or Black-bellied Tarantula (Lycosa narbonnensis, WALCK.), whose prowess has been described in an earlier chapter. The reader will remember her burrow, her pit of a bottle-neck’s width, dug in the pebbly soil beloved by the lavender and the thyme. The mouth is rimmed by a bastion of gravel and bits of wood cemented with silk. There is nothing else around her dwelling: no web, no snares of any kind.

From her inch-high turret, the Lycosa lies in wait for the passing Locust. She gives a bound, pursues the prey and suddenly deprives it of motion with a bite in the neck. The game is consumed on the spot, or else in the lair; the insect’s tough hide arouses no disgust. The sturdy huntress is not a drinker of blood, like the Epeira; she needs solid food, food that crackles between the jaws. She is like a Dog devouring his bone.

Would you care to bring her to the light of day from the depths of her well? Insert a thin straw into the burrow and move it about. Uneasy as to what is happening above, the recluse hastens to climb up and stops, in a threatening attitude, at some distance from the orifice. You see her eight eyes gleaming like diamonds in the dark; you see her powerful poison-fangs yawning, ready to bite. He who is not accustomed to the sight of this horror, rising from under the ground, cannot suppress a shiver. B-r-r-r-r! Let us leave the beast alone.

Chance, a poor stand-by, sometimes contrives very well. At the beginning of the month of August, the children call me to the far side of the enclosure, rejoicing in a find which they have made under the rosemary-bushes. It is a magnificent Lycosa, with an enormous belly, the sign of an impending delivery.

The obese Spider is gravely devouring something in the midst of a circle of onlookers. And what? The remains of a Lycosa a little smaller than herself, the remains of her male. It is the end of the tragedy that concludes the nuptials. The sweetheart is eating her lover. I allow the matrimonial rites to be fulfilled in all their horror; and, when the last morsel of the unhappy wretch has been scrunched up, I incarcerate the terrible matron under a cage standing in an earthen pan filled with sand.

Early one morning, ten days later, I find her preparing for her confinement. A silk network is first spun on the ground, covering an extent about equal to the palm of one’s hand. It is coarse and shapeless, but firmly fixed. This is the floor on which the Spider means to operate.

On this foundation, which acts as a protection from the sand, the Lycosa fashions a round mat, the size of a two-franc piece and made of superb white silk. With a gentle, uniform movement, which might be regulated by the wheels of a delicate piece of clockwork, the tip of the abdomen rises and falls, each time touching the supporting base a little farther away, until the extreme scope of the mechanism is attained.

Then, without the Spider’s moving her position, the oscillation is resumed in the opposite direction. By means of this alternate motion, interspersed with numerous contacts, a segment of the sheet is obtained, of a very accurate texture. When this is done, the Spider moves a little along a circular line and the loom works in the same manner on another segment.

The silk disk, a sort of hardly concave paten, now no longer receives aught from the spinnerets in its centre; the marginal belt alone increases in thickness. The piece thus becomes a bowl-shaped porringer, surrounded by a wide, flat edge.

The time for the laying has come. With one quick emission, the viscous, pale-yellow eggs are laid in the basin, where they heap together in the shape of a globe which projects largely outside the cavity. The spinnerets are once more set going. With short movements, as the tip of the abdomen rises and falls to weave the round mat, they cover up the exposed hemisphere. The result is a pill set in the middle of a circular carpet.

The legs, hitherto idle, are now working. They take up and break off one by one the threads that keep the round mat stretched on the coarse supporting network. At the same time, the fangs grip this sheet, lift it by degrees, tear it from its base and fold it over upon the globe of eggs. It is a laborious operation. The whole edifice totters, the floor collapses, fouled with sand. By a movement of the legs, those soiled shreds are cast aside. Briefly, by means of violent tugs of the fangs, which pull, and broom-like efforts of the legs, which clear away, the Lycosa extricates the bag of eggs and removes it as a clear-cut mass, free from any adhesion.

It is a white-silk pill, soft to the touch and glutinous. Its size is that of an average cherry. An observant eye will notice, running horizontally around the middle, a fold which a needle is able to raise without breaking it. This hem, generally undistinguishable from the rest of the surface, is none other than the edge of the circular mat, drawn over the lower hemisphere. The other hemisphere, through which the youngsters will go out, is less well fortified: its only wrapper is the texture spun over the eggs immediately after they were laid.

Inside, there is nothing but the eggs: no mattress, no soft eiderdown, like that of the Epeirae. The Lycosa, indeed, has no need to guard her eggs against the inclemencies of the winter, for the hatching will take place long before the cold weather comes. Similarly, the Thomisus, with her early brood, takes good care not to incur useless expenditure: she gives her eggs, for their protection, a simple purse of satin.

The work of spinning, followed by that of tearing, is continued for a whole morning, from five to nine o’clock. Worn out with fatigue, the mother embraces her dear pill and remains motionless. I shall see no more to-day. Next morning, I find the Spider carrying the bag of eggs slung from her stern.
Henceforth, until the hatching, she does not leave go of the precious burden, which, fastened to the spinnerets by a short ligament, drags and bumps along the ground. With this load banging against her heels, she goes about her business; she walks or rests, she seeks her prey, attacks it and devours it. Should some accident cause the wallet to drop off, it is soon replaced. The spinnerets touch it somewhere, anywhere, and that is enough: adhesion is at once restored.

The Lycosa is a stay-at-home. She never goes out except to snap up some game passing within her hunting-domains, near the burrow. At the end of August, however, it is not unusual to meet her roaming about, dragging her wallet behind her. Her hesitations make one think that she is looking for her home, which she has left for the moment and has a difficulty in finding.

Why these rambles? There are two reasons: first the pairing and then the making of the pill. There is a lack of space in the burrow, which provides only room enough for the Spider engaged in long contemplation. Now the preparations for the egg-bag require an extensive flooring, a supporting framework about the size of one’s hand, as my caged prisoner has shown us. The Lycosa has not so much space at her disposal, in her well; hence the necessity for coming out and working at her wallet in the open air, doubtless in the quiet hours of the night.

The meeting with the male seems likewise to demand an excursion. Running the risk of being eaten alive, will he venture to plunge into his lady’s cave, into a lair whence flight would be impossible? It is very doubtful. Prudence demands that matters should take place outside. Here at least there is some chance of beating a hasty retreat which will enable the rash swain to escape the attacks of his horrible bride.

The interview in the open air lessens the danger without removing it entirely. We had proof of this when we caught the Lycosa in the act of devouring her lover aboveground, in a part of the enclosure which had been broken for planting and which was therefore not suitable for the Spider’s establishment. The burrow must have been some way off; and the meeting of the pair took place at the very spot of the tragic catastrophe. Although he had a clear road, the male was not quick enough in getting away and was duly eaten.

After this cannibal orgy, does the Lycosa go back home? Perhaps not, for a while. Besides, she would have to go out a second time, to manufacture her pill on a level space of sufficient extent.

When the work is done, some of them emancipate themselves, think they will have a look at the country before retiring for good and all. It is these whom we sometimes meet wandering aimlessly and dragging their bag behind them. Sooner or later, however, the vagrants return home; and the month of August is not over before a straw rustled in any burrow will bring the mother up, with her wallet slung behind her. I am able to procure as many as I want and, with them, to indulge in certain experiments of the highest interest.
It is a sight worth seeing, that of the Lycosa dragging her treasure after her, never leaving it, day or night, sleeping or waking, and defending it with a courage that strikes the beholder with awe. If I try to take the bag from her, she presses it to her breast in despair, hangs on to my pincers, bites them with her poison-fangs. I can hear the daggers grating on the steel. No, she would not allow herself to be robbed of the wallet with impunity, if my fingers were not supplied with an implement.

By dint of pulling and shaking the pill with the forceps, I take it from the Lycosa, who protests furiously. I fling her in exchange a pill taken from another Lycosa. It is at once seized in the fangs, embraced by the legs and hung on to the spinneret. Her own or another’s: it is all one to the Spider, who walks away proudly with the alien wallet. This was to be expected, in view of the similarity of the pills exchanged.

A test of another kind, with a second subject, renders the mistake more striking. I substitute, in the place of the lawful bag which I have removed, the work of the Silky Epeira. The colour and softness of the material are the same in both cases; but the shape is quite different. The stolen object is a globe; the object presented in exchange is an elliptical conoid studded with angular projections along the edge of the base. The Spider takes no account of this dissimilarity. She promptly glues the queer bag to her spinnerets and is as pleased as though she were in possession of her real pill. My experimental villainies have no other consequences beyond an ephemeral carting. When hatching-time arrives, early in the case of the Lycosa, late in that of the Epeira, the gulled Spider abandons the strange bag and pays it no further attention.

Let us penetrate yet deeper into the wallet-bearer’s stupidity. After depriving the Lycosa of her eggs, I throw her a ball of cork, roughly polished with a file and of the same size as the stolen pill. She accepts the corky substance, so different from the silk purse, without the least demur. One would have thought that she would recognize her mistake with those eight eyes of hers, which gleam like precious stones. The silly creature pays no attention. Lovingly she embraces the cork ball, fondles it with her palpi, fastens it to her spinnerets and thenceforth drags it after her as though she were dragging her own bag.

Let us give another the choice between the imitation and the real. The rightful pill and the cork ball are placed together on the floor of the jar. Will the Spider be able to know the one that belongs to her? The fool is incapable of doing so. She makes a wild rush and seizes haphazard at one time her property, at another my sham product. Whatever is first touched becomes a good capture and is forthwith hung up.

If I increase the number of cork balls, if I put in four or five of them, with the real pill among them, it is seldom that the Lycosa recovers her own property. Attempts at enquiry, attempts at selection there are none. Whatever she snaps up at random she sticks to, be it good or bad. As there are more of the sham pills of cork, these are the most often seized by the Spider.

This obtuseness baffles me. Can the animal be deceived by the soft contact of the cork? I replace the cork balls by pellets of cotton or paper, kept in their round shape with a few bands of thread. Both are very readily accepted instead of the real bag that has been removed.

Can the illusion be due to the colouring, which is light in the cork and not unlike the tint of the silk globe when soiled with a little earth, while it is white in the paper and the cotton, when it is identical with that of the original pill? I give the Lycosa, in exchange for her work, a pellet of silk thread, chosen of a fine red, the brightest of all colours. The uncommon pill is as readily accepted and as jealously guarded as the others.

We will leave the wallet-bearer alone; we know all that we want to know about her poverty of intellect. Let us wait for the hatching, which takes place in the first fortnight in September. As they come out of the pill, the youngsters, to the number of about a couple of hundred, clamber on the Spider’s back and there sit motionless, jammed close together, forming a sort of bark of mingled legs and paunches. The mother is unrecognizable under this live mantilla. When the hatching is over, the wallet is loosened from the spinnerets and cast aside as a worthless rag.

The little ones are very good: none stirs none tries to get more room for himself at his neighbours’ expense. What are they doing there, so quietly? They allow themselves to be carted about, like the young of the Opossum. Whether she sit in long meditation at the bottom of her den, or come to the orifice, in mild weather, to bask in the sun, the Lycosa never throws off her great-coat of swarming youngsters until the fine season comes.

If, in the middle of winter, in January or February, I happen, out in the fields, to ransack the Spider’s dwelling, after the rain, snow and frost have battered it and, as a rule, dismantled the bastion at the entrance, I always find her at home, still full of vigour, still carrying her family. This vehicular upbringing lasts five or six months at least, without interruption. The celebrated American carrier, the Opossum, who emancipates her offspring after a few weeks’ carting, cuts a poor figure beside the Lycosa.

What do the little ones eat, on the maternal spine? Nothing, so far as I know. I do not see them grow larger. I find them, at the tardy period of their emancipation, just as they were when they left the bag.

During the bad season, the mother herself is extremely abstemious. At long intervals, she accepts, in my jars, a belated Locust, whom I have captured, for her benefit, in the sunnier nooks. In order to keep herself in condition, as when she is dug up in the course of my winter excavations, she must therefore sometimes break her fast and come out in search of prey, without, of course, discarding her live mantilla.

The expedition has its dangers. The youngsters may be brushed off by a blade of grass. What becomes of them when they have a fall? Does the mother give them a thought? Does she come to their assistance and help them to regain their place on her back? Not at all. The affection of a Spider’s heart, divided among some hundreds, can spare but a very feeble portion to each. The Lycosa hardly troubles, whether one youngster fall from his place, or six, or all of them. She waits impassively for the victims of the mishap to get out of their own difficulty, which they do, for that matter, and very nimbly.

I sweep the whole family from the back of one of my boarders with a hair-pencil. Not a sign of emotion, not an attempt at search on the part of the denuded one. After trotting about a little on the sand, the dislodged youngsters find, these here, those there, one or other of the mother’s legs, spread wide in a circle. By means of these climbing-poles, they swarm to the top and soon the dorsal group resumes its original form. Not one of the lot is missing. The Lycosa’s sons know their trade as acrobats to perfection: the mother need not trouble her head about their fall.

With a sweep of the pencil, I make the family of one Spider fall around another laden with her own family. The dislodged ones nimbly scramble up the legs and climb on the back of their new mother, who kindly allows them to behave as though they belonged to her. There is no room on the abdomen, the regulation resting-place, which is already occupied by the real sons. The invaders thereupon encamp on the front part, beset the thorax and change the carrier into a horrible pin-cushion that no longer bears the least resemblance to a Spider form. Meanwhile, the sufferer raises no sort of protest against this access of family. She placidly accepts them all and walks them all about.

The youngsters, on their side, are unable to distinguish between what is permitted and forbidden. Remarkable acrobats that they are, they climb on the first Spider that comes along, even when of a different species, provided that she be of a fair size. I place them in the presence of a big Epeira marked with a white cross on a pale-orange ground (Epeira pallida, OLIV.). The little ones, as soon as they are dislodged from the back of the Lycosa their mother, clamber up the stranger without hesitation.

Intolerant of these familiarities, the Spider shakes the leg encroached upon and flings the intruders to a distance. The assault is doggedly resumed, to such good purpose that a dozen succeed in hoisting themselves to the top. The Epeira, who is not accustomed to the tickling of such a load, turns over on her back and rolls on the ground in the manner of a donkey when his hide is itching. Some are lamed, some are even crushed. This does not deter the others, who repeat the escalade as soon as the Epeira is on her legs again. Then come more somersaults, more rollings on the back, until the giddy swarm are all discomfited and leave the Spider in peace.

The Narbonne Lycosa: The Burrow

Michelet {23} has told us how, as a printer’s apprentice in a cellar, he established amicable relations with a Spider. At a certain hour of the day, a ray of sunlight would glint through the window of the gloomy workshop and light up the little compositor’s case. Then his eight-legged neighbour would come down from her web and take her share of the sunshine on the edge of the case. The boy did not interfere with her; he welcomed the trusting visitor as a friend and as a pleasant diversion from the long monotony. When we lack the society of our fellow-men, we take refuge in that of animals, without always losing by the change.

I do not, thank God, suffer from the melancholy of a cellar: my solitude is gay with light and verdure; I attend, whenever I please, the fields’ high festival, the Thrushes’ concert, the Crickets’ symphony; and yet my friendly commerce with the Spider is marked by an even greater devotion than the young typesetter’s. I admit her to the intimacy of my study, I make room for her among my books, I set her in the sun on my window-ledge, I visit her assiduously at her home, in the country. The object of our relations is not to create a means of escape from the petty worries of life, pin-pricks whereof I have my share like other men, a very large share, indeed; I propose to submit to the Spider a host of questions whereto, at times, she condescends to reply.

To what fair problems does not the habit of frequenting her give rise! To set them forth worthily, the marvellous art which the little printer was to acquire were not too much. One needs the pen of a Michelet; and I have but a rough, blunt pencil. Let us try, nevertheless: even when poorly clad, truth is still beautiful.

I will therefore once more take up the story of the Spider’s instinct, a story of which the preceding chapters have given but a very rough idea. Since I wrote those earlier essays, my field of observation has been greatly extended. My notes have been enriched by new and most remarkable facts. It is right that I should employ them for the purpose of a more detailed biography.

The exigencies of order and clearness expose me, it is true, to occasional repetitions. This is inevitable when one has to marshal in an harmonious whole a thousand items culled from day to day, often unexpectedly, and bearing no relation one to the other. The observer is not master of his time; opportunity leads him and by unsuspected ways. A certain question suggested by an earlier fact finds no reply until many years after. Its scope, moreover, is amplified and completed with views collected on the road. In a work, therefore, of this fragmentary character, repetitions, necessary for the due coordination of ideas, are inevitable. I shall be as sparing of them as I can.

Let us once more introduce our old friends the Epeira and the Lycosa, who are the most important Spiders in my district. The Narbonne Lycosa, or Black-bellied Tarantula, chooses her domicile in the waste, pebbly lands beloved of the thyme. Her dwelling, a fortress rather than a villa, is a burrow about nine inches deep and as wide as the neck of a claret-bottle. The direction is perpendicular, in so far as obstacles, frequent in a soil of this kind, permit. A bit of gravel can be extracted and hoisted outside; but a flint is an immovable boulder which the Spider avoids by giving a bend to her gallery. If more such are met with, the residence becomes a winding cave, with stone vaults, with lobbies communicating by means of sharp passages.

This lack of plan has no attendant drawbacks, so well does the owner, from long habit, know every corner and storey of her mansion. If any interesting buzz occur overhead, the Lycosa climbs up from her rugged manor with the same speed as from a vertical shaft. Perhaps she even finds the windings and turnings an advantage, when she has to drag into her den a prey that happens to defend itself.

As a rule, the end of the burrow widens into a side-chamber, a lounge or resting-place where the Spider meditates at length and is content to lead a life of quiet when her belly is full.

A silk coating, but a scanty one, for the Lycosa has not the wealth of silk possessed by the Weaving Spiders, lines the walls of the tube and keeps the loose earth from falling. This plaster, which cements the incohesive and smooths the rugged parts, is reserved more particularly for the top of the gallery, near the mouth. Here, in the daytime, if things be peaceful all around, the Lycosa stations herself, either to enjoy the warmth of the sun, her great delight, or to lie in wait for game. The threads of the silk lining afford a firm hold to the claws on every side, whether the object be to sit motionless for hours, revelling in the light and heat, or to pounce upon the passing prey.

Around the orifice of the burrow rises, to a greater or lesser height, a circular parapet, formed of tiny pebbles, twigs and straps borrowed from the dry leaves of the neighbouring grasses, all more or less dexterously tied together and cemented with silk. This work of rustic architecture is never missing, even though it be no more than a mere pad.

When she reaches maturity and is once settled, the Lycosa becomes eminently domesticated. I have been living in close communion with her for the last three years. I have installed her in large earthen pans on the window-sills of my study and I have her daily under my eyes. Well, it is very rarely that I happen on her outside, a few inches from her hole, back to which she bolts at the least alarm.

We may take it, then, that, when not in captivity, the Lycosa does not go far afield to gather the wherewithal to build her parapet and that she makes shift with what she finds upon her threshold. In these conditions, the building-stones are soon exhausted and the masonry ceases for lack of materials.

The wish came over me to see what dimensions the circular edifice would assume, if the Spider were given an unlimited supply. With captives to whom I myself act as purveyor the thing is easy enough. Were it only with a view to helping whoso may one day care to continue these relations with the big Spider of the waste-lands, let me describe how my subjects are housed.

A good-sized earthenware pan, some nine inches deep, is filled with a red, clayey earth, rich in pebbles, similar, in short, to that of the places haunted by the Lycosa. Properly moistened into a paste, the artificial soil is heaped, layer by layer, around a central reed, of a bore equal to that of the animal’s natural burrow. When the receptacle is filled to the top, I withdraw the reed, which leaves a yawning, perpendicular shaft. I thus obtain the abode which shall replace that of the fields.

To find the hermit to inhabit it is merely the matter of a walk in the neighbourhood. When removed from her own dwelling, which is turned topsy-turvy by my trowel, and placed in possession of the den produced by my art, the Lycosa at once disappears into that den. She does not come out again, seeks nothing better elsewhere. A large wiregauze cover rests on the soil in the pan and prevents escape.

In any case, the watch, in this respect, makes no demands upon my diligence. The prisoner is satisfied with her new abode and manifests no regret for her natural burrow. There is no attempt at flight on her part. Let me not omit to add that each pan must receive not more than one inhabitant. The Lycosa is very intolerant. To her, a neighbour is fair game, to be eaten without scruple when one has might on one’s side. Time was when, unaware of this fierce intolerance, which is more savage still at breeding-time, I saw hideous orgies perpetrated in my overstocked cages. I shall have occasion to describe those tragedies later.

Let us meanwhile consider the isolated Lycosae. They do not touch up the dwelling which I have moulded for them with a bit of reed; at most, now and again, perhaps with the object of forming a lounge or bedroom at the bottom, they fling out a few loads of rubbish. But all, little by little, build the kerb that is to edge the mouth.

I have given them plenty of first-rate materials, far superior to those which they use when left to their own resources. These consist, first, for the foundations, of little smooth stones, some of which are as large as an almond. With this road-metal are mingled short strips of raphia, or palm-fibre, flexible ribbons, easily bent. These stand for the Spider’s usual basket-work, consisting of slender stalks and dry blades of grass. Lastly, by way of an unprecedented treasure, never yet employed by a Lycosa, I place at my captives’ disposal some thick threads of wool, cut into inch lengths.

As I wish, at the same time, to find out whether my animals, with the magnificent lenses of their eyes, are able to distinguish colours and prefer one colour to another, I mix up bits of wool of different hues: there are red, green, white and yellow pieces. If the Spider have any preference, she can choose where she pleases.

The Lycosa always works at night, a regrettable circumstance, which does not allow me to follow the worker’s methods. I see the result; and that is all. Were I to visit the building-yard by the light of a lantern, I should be no wiser. The animal, which is very shy, would at once dive into her lair; and I should have lost my sleep for nothing. Furthermore, she is not a very diligent labourer; she likes to take her time. Two or three bits of wool or raphia placed in position represent a whole night’s work. And to this slowness we must add long spells of utter idleness.

Two months pass; and the result of my liberality surpasses my expectations. Possessing more windfalls than they know what to do with, all picked up in their immediate neighbourhood, my Lycosae have built themselves donjon-keeps the like of which their race has not yet known. Around the orifice, on a slightly sloping bank, small, flat, smooth stones have been laid to form a broken, flagged pavement. The larger stones, which are Cyclopean blocks compared with the size of the animal that has shifted them, are employed as abundantly as the others.

On this rockwork stands the donjon. It is an interlacing of raphia and bits of wool, picked up at random, without distinction of shade. Red and white, green and yellow are mixed without any attempt at order. The Lycosa is indifferent to the joys of colour.

The ultimate result is a sort of muff, a couple of inches high. Bands of silk, supplied by the spinnerets, unite the pieces, so that the whole resembles a coarse fabric. Without being absolutely faultless, for there are always awkward pieces on the outside, which the worker could not handle, the gaudy building is not devoid of merit. The bird lining its nest would do no better. Whoso sees the curious, many-coloured productions in my pans takes them for an outcome of my industry, contrived with a view to some experimental mischief; and his surprise is great when I confess who the real author is. No one would ever believe the Spider capable of constructing such a monument.

It goes without saying that, in a state of liberty, on our barren waste-lands, the Lycosa does not indulge in such sumptuous architecture. I have given the reason: she is too great a stay-at-home to go in search of materials and she makes use of the limited resources which she finds around her. Bits of earth, small chips of stone, a few twigs, a few withered grasses: that is all, or nearly all. Wherefore the work is generally quite modest and reduced to a parapet that hardly attracts attention.

My captives teach us that, when materials are plentiful, especially textile materials that remove all fears of landslip, the Lycosa delights in tall turrets. She understands the art of donjon-building and puts it into practice as often as she possesses the means.

This art is akin to another, from which it is apparently derived. If the sun be fierce or if rain threaten, the Lycosa closes the entrance to her dwelling with a silken trellis-work, wherein she embeds different matters, often the remnants of victims which she has devoured. The ancient Gael nailed the heads of his vanquished enemies to the door of his hut. In the same way, the fierce Spider sticks the skulls of her prey into the lid of her cave. These lumps look very well on the ogre’s roof; but we must be careful not to mistake them for warlike trophies. The animal knows nothing of our barbarous bravado. Everything at the threshold of the burrow is used indiscriminately: fragments of Locust, vegetable remains and especially particles of earth. A Dragon-fly’s head baked by the sun is as good as a bit of gravel and no better.

And so, with silk and all sorts of tiny materials, the Lycosa builds a lidded cap to the entrance of her home. I am not well acquainted with the reasons that prompt her to barricade herself indoors, particularly as the seclusion is only temporary and varies greatly in duration. I obtain precise details from a tribe of Lycosae wherewith the enclosure, as will be seen later, happens to be thronged in consequence of my investigations into the dispersal of the family.

At the time of the tropical August heat, I see my Lycosae, now this batch, now that, building, at the entrance to the burrow, a convex ceiling, which is difficult to distinguish from the surrounding soil. Can it be to protect themselves from the too-vivid light? This is doubtful; for, a few days later, though the power of the sun remain the same, the roof is broken open and the Spider reappears at her door, where she revels in the torrid heat of the dog-days.

Later, when October comes, if it be rainy weather, she retires once more under a roof, as though she were guarding herself against the damp. Let us not be too positive of anything, however: often, when it is raining hard, the Spider bursts her ceiling and leaves her house open to the skies.

Perhaps the lid is only put on for serious domestic events, notably for the laying. I do, in fact, perceive young Lycosae who shut themselves in before they have attained the dignity of motherhood and who reappear, some time later, with the bag containing the eggs hung to their stern. The inference that they close the door with the object of securing greater quiet while spinning the maternal cocoon would not be in keeping with the unconcern displayed by the majority. I find some who lay their eggs in an open burrow; I come upon some who weave their cocoon and cram it with eggs in the open air, before they even own a residence. In short, I do not succeed in fathoming the reasons that cause the burrow to be closed, no matter what the weather, hot or cold, wet or dry.

The fact remains that the lid is broken and repaired repeatedly, sometimes on the same day. In spite of the earthy casing, the silk woof gives it the requisite pliancy to cleave when pushed by the anchorite and to rip open without falling into ruins. Swept back to the circumference of the mouth and increased by the wreckage of further ceilings, it becomes a parapet, which the Lycosa raises by degrees in her long moments of leisure. The bastion which surmounts the burrow, therefore, takes its origin from the temporary lid. The turret derives from the split ceiling.

What is the purpose of this turret? My pans will tell us that. An enthusiastic votary of the chase, so long as she is not permanently fixed, the Lycosa, once she has set up house, prefers to lie in ambush and wait for the quarry. Every day, when the heat is greatest, I see my captives come up slowly from under ground and lean upon the battlements of their woolly castle-keep. They are then really magnificent in their stately gravity. With their swelling belly contained within the aperture, their head outside, their glassy eyes staring, their legs gathered for a spring, for hours and hours they wait, motionless, bathing voluptuously in the sun.

Should a tit-bit to her liking happen to pass, forthwith the watcher darts from her tall tower, swift as an arrow from the bow. With a dagger-thrust in the neck, she stabs the jugular of the Locust, Dragon-fly or other prey whereof I am the purveyor; and she as quickly scales the donjon and retires with her capture. The performance is a wonderful exhibition of skill and speed.

Very seldom is a quarry missed, provided that it pass at a convenient distance, within the range of the huntress’ bound. But, if the prey be at some distance, for instance on the wire of the cage, the Lycosa takes no notice of it. Scorning to go in pursuit, she allows it to roam at will. She never strikes except when sure of her stroke. She achieves this by means of her tower. Hiding behind the wall, she sees the stranger advancing, keeps her eyes on him and suddenly pounces when he comes within reach. These abrupt tactics make the thing a certainty. Though he were winged and swift of flight, the unwary one who approaches the ambush is lost.

This presumes, it is true, an exemplary patience on the Lycosa’s part; for the burrow has naught that can serve to entice victims. At best, the ledge provided by the turret may, at rare intervals, tempt some weary wayfarer to use it as a resting-place. But, if the quarry do not come to-day, it is sure to come to-morrow, the next day, or later, for the Locusts hop innumerable in the waste-land, nor are they always able to regulate their leaps. Some day or other, chance is bound to bring one of them within the purlieus of the burrow. This is the moment to spring upon the pilgrim from the ramparts. Until then, we maintain a stoical vigilance. We shall dine when we can; but we shall end by dining.

The Lycosa, therefore, well aware of these lingering eventualities, waits and is not unduly distressed by a prolonged abstinence. She has an accommodating stomach, which is satisfied to be gorged to-day and to remain empty afterwards for goodness knows how long. I have sometimes neglected my catering-duties for weeks at a time; and my boarders have been none the worse for it. After a more or less protracted fast, they do not pine away, but are smitten with a wolf-like hunger. All these ravenous eaters are alike: they guzzle to excess to-day, in anticipation of to-morrow’s dearth.

In her youth, before she has a burrow, the Lycosa earns her living in another manner. Clad in grey like her elders, but without the black-velvet apron which she receives on attaining the marriageable age, she roams among the scrubby grass. This is true hunting. Should a suitable quarry heave in sight, the Spider pursues it, drives it from its shelters, follows it hot-foot. The fugitive gains the heights, makes as though to fly away. He has not the time. With an upward leap, the Lycosa grabs him before he can rise.

I am charmed with the agility wherewith my yearling boarders seize the Flies which I provide for them. In vain does the Fly take refuge a couple of inches up, on some blade of grass. With a sudden spring into the air, the Spider pounces on the prey. No Cat is quicker in catching her Mouse.

But these are the feats of youth not handicapped by obesity. Later, when a heavy paunch, dilated with eggs and silk, has to be trailed along, those gymnastic performances become impracticable. The Lycosa then digs herself a settled abode, a hunting-box, and sits in her watch-tower, on the look-out for game.

When and how is the burrow obtained wherein the Lycosa, once a vagrant, now a stay-athome, is to spend the remainder of her long life? We are in autumn, the weather is already turning cool. This is how the Field Cricket sets to work: as long as the days are fine and the nights not too cold, the future chorister of spring rambles over the fallows, careless of a local habitation. At critical moments, the cover of a dead leaf provides him with a temporary shelter. In the end, the burrow, the permanent dwelling, is dug as the inclement season draws nigh.

The Lycosa shares the Cricket’s views: like him, she finds a thousand pleasures in the vagabond life. With September comes the nuptial badge, the black-velvet bib. The Spiders meet at night, by the soft moonlight: they romp together, they eat the beloved shortly after the wedding; by day, they scour the country, they track the game on the short-pile, grassy carpet, they take their fill of the joys of the sun. That is much better than solitary meditation at the bottom of a well. And so it is not rare to see young mothers dragging their bag of eggs, or even already carrying their family, and as yet without a home.

In October, it is time to settle down. We then, in fact, find two sorts of burrows, which differ in diameter. The larger, bottle-neck burrows belong to the old matrons, who have owned their house for two years at least. The smaller, of the width of a thick lead-pencil, contain the young mothers, born that year. By dint of long and leisurely alterations, the novice’s earths will increase in depth as well as in diameter and become roomy abodes, similar to those of the grandmothers. In both, we find the owner and her family, the latter sometimes already hatched and sometimes still enclosed in the satin wallet.

Seeing no digging-tools, such as the excavation of the dwelling seemed to me to require, I wondered whether the Lycosa might not avail herself of some chance gallery, the work of the Cicada or the Earth-worm. This ready-made tunnel, thought I, must shorten the labours of the Spider, who appears to be so badly off for tools; she would only have to enlarge it and put it in order. I was wrong: the burrow is excavated, from start to finish, by her unaided labour.

Then where are the digging-implements? We think of the legs, of the claws. We think of them, but reflection tells us that tools such as these would not do: they are too long and too difficult to wield in a confined space. What is required is the miner’s short-handled pick, wherewith to drive hard, to insert, to lever and to extract; what is required is the sharp point that enters the earth and crumbles it into fragments. There remain the Lycosa’s fangs, delicate weapons which we at first hesitate to associate with such work, so illogical does it seem to dig a pit with surgeon’s scalpels.

The fangs are a pair of sharp, curved points, which, when at rest, crook like a finger and take shelter between two strong pillars. The Cat sheathes her claws under the velvet of the paw, to preserve their edge and sharpness. In the same way, the Lycosa protects her poisoned daggers by folding them within the case of two powerful columns, which come plumb on the surface and contain the muscles that work them.

Well, this surgical outfit, intended for stabbing the jugular artery of the prey, suddenly becomes a pick-axe and does rough navvy’s work. To witness the underground digging is impossible; but we can, at least, with the exercise of a little patience, see the rubbish carted away. If I watch my captives, without tiring, at a very early hour—for the work takes place mostly at night and at long intervals—in the end I catch them coming up with a load. Contrary to what I expected, the legs take no part in the carting. It is the mouth that acts as the barrow. A tiny ball of earth is held between the fangs and is supported by the palpi, or feelers, which are little arms employed in the service of the mouth-parts. The Lycosa descends cautiously from her turret, goes to some distance to get rid of her burden and quickly dives down again to bring up more.

We have seen enough: we know that the Lycosa’s fangs, those lethal weapons, are not afraid to bite into clay and gravel. They knead the excavated rubbish into pellets, take up the mass of earth and carry it outside. The rest follows naturally; it is the fangs that dig, delve and extract. How finely-tempered they must be, not to be blunted by this wellsinker’s work and to do duty presently in the surgical operation of stabbing the neck!

I have said that the repairs and extensions of the burrow are made at long intervals. From time to time, the circular parapet receives additions and becomes a little higher; less frequently still, the dwelling is enlarged and deepened. As a rule, the mansion remains as it was for a whole season. Towards the end of winter, in March more than at any other period, the Lycosa seems to wish to give herself a little more space. This is the moment to subject her to certain tests.

We know that the Field Cricket, when removed from his burrow and caged under conditions that would allow him to dig himself a new home should the fit seize him, prefers to tramp from one casual shelter to another, or rather abandons every idea of creating a permanent residence. There is a short season whereat the instinct for building a subterranean gallery is imperatively aroused. When this season is past, the excavating artist, if accidentally deprived of his abode, becomes a wandering Bohemian, careless of a lodging. He has forgotten his talents and he sleeps out.

That the bird, the nest-builder, should neglect its art when it has no brood to care for is perfectly logical: it builds for its family, not for itself. But what shall we say of the Cricket, who is exposed to a thousand mishaps when away from home? The protection of a roof would be of great use to him; and the giddy-pate does not give it a thought, though he is very strong and more capable than ever of digging with his powerful jaws. What reason can we allege for this neglect? None, unless it be that the season of strenuous burrowing is past. The instincts have a calendar of their own. At the given hour, suddenly they awaken; as suddenly, afterwards, they fall asleep. The ingenious become incompetent when the prescribed period is ended.

On a subject of this kind, we can consult the Spider of the waste-lands. I catch an old Lycosa in the fields and house her, that same day, under wire, in a burrow where I have prepared a soil to her liking. If, by my contrivances and with a bit of reed, I have previously moulded a burrow roughly representing the one from which I took her, the Spider enters it forthwith and seems pleased with her new residence. The product of my art is accepted as her lawful property and undergoes hardly any alterations. In course of time, a bastion is erected around the orifice; the top of the gallery is cemented with silk; and that is all. In this establishment of my building, the animal’s behaviour remains what it would be under natural conditions.

But place the Lycosa on the surface of the ground, without first shaping a burrow. What will the homeless Spider do? Dig herself a dwelling, one would think. She has the strength to do so; she is in the prime of life. Besides, the soil is similar to that whence I ousted her and suits the operation perfectly. We therefore expect to see the Spider settled before long in a shaft of her own construction.

We are disappointed. Weeks pass and not an effort is made, not one. Demoralized by the absence of an ambush, the Lycosa hardly vouchsafes a glance at the game which I serve up. The Crickets pass within her reach in vain; most often she scorns them. She slowly wastes away with fasting and boredom. At length, she dies.

Take up your miner’s trade again, poor fool! Make yourself a home, since you know how to, and life will be sweet to you for many a long day yet: the weather is fine and victuals plentiful. Dig, delve, go underground, where safety lies. Like an idiot, you refrain; and you perish. Why?

Because the craft which you were wont to ply is forgotten; because the days of patient digging are past and your poor brain is unable to work back. To do a second time what has been done already is beyond your wit. For all your meditative air, you cannot solve the problem of how to reconstruct that which is vanished and gone.

Let us now see what we can do with younger Lycosae, who are at the burrowing-stage. I dig out five or six at the end of February. They are half the size of the old ones; their burrows are equal in diameter to my little finger. Rubbish quite fresh-spread around the pit bears witness to the recent date of the excavations.

Relegated to their wire cages, these young Lycosae behave differently according as the soil placed at their disposal is or is not already provided with a burrow made by me. A burrow is hardly the word: I give them but the nucleus of a shaft, about an inch deep, to lure them on. When in possession of this rudimentary lair, the Spider does not hesitate to pursue the work which I have interrupted in the fields. At night, she digs with a will. I can see this by the heap of rubbish flung aside. She at last obtains a house to suit her, a house surmounted by the usual turret.

The others, on the contrary, those Spiders for whom the thrust of my pencil has not contrived an entrance-hall representing, to a certain extent, the natural gallery whence I dislodged them, absolutely refuse to work; and they die, notwithstanding the abundance of provisions.

The first pursue the season’s task. They were digging when I caught them; and, carried away by the enthusiasm of their activity, they go on digging inside my cages. Taken in by my decoy-shaft, they deepen the imprint of the pencil as though they were deepening their real vestibule. They do not begin their labours over again; they continue them.

The second, not having this inducement, this semblance of a burrow mistaken for their own work, forsake the idea of digging and allow themselves to die, because they would have to travel back along the chain of actions and to resume the pick-strokes of the start. To begin all over again requires reflection, a quality wherewith they are not endowed.

To the insect—and we have seen this in many earlier cases—what is done is done and cannot be taken up again. The hands of a watch do not move backwards. The insect behaves in much the same way. Its activity urges it in one direction, ever forwards, without allowing it to retrace its steps, even when an accident makes this necessary.

What the Mason-bees and the others taught us erewhile the Lycosa now confirms in her manner. Incapable of taking fresh pains to build herself a second dwelling, when the first is done for, she will go on the tramp, she will break into a neighbour’s house, she will run the risk of being eaten should she not prove the stronger, but she will never think of making herself a home by starting afresh.

What a strange intellect is that of the animal, a mixture of mechanical routine and subtle brain-power! Does it contain gleams that contrive, wishes that pursue a definite object? Following in the wake of so many others, the Lycosa warrants us in entertaining a doubt.

The Narbonne Lycosa: The Family

For three weeks and more, the Lycosa trails the bag of eggs hanging to her spinnerets. The reader will remember the experiments described in the third chapter of this volume, particularly those with the cork ball and the thread pellet which the Spider so foolishly accepts in exchange for the real pill. Well, this exceedingly dull-witted mother, satisfied with aught that knocks against her heels, is about to make us wonder at her devotion.

Whether she come up from her shaft to lean upon the kerb and bask in the sun, whether she suddenly retire underground in the face of danger, or whether she be roaming the country before settling down, never does she let go her precious bag, that very cumbrous burden in walking, climbing or leaping. If, by some accident, it become detached from the fastening to which it is hung, she flings herself madly on her treasure and lovingly embraces it, ready to bite whoso would take it from her. I myself am sometimes the thief. I then hear the points of the poison-fangs grinding against the steel of my pincers, which tug in one direction while the Lycosa tugs in the other. But let us leave the animal alone: with a quick touch of the spinnerets, the pill is restored to its place; and the Spider strides off, still menacing.

Towards the end of summer, all the householders, old or young, whether in captivity on the window-sill or at liberty in the paths of the enclosure, supply me daily with the following improving sight. In the morning, as soon as the sun is hot and beats upon their burrow, the anchorites come up from the bottom with their bag and station themselves at the opening. Long siestas on the threshold in the sun are the order of the day throughout the fine season; but, at the present time, the position adopted is a different one. Formerly, the Lycosa came out into the sun for her own sake. Leaning on the parapet, she had the front half of her body outside the pit and the hinder half inside.

The eyes took their fill of light; the belly remained in the dark. When carrying her eggbag, the Spider reverses the posture: the front is in the pit, the rear outside. With her hind-legs she holds the white pill bulging with germs lifted above the entrance; gently she turns and returns it, so as to present every side to the life-giving rays. And this goes on for half the day, so long as the temperature is high; and it is repeated daily, with exquisite patience, during three or four weeks. To hatch its eggs, the bird covers them with the quilt of its breast; it strains them to the furnace of its heart. The Lycosa turns hers in front of the hearth of hearths, she gives them the sun as an incubator.

In the early days of September, the young ones, who have been some time hatched, are ready to come out. The pill rips open along the middle fold. We read of the origin of this fold in an earlier chapter. {24} Does the mother, feeling the brood quicken inside the satin wrapper, herself break open the vessel at the opportune moment? It seems probable. On the other hand, there may be a spontaneous bursting, such as we shall see later in the Banded Epeira’s balloon, a tough wallet which opens a breach of its own accord, long after the mother has ceased to exist.
The whole family emerges from the bag straightway. Then and there, the youngsters climb to the mother’s back. As for the empty bag, now a worthless shred, it is flung out of the burrow; the Lycosa does not give it a further thought. Huddled together, sometimes in two or three layers, according to their number, the little ones cover the whole back of the mother, who, for seven or eight months to come, will carry her family night and day. Nowhere can we hope to see a more edifying domestic picture than that of the Lycosa clothed in her young.

From time to time, I meet a little band of gipsies passing along the high-road on their way to some neighbouring fair. The new-born babe mewls on the mother’s breast, in a hammock formed out of a kerchief. The last-weaned is carried pick-a-back; a third toddles clinging to its mother’s skirts; others follow closely, the biggest in the rear, ferreting in the blackberry-laden hedgerows. It is a magnificent spectacle of happy-golucky fruitfulness. They go their way, penniless and rejoicing. The sun is hot and the earth is fertile.

But how this picture pales before that of the Lycosa, that incomparable gipsy whose brats are numbered by the hundred! And one and all of them, from September to April, without a moment’s respite, find room upon the patient creature’s back, where they are content to lead a tranquil life and to be carted about.

The little ones are very good; none moves, none seeks a quarrel with his neighbours. Clinging together, they form a continuous drapery, a shaggy ulster under which the mother becomes unrecognizable. Is it an animal, a fluff of wool, a cluster of small seeds fastened to one another? ’Tis impossible to tell at the first glance.

The equilibrium of this living blanket is not so firm but that falls often occur, especially when the mother climbs from indoors and comes to the threshold to let the little ones take the sun. The least brush against the gallery unseats a part of the family. The mishap is not serious. The Hen, fidgeting about her Chicks, looks for the strays, calls them, gathers them together. The Lycosa knows not these maternal alarms. Impassively, she leaves those who drop off to manage their own difficulty, which they do with wonderful quickness. Commend me to those youngsters for getting up without whining, dusting themselves and resuming their seat in the saddle! The unhorsed ones promptly find a leg of the mother, the usual climbing-pole; they swarm up it as fast as they can and recover their places on the bearer’s back. The living bark of animals is reconstructed in the twinkling of an eye.

To speak here of mother-love were, I think, extravagant. The Lycosa’s affection for her offspring hardly surpasses that of the plant, which is unacquainted with any tender feeling and nevertheless bestows the nicest and most delicate care upon its seeds. The animal, in many cases, knows no other sense of motherhood. What cares the Lycosa for her brood! She accepts another’s as readily as her own; she is satisfied so long as her back is burdened with a swarming crowd, whether it issue from her ovaries or elsewhence. There is no question here of real maternal affection.
I have described elsewhere the prowess of the Copris {25} watching over cells that are not her handiwork and do not contain her offspring. With a zeal which even the additional labour laid upon her does not easily weary, she removes the mildew from the alien dung-balls, which far exceed the regular nests in number; she gently scrapes and polishes and repairs them; she listens to them attentively and enquires by ear into each nursling’s progress. Her real collection could not receive greater care. Her own family or another’s: it is all one to her.

The Lycosa is equally indifferent. I take a hair-pencil and sweep the living burden from one of my Spiders, making it fall close to another covered with her little ones. The evicted youngsters scamper about, find the new mother’s legs outspread, nimbly clamber up these and mount on the back of the obliging creature, who quietly lets them have their way.

They slip in among the others, or, when the layer is too thick, push to the front and pass from the abdomen to the thorax and even to the head, though leaving the region of the eyes uncovered. It does not do to blind the bearer: the common safety demands that. They know this and respect the lenses of the eyes, however populous the assembly be. The whole animal is now covered with a swarming carpet of young, all except the legs, which must preserve their freedom of action, and the under part of the body, where contact with the ground is to be feared.

My pencil forces a third family upon the already overburdened Spider; and this too is peacefully accepted. The youngsters huddle up closer, lie one on top of the other in layers and room is found for all. The Lycosa has lost the last semblance of an animal, has become a nameless bristling thing that walks about. Falls are frequent and are followed by continual climbings.

I perceive that I have reached the limits not of the bearer’s good-will, but of equilibrium. The Spider would adopt an indefinite further number of foundlings, if the dimensions of her back afforded them a firm hold. Let us be content with this. Let us restore each family to its mother, drawing at random from the lot. There must necessarily be interchanges, but that is of no importance: real children and adopted children are the same thing in the Lycosa’s eyes.

One would like to know if, apart from my artifices, in circumstances where I do not interfere, the good-natured dry-nurse sometimes burdens herself with a supplementary family; it would also be interesting to learn what comes of this association of lawful offspring and strangers. I have ample materials wherewith to obtain an answer to both questions. I have housed in the same cage two elderly matrons laden with youngsters. Each has her home as far removed from the other’s as the size of the common pan permits. The distance is nine inches or more. It is not enough. Proximity soon kindles fierce jealousies between those intolerant creatures, who are obliged to live far apart, so as to secure adequate hunting-grounds.
One morning, I catch the two harridans fighting out their quarrel on the floor. The loser is laid flat upon her back; the victress, belly to belly with her adversary, clutches her with her legs and prevents her from moving a limb. Both have their poison-fangs wide open, ready to bite without yet daring, so mutually formidable are they. After a certain period of waiting, during which the pair merely exchange threats, the stronger of the two, the one on top, closes her lethal engine and grinds the head of the prostrate foe. Then she calmly devours the deceased by small mouthfuls.

Now what do the youngsters do, while their mother is being eaten? Easily consoled, heedless of the atrocious scene, they climb on the conqueror’s back and quietly take their places among the lawful family. The ogress raises no objection, accepts them as her own. She makes a meal off the mother and adopts the orphans.

Let us add that, for many months yet, until the final emancipation comes, she will carry them without drawing any distinction between them and her own young. Henceforth, the two families, united in so tragic a fashion, will form but one. We see how greatly out of place it would be to speak, in this connection, of mother-love and its fond manifestations.

Does the Lycosa at least feed the younglings who, for seven months, swarm upon her back? Does she invite them to the banquet when she has secured a prize? I thought so at first; and, anxious to assist at the family repast, I devoted special attention to watching the mothers eat. As a rule, the prey is consumed out of sight, in the burrow; but sometimes also a meal is taken on the threshold, in the open air. Besides, it is easy to rear the Lycosa and her family in a wire-gauze cage, with a layer of earth wherein the captive will never dream of sinking a well, such work being out of season. Everything then happens in the open.

Well, while the mother munches, chews, expresses the juices and swallows, the youngsters do not budge from their camping-ground on her back. Not one quits its place nor gives a sign of wishing to slip down and join in the meal. Nor does the mother extend an invitation to them to come and recruit themselves, nor put any broken victuals aside for them. She feeds and the others look on, or rather remain indifferent to what is happening. Their perfect quiet during the Lycosa’s feast points to the posession of a stomach that knows no cravings.

Then with what are they sustained, during their seven months’ upbringing on the mother’s back? One conceives a notion of exudations supplied by the bearer’s body, in which case the young would feed on their mother, after the manner of parasitic vermin, and gradually drain her strength.

We must abandon this notion. Never are they seen to put their mouths to the skin that should be a sort of teat to them. On the other hand, the Lycosa, far from being exhausted and shrivelling, keeps perfectly well and plump. She has the same pot-belly when she finishes rearing her young as when she began. She has not lost weight: far from it; on the contrary, she has put on flesh: she has gained the wherewithal to beget a new family next summer, one as numerous as to-day’s.
Once more, with what do the little ones keep up their strength? We do not like to suggest reserves supplied by the egg as rectifying the beastie’s expenditure of vital force, especially when we consider that those reserves, themselves so close to nothing, must be economized in view of the silk, a material of the highest importance, of which a plentiful use will be made presently. There must be other powers at play in the tiny animal’s machinery.

Total abstinence from food could be understood, if it were accompanied by inertia: immobility is not life. But the young Lycosae, although usually quiet on their mother’s back, are at all times ready for exercise and for agile swarming. When they fall from the maternal perambulator, they briskly pick themselves up, briskly scramble up a leg and make their way to the top. It is a splendidly nimble and spirited performance. Besides, once seated, they have to keep a firm balance in the mass; they have to stretch and stiffen their little limbs in order to hang on to their neighbours. As a matter of fact, there is no absolute rest for them. Now physiology teaches us that not a fibre works without some expenditure of energy. The animal, which can be likened, in no small measure, to our industrial machines, demands, on the one hand, the renovation of its organism, which wears out with movement, and, on the other, the maintenance of the heat transformed into action. We can compare it with the locomotive-engine. As the iron horse performs its work, it gradually wears out its pistons, its rods, its wheels, its boiler-tubes, all of which have to be made good from time to time. The founder and the smith repair it, supply it, so to speak, with ‘plastic food,’ the food that becomes embodied with the whole and forms part of it. But, though it have just come from the engine-shop, it is still inert. To acquire the power of movement, it must receive from the stoker a supply of ‘energyproducing food;’ in other words, he lights a few shovelfuls of coal in its inside. This heat will produce mechanical work.

Even so with the beast. As nothing is made from nothing, the egg supplies first the materials of the new-born animal; then the plastic food, the smith of living creatures, increases the body, up to a certain limit, and renews it as it wears away. The stoker works at the same time, without stopping. Fuel, the source of energy, makes but a short stay in the system, where it is consumed and furnishes heat, whence movement is derived. Life is a fire-box. Warmed by its food, the animal machine moves, walks, runs, jumps, swims, flies, sets its locomotory apparatus going in a thousand manners.

To return to the young Lycosae, they grow no larger until the period of their emancipation. I find them at the age of seven months the same as when I saw them at their birth. The egg supplied the materials necessary for their tiny frames; and, as the loss of waste substance is, for the moment, excessively small, or even nil, additional plastic food is not needed so long as the beastie does not grow. In this respect, the prolonged abstinence presents no difficulty. But there remains the question of energy-producing food, which is indispensable, for the little Lycosa moves, when necessary, and very actively at that. To what shall we attribute the heat expended upon action, when the animal takes absolutely no nourishment?
An idea suggests itself. We say to ourselves that, without being life, a machine is something more than matter, for man has added a little of his mind to it. Now the iron beast, consuming its ration of coal, is really browsing the ancient foliage of arborescent ferns in which solar energy has accumulated.

Beasts of flesh and blood act no otherwise. Whether they mutually devour one another or levy tribute on the plant, they invariably quicken themselves with the stimulant of the sun’s heat, a heat stored in grass, fruit, seed and those which feed on such. The sun, the soul of the universe, is the supreme dispenser of energy.

Instead of being served up through the intermediary of food and passing through the ignominious circuit of gastric chemistry, could not this solar energy penetrate the animal directly and charge it with activity, even as the battery charges an accumulator with power? Why not live on sun, seeing that, after all, we find naught but sun in the fruits which we consume?

Chemical science, that bold revolutionary, promises to provide us with synthetic foodstuffs. The laboratory and the factory will take the place of the farm. Why should not physical science step in as well? It would leave the preparation of plastic food to the chemist’s retorts; it would reserve for itself that of energy-producing food, which, reduced to its exact terms, ceases to be matter. With the aid of some ingenious apparatus, it would pump into us our daily ration of solar energy, to be later expended in movement, whereby the machine would be kept going without the often painful assistance of the stomach and its adjuncts. What a delightful world, where one would lunch off a ray of sunshine!

Is it a dream, or the anticipation of a remote reality? The problem is one of the most important that science can set us. Let us first hear the evidence of the young Lycosae regarding its possibilities.

For seven months, without any material nourishment, they expend strength in moving. To wind up the mechanism of their muscles, they recruit themselves direct with heat and light. During the time when she was dragging the bag of eggs behind her, the mother, at the best moments of the day, came and held up her pill to the sun. With her two hindlegs, she lifted it out of the ground, into the full light; slowly she turned it and returned it, so that every side might receive its share of the vivifying rays. Well, this bath of life, which awakened the germs, is now prolonged to keep the tender babes active.

Daily, if the sky be clear, the Lycosa, carrying her young, comes up from the burrow, leans on the kerb and spends long hours basking in the sun. Here, on their mother’s back, the youngsters stretch their limbs delightedly, saturate themselves with heat, take in reserves of motor power, absorb energy.

They are motionless; but, if I only blow upon them, they stampede as nimbly as though a hurricane were passing. Hurriedly, they disperse; hurriedly, they reassemble: a proof that, without material nourishment, the little animal machine is always at full pressure, ready to work. When the shade comes, mother and sons go down again, surfeited with solar emanations. The feast of energy at the Sun Tavern is finished for the day. It is repeated in the same way daily, if the weather be mild, until the hour of emancipation comes, followed by the first mouthfuls of solid food.

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 dome.

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 suspensionbridges; 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.
At last, the whole family has disappeared, carried afar by its flying-ropes. The mother remains alone. The loss of her offspring hardly seems to distress her. She retains her usual colour and plumpness, which is a sign that the maternal exertions have not been too much for her.

I also notice an increased fervour in the chase. While burdened with her family, she was remarkably abstemious, accepting only with great reserve the game placed at her disposal. The coldness of the season may have militated against copious refections; perhaps also the weight of the little ones hampered her movements and made her more discreet in attacking the prey.

To-day, cheered by the fine weather and able to move freely, she hurries up from her lair each time I set a tit-bit to her liking buzzing at the entrance to her burrow; she comes and takes from my fingers the savoury Locust, the portly Anoxia; {26} and this performance is repeated daily, whenever I have the leisure to devote to it. After a frugal winter, the time has come for plentiful repasts.

This appetite tells us that the animal is not at the point of death; one does not feast in this way with a played-out stomach. My boarders are entering in full vigour upon their fourth year. In the winter, in the fields, I used to find large mothers, carting their young, and others not much more than half their size. The whole series, therefore, represented three generations. And now, in my earthenware pans, after the departure of the family, the old matrons still carry on and continue as strong as ever. Every outward appearance tells us that, after becoming great-grandmothers, they still keep themselves fit for propagating their species.

The facts correspond with these anticipations. When September returns, my captives are dragging a bag as bulky as that of last year. For a long time, even when the eggs of the others have been hatched for some weeks past, the mothers come daily to the threshold of the burrow and hold out their wallets for incubation by the sun. Their perseverance is not rewarded: nothing issues from the satin purse; nothing stirs within. Why? Because, in the prison of my cages, the eggs have had no father. Tired of waiting and at last recognizing the barrenness of their produce, they push the bag of eggs outside the burrow and trouble about it no more. At the return of spring, by which time the family, if developed according to rule, would have been emancipated, they die. The mighty Spider of the waste-lands, therefore, attains to an even more patriarchal age than her neighbour the Sacred Beetle: {27} she lives for five years at the very least.

Let us leave the mothers to their business and return to the youngsters. It is not without a certain surprise that we see the little Lycosae, at the first moment of their emancipation, hasten to ascend the heights. Destined to live on the ground, amidst the short grass, and afterwards to settle in the permanent abode, a pit, they start by being enthusiastic acrobats. Before descending to the low levels, their normal dwelling-place, they affect lofty altitudes.
To rise higher and ever higher is their first need. I have not, it seems, exhausted the limit of their climbing-instinct even with a nine-foot pole, suitably furnished with branches to facilitate the escalade. Those who have eagerly reached the very top wave their legs, fumble in space as though for yet higher stalks. It behoves us to begin again and under better conditions.

Although the Narbonne Lycosa, with her temporary yearning for the heights, is more interesting than other Spiders, by reason of the fact that her usual habitation is underground, she is not so striking at swarming-time, because the youngsters, instead of all migrating at once, leave the mother at different periods and in small batches. The sight will be a finer one with the common Garden or Cross Spider, the Diadem Epeira (Epeira diadema, LIN.), decorated with three white crosses on her back.

She lays her eggs in November and dies with the first cold snap. She is denied the Lycosa’s longevity. She leaves the natal wallet early one spring and never sees the following spring. This wallet, which contains the eggs, has none of the ingenious structure which we admired in the Banded and in the Silky Epeira. No longer do we see a graceful balloon-shape nor yet a paraboloid with a starry base; no longer a tough, waterproof satin stuff; no longer a swan’s-down resembling a fleecy, russet cloud; no longer an inner keg in which the eggs are packed. The art of stout fabrics and of walls within walls is unknown here.

The work of the Cross Spider is a pill of white silk, wrought into a yielding felt, through which the new-born Spiders will easily work their way, without the aid of the mother, long since dead, and without having to rely upon its bursting at the given hour. It is about the size of a damson.

We can judge the method of manufacture from the structure. Like the Lycosa, whom we saw, in Chapter III., at work in one of my earthenware pans, the Cross Spider, on the support supplied by a few threads stretched between the nearest objects, begins by making a shallow saucer of sufficient thickness to dispense with subsequent corrections. The process is easily guessed. The tip of the abdomen goes up and down, down and up with an even beat, while the worker shifts her place a little. Each time, the spinnerets add a bit of thread to the carpet already made.

When the requisite thickness is obtained, the mother empties her ovaries, in one continuous flow, into the centre of the bowl. Glued together by their inherent moisture, the eggs, of a handsome orange-yellow, form a ball-shaped heap. The work of the spinnerets is resumed. The ball of germs is covered with a silk cap, fashioned in the same way as the saucer. The two halves of the work are so well joined that the whole constitutes an unbroken sphere.

The Banded Epeira and the Silky Epeira, those experts in the manufacture of rainproof textures, lay their eggs high up, on brushwood and bramble, without shelter of any kind. The thick material of the wallets is enough to protect the eggs from the inclemencies of the winter, especially from damp. The Diadem Epeira, or Cross Spider, needs a cranny for hers, which is contained in a non-waterproof felt. In a heap of stones, well exposed to the sun, she will choose a large slab to serve as a roof. She lodges her pill underneath it, in the company of the hibernating Snail.

More often still, she prefers the thick tangle of some dwarf shrub, standing eight or nine inches high and retaining its leaves in winter. In the absence of anything better, a tuft of grass answers the purpose. Whatever the hiding-place, the bag of eggs is always near the ground, tucked away as well as may be, amid the surrounding twigs.

Save in the case of the roof supplied by a large stone, we see that the site selected hardly satisfies proper hygienic needs. The Epeira seems to realize this fact. By way of an additional protection, even under a stone, she never fails to make a thatched roof for her eggs. She builds them a covering with bits of fine, dry grass, joined together with a little silk. The abode of the eggs becomes a straw wigwam.

Good luck procures me two Cross Spiders’ nests, on the edge of one of the paths in the enclosure, among some tufts of ground-cypress, or lavender-cotton. This is just what I wanted for my plans. The find is all the more valuable as the period of the exodus is near at hand.

I prepare two lengths of bamboo, standing about fifteen feet high and clustered with little twigs from top to bottom. I plant one of them straight up in the tuft, beside the first nest. I clear the surrounding ground, because the bushy vegetation might easily, thanks to threads carried by the wind, divert the emigrants from the road which I have laid out for them. The other bamboo I set up in the middle of the yard, all by itself, some few steps from any outstanding object. The second nest is removed as it is, shrub and all, and placed at the bottom of the tall, ragged distaff.

The events expected are not long in coming. In the first fortnight in May, a little earlier in one case, a little later in the other, the two families, each presented with a bamboo climbing-pole, leave their respective wallets. There is nothing remarkable about the mode of egress. The precincts to be crossed consist of a very slack net-work, through which the outcomers wriggle: weak little orange-yellow beasties, with a triangular black patch upon their sterns. One morning is long enough for the whole family to make its appearance.

By degrees, the emancipated youngsters climb the nearest twigs, clamber to the top, and spread a few threads. Soon, they gather in a compact, ball-shaped cluster, the size of a walnut. They remain motionless. With their heads plunged into the heap and their sterns projecting, they doze gently, mellowing under the kisses of the sun. Rich in the possession of a thread in their belly as their sole inheritance, they prepare to disperse over the wide world.

Let us create a disturbance among the globular group by stirring it with a straw. All wake up at once. The cluster softly dilates and spreads, as though set in motion by some centrifugal force; it becomes a transparent orb wherein thousands and thousands of tiny legs quiver and shake, while threads are extended along the way to be followed. The whole work resolves itself into a delicate veil which swallows up the scattered family. We then see an exquisite nebula against whose opalescent tapestry the tiny animals gleam like twinkling orange stars.

This straggling state, though it last for hours, is but temporary. If the air grow cooler, if rain threaten, the spherical group reforms at once. This is a protective measure. On the morning after a shower, I find the families on either bamboo in as good condition as on the day before. The silk veil and the pill formation have sheltered them well enough from the downpour. Even so do Sheep, when caught in a storm in the pastures, gather close, huddle together and make a common rampart of their backs.

The assembly into a ball-shaped mass is also the rule in calm, bright weather, after the morning’s exertions. In the afternoon, the climbers collect at a higher point, where they weave a wide, conical tent, with the end of a shoot for its top, and, gathered into a compact group, spend the night there. Next day, when the heat returns, the ascent is resumed in long files, following the shrouds which a few pioneers have rigged and which those who come after elaborate with their own work.

Collected nightly into a globular troop and sheltered under a fresh tent, for three or four days, each morning, before the sun grows too hot, my little emigrants thus raise themselves, stage by stage, on both bamboos, until they reach the sun-unit, at fifteen feet above the ground. The climb comes to an end for lack of foothold.

Under normal conditions, the ascent would be shorter. The young Spiders have at their disposal the bushes, the brushwood, providing supports on every side for the threads wafted hither and thither by the eddying air-currents. With these rope-bridges flung across space, the dispersal presents no difficulties. Each emigrant leaves at his own good time and travels as suits him best.

My devices have changed these conditions somewhat. My two bristling poles stand at a distance from the surrounding shrubs, especially the one which I planted in the middle of the yard. Bridges are out of the question, for the threads flung into the air are not long enough. And so the acrobats, eager to get away, keep on climbing, never come down again, are impelled to seek in a higher position what they have failed to find in a lower. The top of my two bamboos probably fails to represent the limit of what my keen climbers are capable of achieving.

We shall see, in a moment, the object of this climbing-propensity, which is a sufficiently remarkable instinct in the Garden Spiders, who have as their domain the low-growing brushwood wherein their nets are spread; it becomes a still more remarkable instinct in the Lycosa, who, except at the moment when she leaves her mother’s back, never quits the ground and yet, in the early hours of her life, shows herself as ardent a wooer of high places as the young Garden Spiders.
Let us consider the Lycosa in particular. In her, at the moment of the exodus, a sudden instinct arises, to disappear, as promptly and for ever, a few hours later. This is the climbing-instinct, which is unknown to the adult and soon forgotten by the emancipated youngling, doomed to wander homeless, for many a long day, upon the ground. Neither of them dreams of climbing to the top of a grass-stalk. The full-grown Spider hunts trapper-fashion, ambushed in her tower; the young one hunts afoot through the scrubby grass. In both cases there is no web and therefore no need for lofty contact-points. They are not allowed to quit the ground and climb the heights.

Yet here we have the young Lycosa, wishing to leave the maternal abode and to travel far afield by the easiest and swiftest methods, suddenly becoming an enthusiastic climber. Impetuously she scales the wire trellis of the cage where she was born; hurriedly she clambers to the top of the tall mast which I have prepared for her. In the same way, she would make for the summit of the bushes in her waste-land.

We catch a glimpse of her object. From on high, finding a wide space beneath her, she sends a thread floating. It is caught by the wind and carries her hanging to it. We have our aeroplanes; she too possesses her flying-machine. Once the journey is accomplished, naught remains of this ingenious business. The climbing-instinct conies suddenly, at the hour of need, and no less suddenly vanishes.

The Spiders’ Exodus

Seeds, when ripened in the fruit, are disseminated, that is to say, scattered on the surface of the ground, to sprout in spots as yet unoccupied and fill the expanses that realize favourable conditions.

Amid the wayside rubbish grows one of the gourd family, Ecbalium elaterium, commonly called the squirting cucumber, whose fruit—a rough and extremely bitter little cucumber—is the size of a date. When ripe, the fleshy core resolves into a liquid in which float the seeds. Compressed by the elastic rind of the fruit, this liquid bears upon the base of the footstalk, which is gradually forced out, yields like a stopper, breaks off and leaves an orifice through which a stream of seeds and fluid pulp is suddenly ejected. If, with a novice hand, under a scorching sun, you shake the plant laden with yellow fruit, you are bound to be somewhat startled when you hear a noise among the leaves and receive the cucumber’s grapeshot in your face.

The fruit of the garden balsam, when ripe, splits, at the least touch, into five fleshy valves, which curl up and shoot their seeds to a distance. The botanical name of Impatiens given to the balsam alludes to this sudden dehiscence of the capsules, which cannot endure contact without bursting.

In the damp and shady places of the woods there exists a plant of the same family which, for similar reasons, bears the even more expressive name of Impatiens noli-me-tangere, or touch-me-not.

The capsule of the pansy expands into three valves, each scooped out like a boat and laden in the middle with two rows of seeds. When these valves dry, the edges shrivel, press upon the grains and eject them.

Light seeds, especially those of the order of Compositae, have aeronautic apparatus— tufts, plumes, fly-wheels—which keep them up in the air and enable them to take distant voyages. In this way, at the least breath, the seeds of the dandelion, surmounted by a tuft of feathers, fly from their dry receptacle and waft gently in the air.

Next to the tuft, the wing is the most satisfactory contrivance for dissemination by wind. Thanks to their membranous edge, which gives them the appearance of thin scales, the seeds of the yellow wall-flower reach high cornices of buildings, clefts of inaccessible rocks, crannies in old walls, and sprout in the remnant of mould bequeathed by the mosses that were there before them.

The samaras, or keys, of the elm, formed of a broad, light fan with the seed cased in its centre; those of the maple, joined in pairs and resembling the unfurled wings of a bird; those of the ash, carved like the blade of an oar, perform the most distant journeys when driven before the storm.
Like the plant, the insect also sometimes possesses travelling-apparatus, means of dissemination that allow large families to disperse quickly over the country, so that each member may have his place in the sun without injuring his neighbour; and these apparatus, these methods vie in ingenuity with the elm’s samara, the dandelion-plume and the catapult of the squirting cucumber.

Let us consider, in particular, the Epeirae, those magnificent Spiders who, to catch their prey, stretch, between one bush and the next, great vertical sheets of meshes, resembling those of the fowler. The most remarkable in my district is the Banded Epeira (Epeira fasciata, WALCK.), so prettily belted with yellow, black and silvery white. Her nest, a marvel of gracefulness, is a satin bag, shaped like a tiny pear. Its neck ends in a concave mouthpiece closed with a lid, also of satin. Brown ribbons, in fanciful meridian waves, adorn the object from pole to pole.

Open the nest. We have seen, in an earlier chapter, {28} what we find there; let us retell the story. Under the outer wrapper, which is as stout as our woven stuffs and, moreover, perfectly waterproof, is a russet eiderdown of exquisite delicacy, a silky fluff resembling driven smoke. Nowhere does mother-love prepare a softer bed.

In the middle of this downy mass hangs a fine, silk, thimble-shaped purse, closed with a movable lid. This contains the eggs, of a pretty orange-yellow and about five hundred in number.

All things considered, is not this charming edifice an animal fruit, a germ-casket, a capsule to be compared with that of the plants? Only, the Epeira’s wallet, instead of seeds, holds eggs. The difference is more apparent than real, for egg and grain are one.

How will this living fruit, ripening in the heat beloved of the Cicadae, manage to burst? How, above all, will dissemination take place? They are there in their hundreds. They must separate, go far away, isolate themselves in a spot where there is not too much fear of competition among neighbours. How will they set to work to achieve this distant exodus, weaklings that they are, taking such very tiny steps?

I receive the first answer from another and much earlier Epeira, whose family I find, at the beginning of May, on a yucca in the enclosure. The plant blossomed last year. The branching flower-stem, some three feet high, still stands erect, though withered. On the green leaves, shaped like a sword-blade, swarm two newly-hatched families. The wee beasties are a dull yellow, with a triangular black patch upon their stern. Later on, three white crosses, ornamenting the back, will tell me that my find corresponds with the Cross or Diadem Spider (Epeira diadema, WALCK.).

When the sun reaches this part of the enclosure, one of the two groups falls into a great state of flutter. Nimble acrobats that they are, the little Spiders scramble up, one after the other, and reach the top of the stem. Here, marches and countermarches, tumult and confusion reign, for there is a slight breeze which throws the troop into disorder. I see no connected manoeuvres. From the top of the stalk they set out at every moment, one by one; they dart off suddenly; they fly away, so to speak. It is as though they had the wings of a Gnat.

Forthwith they disappear from view. Nothing that my eyes can see explains this strange flight; for precise observation is impossible amid the disturbing influences out of doors. What is wanted is a peaceful atmosphere and the quiet of my study.

I gather the family in a large box, which I close at once, and instal it in the animals’ laboratory, on a small table, two steps from the open window. Apprised by what I have just seen of their propensity to resort to the heights, I give my subjects a bundle of twigs, eighteen inches tall, as a climbing-pole. The whole band hurriedly clambers up and reaches the top. In a few moments there is not one lacking in the group on high. The future will tell us the reason of this assemblage on the projecting tips of the twigs.

The little Spiders are now spinning here and there at random: they go up, go down, come up again. Thus is woven a light veil of divergent threads, a many-cornered web with the end of the branch for its summit and the edge of the table for its base, some eighteen inches wide. This veil is the drill-ground, the work-yard where the preparations for departure are made.

Here hasten the humble little creatures, running indefatigably to and fro. When the sun shines upon them, they become gleaming specks and form upon the milky background of the veil a sort of constellation, a reflex of those remote points in the sky where the telescope shows us endless galaxies of stars. The immeasurably small and the immeasurably large are alike in appearance. It is all a matter of distance.

But the living nebula is not composed of fixed stars; on the contrary, its specks are in continual movement. The young Spiders never cease shifting their position on the web. Many let themselves drop, hanging by a length of thread, which the faller’s weight draws from the spinnerets. Then quickly they climb up again by the same thread, which they wind gradually into a skein and lengthen by successive falls. Others confine themselves to running about the web and also give me the impression of working at a bundle of ropes.

The thread, as a matter of fact, does not flow from the spinneret; it is drawn thence with a certain effort. It is a case of extraction, not emission. To obtain her slender cord, the Spider has to move about and haul, either by falling or by walking, even as the ropemaker steps backwards when working his hemp. The activity now displayed on the drillground is a preparation for the approaching dispersal. The travellers are packing up.

Soon we see a few Spiders trotting briskly between the table and the open window. They are running in mid-air. But on what? If the light fall favourably, I manage to see, at moments, behind the tiny animal, a thread resembling a ray of light, which appears for an instant, gleams and disappears. Behind, therefore, there is a mooring, only just perceptible, if you look very carefully; but, in front, towards the window, there is nothing to be seen at all.
In vain I examine above, below, at the side; in vain I vary the direction of the eye: I can distinguish no support for the little creature to walk upon. One would think that the beastie were paddling in space. It suggests the idea of a small bird, tied by the leg with a thread and making a flying rush forwards.

But, in this case, appearances are deceptive: flight is impossible; the Spider must necessarily have a bridge whereby to cross the intervening space. This bridge, which I cannot see, I can at least destroy. I cleave the air with a ruler in front of the Spider making for the window. That is quite enough: the tiny animal at once ceases to go forward and falls. The invisible foot-plank is broken. My son, young Paul, who is helping me, is astounded at this wave of the magic wand, for not even he, with his fresh, young eyes, is able to see a support ahead for the Spiderling to move along.

In the rear, on the other hand, a thread is visible. The difference is easily explained. Every Spider, as she goes, at the same time spins a safety-cord which will guard the ropewalker against the risk of an always possible fall. In the rear, therefore, the thread is of double thickness and can be seen, whereas, in front, it is still single and hardly perceptible to the eye.

Obviously, this invisible foot-bridge is not flung out by the animal: it is carried and unrolled by a gust of air. The Epeira, supplied with this line, lets it float freely; and the wind, however softly blowing, bears it along and unwinds it. Even so is the smoke from the bowl of a pipe whirled up in the air.

This floating thread has but to touch any object in the neighbourhood and it will remain fixed to it. The suspension-bridge is thrown; and the Spider can set out. The SouthAmerican Indians are said to cross the abysses of the Cordilleras in travelling-cradles made of twisted creepers; the little Spider passes through space on the invisible and the imponderable.

But to carry the end of the floating thread elsewhither a draught is needed. At this moment, the draught exists between the door of my study and the window, both of which are open. It is so slight that I do not feel its; I only know of it by the smoke from my pipe, curling softly in that direction. Cold air enters from without through the door; warm air escapes from the room through the window. This is the drought that carries the threads with it and enables the Spiders to embark upon their journey.

I get rid of it by closing both apertures and I break off any communication by passing my ruler between the window and the table. Henceforth, in the motionless atmosphere, there are no departures. The current of air is missing, the skeins are not unwound and migration becomes impossible.

It is soon resumed, but in a direction whereof I never dreamt. The hot sun is beating on a certain part of the floor. At this spot, which is warmer than the rest, a column of lighter, ascending air is generated. If this column catch the threads, my Spiders ought to rise to the ceiling of the room.
The curious ascent does, in fact, take place. Unfortunately, my troop, which has been greatly reduced by the number of departures through the window, does not lend itself to prolonged experiment. We must begin again.

The next morning, on the same yucca, I gather the second family, as numerous as the first. Yesterday’s preparations are repeated. My legion of Spiders first weaves a divergent framework between the top of the brushwood placed at the emigrants’ disposal and the edge of the table. Five or six hundred wee beasties swarm all over this workyard.

While this little world is busily fussing, making its arrangements for departure, I make my own. Every aperture in the room is closed, so as to obtain as calm an atmosphere as possible. A small chafing-dish is lit at the foot of the table. My hands cannot feel the heat of it at the level of the web whereon my Spiders are weaving. This is the very modest fire which, with its column of rising air, shall unwind the threads and carry them on high.

Let us first enquire the direction and strength of the current. Dandelion-plumes, made lighter by the removal of their seeds, serve as my guides. Released above the chafingdish, on the level of the table, they float slowly upwards and, for the most part, reach the ceiling. The emigrants’ lines should rise in the same way and even better.

The thing is done: with the aid of nothing that is visible to the three of us looking on, a Spider makes her ascent. She ambles with her eight legs through the air; she mounts, gently swaying. The others, in ever-increasing numbers, follow, sometimes by different roads, sometimes by the same road. Any one who did not possess the secret would stand amazed at this magic ascent without a ladder. In a few minutes, most of them are up, clinging to the ceiling.

Not all of them reach it. I see some who, on attaining a certain height, cease to go up and even lose ground, although moving their legs forward with all the nimbleness of which they are capable. The more they struggle upwards, the faster they come down. This drifting, which neutralizes the distance covered and even converts it into a retrogression, is easily explained.

The thread has not reached the platform; it floats, it is fixed only at the lower end. As long as it is of a fair length, it is able, although moving, to bear the minute animal’s weight. But, as the Spider climbs, the float becomes shorter in proportion; and the time comes when a balance is struck between the ascensional force of the thread and the weight carried. Then the beastie remains stationary, although continuing to climb.

Presently, the weight becomes too much for the shorter and shorter float; and the Spider slips down, in spite of her persistent, forward striving. She is at last brought back to the branch by the falling threads. Here, the ascent is soon renewed, either on a fresh thread, if the supply of silk be not yet exhausted, or on a strange thread, the work, of those who have gone before.
As a rule, the ceiling is reached. It is twelve feet high. The little Spider is able, therefore, as the first product of her spinning-mill, before taking any refreshment, to obtain a line fully twelve feet in length. And all this, the rope-maker and her rope, was contained in the egg, a particle of no size at all. To what a degree of fineness can the silky matter be wrought wherewith the young Spider is provided! Our manufacturers are able to turn out platinum-wire that can only be seen when it is made red-hot. With much simpler means, the Spiderling draws from her wire-mill threads so delicate that, even the brilliant light of the sun does not always enable us to discern them.

We must not let all the climbers be stranded on the ceiling, an inhospitable region where most of them will doubtless perish, being unable to produce a second thread before they have had a meal. I open the window. A current of lukewarm air, coming from the chafing-dish, escapes through the top. Dandelion-plumes, taking that direction, tell me so. The wafting threads cannot fail to be carried by this flow of air and to lengthen out in the open, where a light breeze is blowing.

I take a pair of sharp scissors and, without shaking the threads, cut a few that are just visible at the base, where they are thickened with an added strand. The result of this operation is marvellous. Hanging to the flying-rope, which is borne on the wind outside, the Spider passes through the window, suddenly flies off and disappears. An easy way of travelling, if the conveyance possessed a rudder that allowed the passenger to land where he pleases! But the little things are at the mercy of the winds: where will they alight? Hundreds, thousands of yards away, perhaps. Let us wish them a prosperous journey.

The problem of dissemination is now solved. What would happen if matters, instead of being brought about by my wiles, took place in the open fields? The answer is obvious. The young Spiders, born acrobats and rope-walkers, climb to the top of a branch so as to find sufficient space below them to unfurl their apparatus. Here, each draws from her rope-factory a thread which she abandons to the eddies of the air. Gently raised by the currents that ascend from the ground warmed by the sun, this thread wafts upwards, floats, undulates, makes for its point of contact. At last, it breaks and vanishes in the distance, carrying the spinstress hanging to it.

The Epeira with the three white crosses, the Spider who has supplied us with these first data concerning the process of dissemination, is endowed with a moderate maternal industry. As a receptacle for the eggs, she weaves a mere pill of silk. Her work is modest indeed beside the Banded Epeira’s balloons. I looked to these to supply me with fuller documents. I had laid up a store by rearing some mothers during the autumn. So that nothing of importance might escape me, I divided my stock of balloons, most of which were woven before my eyes, into two sections. One half remained in my study, under a wire-gauze cover, with, small bunches of brushwood as supports; the other half were experiencing the vicissitudes of open-air life on the rosemaries in the enclosure.

These preparations, which promised so well, did not provide me with the sight which I expected, namely, a magnificent exodus, worthy of the tabernacle occupied. However, a few results, not devoid of interest, are to be noted. Let us state them briefly. The hatching takes place as March approaches. When this time comes, let us open the Banded Epeira’s nest with the scissors. We shall find that some of the youngsters have already left the central chamber and scattered over the surrounding eiderdown, while the rest of the laying still consists of a compact mass of orange eggs. The appearance of the younglings is not simultaneous; it takes place with intermissions and may last a couple of weeks.

Nothing as yet suggests the future, richly-striped livery. The abdomen is white and, as it were, floury in the front half; in the other half it is a blackish-brown. The rest of the body is pale-yellow, except in front, where the eyes form a black edging. When left alone, the little ones remain motionless in the soft, russet swan’s-down; if disturbed, they shuffle lazily where they are, or even walk about in a hesitating and unsteady fashion. One can see that they have to ripen before venturing outside.

Maturity is achieved in the exquisite floss that surrounds the natal chamber and fills out the balloon. This is the waiting-room in which the body hardens. All dive into it as and when they emerge from the central keg. They will not leave it until four months later, when the midsummer heats have come.

Their number is considerable. A patient and careful census gives me nearly six hundred. And all this comes out of a purse no larger than a pea. By what miracle is there room for such a family? How do those thousands of legs manage to grow without straining themselves?

The egg-bag, as we learnt in Chapter II., is a short cylinder rounded at the bottom. It is formed of compact white satin, an insuperable barrier. It opens into a round orifice wherein is bedded a lid of the same material, through which the feeble beasties would be incapable of passing. It is not a porous felt, but a fabric as tough as that of the sack. Then by what mechanism is the delivery effected?

Observe that the disk of the lid doubles back into a short fold, which edges into the orifice of the bag. In the same way, the lid of a saucepan fits the mouth by means of a projecting rim, with this difference, that the rim is not attached to the saucepan, whereas, in the Epeira’s work, it is soldered to the bag or nest. Well, at the time of the hatching, this disk becomes unstuck, lifts and allows the new-born Spiders to pass through.

If the rim were movable and simply inserted, if, moreover, the birth of all the family took place at the same time, we might think that the door is forced open by the living wave of inmates, who would set their backs to it with a common effort. We should find an approximate image in the case of the saucepan, whose lid is raised by the boiling of its contents. But the fabric of the cover is one with the fabric of the bag, the two are closely welded; besides, the hatching is effected in small batches, incapable of the least exertion. There must, therefore, be a spontaneous bursting, or dehiscence, independent of the assistance of the youngsters and similar to that of the seed-pods of plants. When fully ripened, the dry fruit of the snap-dragon opens three windows; that of the pimpernel splits into two rounded halves, something like those of the outer case of a fobwatch; the fruit of the carnation partly unseals its valves and opens at the top into a starshaped hatch. Each seed-casket has its own system of locks, which are made to work smoothly by the mere kiss of the sun.

Well, that other dry fruit, the Banded Epeira’s germ-box, likewise possesses its burstinggear. As long as the eggs remain unhatched, the door, solidly fixed in its frame, holds good; as soon as the little ones swarm and want to get out, it opens of itself.

Come June and July, beloved of the Cicadae, no less beloved of the young Spiders who are anxious to be off. It were difficult indeed for them to work their way through the thick shell of the balloon. For the second time, a spontaneous dehiscence seems called for. Where will it be effected?

The idea occurs off-hand that it will take place along the edges of the top cover. Remember the details given in an earlier chapter. The neck of the balloon ends in a wide crater, which is closed by a ceiling dug out cup-wise. The material is as stout in this part as in any other; but, as the lid was the finishing touch to the work, we expect to find an incomplete soldering, which would allow it to be unfastened.

The method of construction deceives us: the ceiling is immovable; at no season can my forceps manage to extract it, without destroying the building from top to bottom. The dehiscence takes place elsewhere, at some point on the sides. Nothing informs us, nothing suggests to us that it will occur at one place rather than another.

Moreover, to tell the truth, it is not a dehiscence prepared by means of some dainty piece of mechanism; it is a very irregular tear. Somewhat sharply, under the fierce heat of the sun, the satin bursts like the rind of an over-ripe pomegranate. Judging by the result, we think of the expansion of the air inside, which, heated by the sun, causes this rupture. The signs of pressure from within are manifest: the tatters of the torn fabric are turned outwards; also, a wisp of the russet eiderdown that fills the wallet invariably straggles through the breach. In the midst of the protruding floss, the Spiderlings, expelled from their home by the explosion, are in frantic commotion.

The balloons of the Banded Epeira are bombs which, to free their contents, burst under the rays of a torrid sun. To break they need the fiery heat-waves of the dog-days. When kept in the moderate atmosphere of my study, most of them do not open and the emergence of the young does not take place, unless I myself I have a hand in the business; a few others open with a round hole, a hole so neat that it might have been made with a punch. This aperture is the work of the prisoners, who, relieving one another in turns, have, with a patient tooth, bitten through the stuff of the jar at some point or other.

When exposed to the full force of the sun, however, on the rosemaries in the enclosure, the balloons burst and shoot forth a ruddy flood of floss and tiny animals. That is how things occur in the free sun-bath of the fields. Unsheltered, among the bushes, the wallet of the Banded Epeira, when the July heat arrives, splits under the effort of the inner air. The delivery is effected by an explosion of the dwelling.

A very small part of the family are expelled with the flow of tawny floss; the vast majority remain in the bag, which is ripped open, but still bulges with eiderdown. Now that the breach is made, any one can go out who pleases, in his own good time, without hurrying. Besides, a solemn action has to be performed before the emigration. The animal must cast its skin; and the moult is an event that does not fall on the same date for all. The evacuation of the place, therefore, lasts several days. It is effected in small squads, as the slough is flung aside.

Those who sally forth climb up the neighbouring twigs and there, in the full heat of the sun, proceed with the work of dissemination. The method is the same as that which we saw in the case of the Cross Spider. The spinnerets abandon to the breeze a thread that floats, breaks and flies away, carrying the rope-maker with it. The number of starters on any one morning is so small as to rob the spectacle of the greater part of its interest. The scene lacks animation because of the absence of a crowd.

To my intense disappointment, the Silky Epeira does not either indulge in a tumultuous and dashing exodus. Let me remind you of her handiwork, the handsomest of the maternal wallets, next to the Banded Epeira’s. It is an obtuse conoid, closed with a starshaped disk. It is made of a stouter and especially a thicker material than the Banded Epeira’s balloon, for which reason a spontaneous rupture becomes more necessary than ever.

This rupture is effected at the sides of the bag, not far from the edge of the lid. Like the ripping of the balloon, it requires the rough aid of the heat of July. Its mechanism also seems to work by the expansion of the heated air, for we again see a partial emission of the silky floss that fills the pouch.

The exit of the family is performed in a single group and, this time, before the moult, perhaps for lack of the space necessary for the delicate casting of the skin. The conical bag falls far short of the balloon in size; those packed within would sprain their legs in extracting them from their sheaths. The family, therefore, emerges in a body and settles on a sprig hard by.

This is a temporary camping-ground, where, spinning in unison, the youngsters soon weave an open-work tent, the abode of a week, or thereabouts. The moult is effected in this lounge of intersecting threads. The sloughed skins form a heap at the bottom of the dwelling; on the trapezes above, the flaylings take exercise and gain strength and vigour. Finally, when maturity is attained, they set out, now these, now those, little by little and always cautiously. There are no audacious flights on the thready airship; the journey is accomplished by modest stages.
Hanging to her thread, the Spider lets herself drop straight down, to a depth of nine or ten inches. A breath of air sets her swinging like a pendulum, sometimes drives her against a neighbouring branch. This is a step towards the dispersal. At the point reached, there is a fresh fall, followed by a fresh pendulous swing that lands her a little farther afield. Thus, in short tacks, for the thread is never very long, does the Spiderling go about, seeing the country, until she comes to a place that suits her. Should the wind blow at all hard, the voyage is cut short: the cable of the pendulum breaks and the beastie is carried for some distance on its cord.

To sum up, although, on the whole, the tactics of the exodus remain much the same, the two spinstresses of my region best-versed in the art of weaving mothers’ wallets failed to come up to my expectations. I went to the trouble of rearing them, with disappointing results. Where shall I find again the wonderful spectacle which the Cross Spider offered me by chance? I shall find it—in an even more striking fashion—among humbler Spiders, whom I had neglected to observe.