The Life of the Spider HTML version

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 egg-
bag, 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.