The Life of the Spider HTML version

The Garden Spiders: Pairing And Hunting
Notwithstanding the importance of the subject, I shall not enlarge upon the nuptials of the
Epeirae, grim natures whose loves easily turn to tragedy in the mystery of the night. I
have but once been present at the pairing and for this curious experience I must thank my
lucky star and my fat neighbour, the Angular Epeira, whom I visit so often by lantern-
light. Here you have it.
It is the first week of August, at about nine o’clock in the evening, under a perfect sky, in
calm, hot weather. The Spider has not yet constructed her web and is sitting motionless
on her suspension-cable. The fact that she should be slacking like this, at a time when
her building-operations ought to be in full swing, naturally astonishes me. Can
something unusual be afoot?
Even so. I see hastening up from the neighbouring bushes and embarking on the cable a
male, a dwarf, who is coming, the whipper-snapper, to pay his respects to the portly
giantess. How has he, in his distant corner, heard of the presence of the nymph ripe for
marriage? Among the Spiders, these things are learnt in the silence of the night, without
a summons, without a signal, none knows how.
Once, the Great Peacock, {32} apprised by the magic effluvia, used to come from miles
around to visit the recluse in her bell-jar in my study. The dwarf of this evening, that
other nocturnal pilgrim, crosses the intricate tangle of the branches without a mistake and
makes straight for the rope-walker. He has as his guide the infallible compass that brings
every Jack and his Jill together.
He climbs the slope of the suspension-cord; he advances circumspectly, step by step. He
stops some distance away, irresolute. Shall he go closer? Is this the right moment? No.
The other lifts a limb and the scared visitor hurries down again. Recovering from his
fright, he climbs up once more, draws a little nearer. More sudden flights, followed by
fresh approaches, each time nigher than before. This restless running to and fro is the
declaration of the enamoured swain.
Perseverance spells success. The pair are now face to face, she motionless and grave, he
all excitement. With the tip of his leg, he ventures to touch the plump wench. He has
gone too far, daring youth that he is! Panic-stricken, he takes a header, hanging by his
safety-line. It is only for a moment, however. Up he comes again. He has learnt, from
certain symptoms, that we are at last yielding to his blandishments.
With his legs and especially with his palpi, or feelers, he teases the buxom gossip, who
answers with curious skips and bounds. Gripping a thread with her front tarsi, or fingers,
she turns, one after the other, a number of back somersaults, like those of an acrobat on
the trapeze. Having done this, she presents the under-part of her paunch to the dwarf and
allows him to fumble at it a little with his feelers. Nothing more: it is done.