Wildlife & Nature to See in October : SpidersOk, I realise that not everybody is a fan but this column is my attempt to wrestle with arachnophobia and help gain the spider some much needed good press.
Wildlife to See in October : Spiders
Early autumn can often feel like a quiet time for wildlife – summer migrants long gone, mammals starting to think about hibernating – but my garden is teeming with life. Creepy crawly life. Ok, I realise that not everybody is a fan, (even I get caught off-guard sometimes by one in the bathroom), but this column is my attempt to wrestle with arachnophobia and help gain the spider some much needed good press. Even as I type, there’s a smug-looking spider outside the window, in the centre of his web (an orb web- or series of rings around a central point), who every now and then catches an aphid or tiny fly, and of course (apart from the legs) it is the web that sets the spider apart from other species. Produced from glands near the abdomen, the web is a string of protein, (fibroin to be exact) so fine that the human eye can only see it because of the light it reflects. The further spider silk is examined by scientists, the more impressive it turns out to be. It is full of chemicals to prevent decay, such as acidic Potassium Hydrogen Phosphate to stop fungus or bacteria growth. The elasticity of the silk is what makes it so difficult for insects to break, the webbing of the orb web spider Araneus diadematus is very elastic and can be stretched 30 – 40% before it breaks. Steel can be stretched only 8% and nylon around 20%. It is said that a web with a 3cm radius could stop a Boeing 747 in full flight.
Impressed yet? For those of you still not convinced, I asked the lovely people at Bugwatch what they thought about our arachnid neighbours. Matt Shardlow said, “On dewy autumn mornings we can see the full intricate details of the thousands of spider webs that bedeck bushes and grass. There are over 400 different species of web building spider and each species builds a subtly unique web. Giant orb-webs span paths and between bushes while thousands of tiny money spider hammocks sit close to the foliage of bushes and in amongst the grass at our feet. As the sun breaks through the lace work fades away. While now less of a spectacle for us, for the spider this is a benefit – highly visible webs are not good traps.”
In fact, for beating any bug-related phobias, I would suggest the Buglife website (http://www.buglife.org.uk/) as a first port of call. Hearing from people so committed to and passionate about invertebrates can really change your point of view. (Besides which, occasionally Yours Truly writes an article for them.) Current spider-related projects include artist Sheila Tilmouth photographing Fen Spiders for display in October, and for the kids there’s a “Love Spiders” page with various fun activities.
Many arachnophobes claim not to “see the point” of spiders, so it might come as a shock that webs have been used world-wide for the following:
- Fishing line
- Waterproof hats
- Tobacco bags
- Telescopic gun parts
With silk entering daily life, it’s no wonder spiders have influenced cultures around the world. West African and Caribbean culture celebrated Anasai – the Spiderman of his day, who was the keeper of stories. Ted Hughes sees his daughter as “a spider’s web, tense for the dew’s touch”, in The Full Moon and Little Frieda. Of course there was the Incy Wincy Spider, and I personally have vivid memories of crying myself to sleep over the death of Charlotte in ‘Charlotte’s Web’. There’s even a song by No Doubt called ‘Spiderwebs’ (although I’m not sure it’s got much to do with invertebrates.), and that’s without mentioning all the day-to-day references to spiders, see: a web of lies, dusting the cobwebs off and the World Wide Web.
So ingenious, strong, influential and unique. Spiders, I salute you. (Just please stay out of the towel cupboard).