Not quite the World Wide Web

Spiders this year are definitely making their presence known

September would be an ideal time to hike the woods or chore around the yard if it were not for spiders. Everywhere I go I strangle in spider webs. They string their guy wires across any open space between trees, bushes, fireweed, and from every eave. I’ve even driven off to town with a spider bouncing on his web strung from the side mirror to the truck box. Very distracting.

I encounter spider tension cables strung across the garden gate, the greenhouse door, among vines of tomato plants. When I step into the greenhouse carrying the hose, spiders scramble to the farthest height of their web. I could wipe them down, or kill them, but they control flies and other creepy crawlies while appeasing their hunger.

Each window has its own occupant. In the morning when I open the bedroom curtain, I face a creature big as a lobster. A smaller specimen has been trapped for two weeks between the screen and the window over the kitchen sink. He rarely moves. I don’t see anything for him to eat. Yet he refuses to leave when the window is open.

Spiders are fun to observe. Toss a beetle into a web and see how swiftly that beetle is trussed with swathing bands until it can’t wriggle. Some spiders finish the job with a paralyzing injection.

How quickly can a spider distinguish potential dinner from trash or an intruder? Drop a bit of grass blade into a web. The spider will speed to the location, determine the grass to be useless as well as harmless, and in an effort to get rid of the offending object, vibrate the web in a blur matching the wings of a hovering hummingbird.

But walking my dogs along trails criss-crossed by webs is what I dislike most. Gossamer webs pin my arms, gag my mouth, cling to my bifocals. Finding an eight-legged blob stomping down my t-shirt makes me shiver though I know they won’t bite: they hop off as soon as they realize I’m a hostile host.

My dogs are too short to sweep away any webs. Mushroom pickers are no help either; they meander through the trees where no dogwalker ever goes.

Consequently I fan the air before me with a stalk of fireweed like a lackey preceding a maharajah riding in his elephant carriage. Anyone watching from a distance might deem me demented … until they try heading out along the trail 30 minutes after anyone’s passed by.

Facing west into the afternoon sun, their concentric circles are plain to see and duck. But on the twisting trails between trees where sun seldom penetrates the canopy, the walker is ambushed every few feet. The strength and clingability of the webs are out of all proportion to their filament appearance. I’m still brushing off webs long after I’ve run into one.

Wikipedia says spiders produce five or more types of thread each with a special purpose:

“Dropline silk for letting the spider drop down while building. Also used for quick getaways from danger.

Dragline silk for the web’s outer rim, spokes and lifeline. Per weight, can be as strong as steel but tougher. (When dragline silks are exposed to water, they undergo supercontraction, shrinking up to 50 per cent in length and behaving like a weak rubber under tension. It has been hypothesized this is to automatically tension web built in the night using the morning dew.

Capture-spiral silk for capture lines. Extremely stretchy and tough.

Aciniform silk used to wrap and secure freshly captured prey. Two to three times as tough as the other silks including dragline.

And a special silk used as temporary scaffolding during web construction.”

Spiders and their  pesky webs will disappear with cold weather.


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