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home : columns : columns May 2, 2016

6/11/2013 1:32:00 PM
Misunderstood creatures
Here’s lookin’at ya,’ a tiny, baby jumping spider.  photo by Jim Anderson
+ click to enlarge
Here’s lookin’at ya,’ a tiny, baby jumping spider. photo by Jim Anderson

By Jim Anderson

There I was, sitting at my MacBook working on a new story when suddenly, without warning or fanfare, a lovely little jumping spider leaped onto my finger and sat there staring at me.

The majority of adults that I know who find spiders "repulsive," "poisonous," and a "threat to life-and-limb," would have jumped out of their skin, probably gone off screaming and started spraying chemicals all over the place.

There is only one spider living in Sisters Country that can hurt you - the infamous black widow (female). The much-feared hobo spider is really not nearly as "deadly" as it's made out to be, and if the brown recluse shows up, it was transported here from Texas or Kansas in someone's furniture.

All the others - including the much-maligned bathtub spiders - are doing things for you (destroying the insects that eat our clothes for one), not to you, and that includes the colorfully attractive jumping spiders.

Jumping spiders are in the family Salticidae, which contains more than 500 described genera with about 5,000 species. They have some of the best vision among invertebrates and use it in courtship, hunting, and navigation, and have four pairs of eyes, with one pair being the particularly large anterior median eyes. There is no other spider less harmful to man than the jumpers.

A week before, a diminutive juvenile cellar spider dropped out of nowhere - hanging tight to her silken lines - landing right on the back of my hand, and a week before that a newly hatched orb-web spider dropped in on my keyboard. The only explanation I can come up with for this splendid variety of eight-legged guests is the lovely warm weather and my leaving the doors and windows wide open for guests to drop in.

Spiders have been a fascinating life-form to me ever since my grandfather cured me of having a horrifying case of the willies, and scaring the living daylights out of myself, when, at about 10 years of age, I'd have huge orb-weaver's webs - spiders-and-all - plastered across my face when I was picking raspberries on the family farm in Connecticut.

I'd go screaming and crying to my grandfather, pleading with him to never send me to pick berries again. But, being the person Benjamin Franklin Rockefeller was, he'd take me on his knee and we'd discuss this spider fear of mine.

"Puffy" was the nickname we had for Grampa, because he was always puffing on his pipe. In answer to my pleas, he said, "Let's go down to the raspberry patch and see what those spiders are all about."

We sat there on the ground - Grampa puffing away on his pipe - watching the huge, colorful orb-weavers wrapping insects in silken sacks as they stumbled into her huge web.

I was encouraged to identify each insect, then asked to comment on the role of this-or-that prey item. Sure enough, I found mosquitoes, wasps, moths, flies of all kinds, and even a cabbage butterfly in the web -and they are not friends of Man.

As we sat watching the interaction of spider and prey, I found them so fascinating I let them into my life.

From that day on, I looked at spiders in a different light and with life-long curiosity that grew in my adult years into an exciting world of surprises.

In the early '70s I took a trip to Australia just to see and learn more about the magnificent "bird spiders" that weave an enormous silken snare so large and strong that birds actually were ensnared.

So, all those little guys in my office did when they dropped in was prick my curiosity and thankfulness that they were there for me to enjoy. That's why I shouted to my wife, Sue - a skilled photographer of butterflies and birds - to bring her Canon and macro lens to capture the images of all those little guys and gals.

In parting, may I suggest you take a trip to our library and check out "Charlotte's Web," authored by American novelist, E. B. White, with beautiful illustrations by Garth Williams. Sit out in the yard by yourself, with your kids, or grandkids and enjoy the adventures of Charlotte and her friends.

If you sit quiet enough, you may have a tiny, newly hatched Charlotte drop in on you; this is the time of year their tiny, baby orb webs are large enough to be noticed. Place her in a safe place outside near a window so you can watch as she grows; dining upon insect pests.

Maybe you'll have a different approach to these magnificent, misunderstood creatures.

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