We are in between autumns at the moment – the meteorological one, which started on the 1st Sept and the astronomical one, which begins on the 22nd. Whichever you set your calendar by, the days, and the mornings especially, are definitely autumnal. I love the heavy dews, the misty blankets and nature’s most delicate of decorations – the spider’s webs. It is the dew at this time of year that highlights these beautiful structures, although spiders are particularly busy this month.
The spiders commonly seen outside now are garden orb web spiders, Araneus spp., and they are the designers and builders of the large, roughly circular silk webs, suspended vertically from the stems and foliage of plants.
They have a seasonal timetable. They hatch in the spring, lie low in the summer to avoid being eaten and the survivors are now mature enough to spin their webs in order to catch food, and attract a mate.
Many orb-weavers build a new web each day. Generally, towards evening, the spider will consume the old web, rest for approximately an hour, then spin a new web in the same general location.
World Wide Web
The spider web is made from a liquid protein inside the spider’s body that hardens to polymer when exposed to air. Garden spiders build orb webs by putting their abdomen to the night air and emit webbing into the wind until it attaches to some distant thing. They strengthen the first key strand several times, then use it as a highway between points, building a framework of sticky silk. Once the framework is in place, they begin spiral construction, keeping in touch with the previous strand by a leg and thus maintaining the nearly perfect, structures that we admire in the morning dew.
The silk in a spider’s web is five times stronger than a strand of steel that is the same thickness and a web made of strands of spider silk as thick as a pencil could stop a Boeing 747 jumbo jet in flight. Scientists still cannot replicate the strength and elasticity of a spider’s silk
Apparently, different drugs affect the way spiders spin their webs. Studies have shown that spiders on LSD spin beautiful webs, while spiders on caffeine spin terrible webs. Something to ponder as you drink your morning coffee and plan the day ahead!
I Spider …
Apparently the recent mild weather will lead to a ‘good spider season’; not good news for the arachnophobes. Oh, and did I mention they will also be a bit bigger too as the mild weather also provides more insects for the spiders to dine on.
As a kid I recall my nan having to get big spiders out of my room with a tissue. Inevitably after a few too many sherries, she would drop them before getting them out of the room, which would result in me sitting up all night wide-eyed and terrified! Later, when working on site in my early 20’s, I had the awful misfortune of the lads learning that I was afraid of spiders, so they would end up in my lunch box, my bag and boots. It was then that I decided I couldn’t afford to be afraid of them anymore and just talked myself out of the irrational fear.
Hypnotherapy is the most popular way to overcome a fear of spiders and it is so common that Bristol Zoo Gardens offer a course, called ‘Living with Spiders’. This is delivered jointly by Greg Nejedly (a hypnotherapist at the Hypnotherapy Bristol Practice) and a member of the Zoo Education team, and takes place in the zoo’s Conservation Education Centre on Guthrie Road, opposite Clifton College. More details at www.bristolzoo.org.uk/whats-on/living-with-spiders
Did You Know?
- The word “spider” comes from the Old English word ‘spithra’ and is related to the German ‘spinne’, both of which mean ‘spinner.’ The word ‘spinster’ is also related and means ‘one who spins thread’.
- Cobwebs are simply abandoned spider webs; the word ‘cob’ is an obsolete word meaning ‘spider’.
- An estimated 1 million spiders live in one acre of land. It is estimated that a human is never more than 10 feet away from a spider—ever.
- A spider’s muscles pull its legs inward, but cannot extend its legs out again. Instead, it must pump a watery liquid into its legs to push them out. A dead spider’s legs are curled up because there is no fluid to extend the legs again.
- Spiders have blue blood. In humans, oxygen is bound to haemoglobin, a molecule that contains iron and gives blood its red colour. In spiders, oxygen is bound to hemocyanin, a molecule that contains copper rather than iron.
- House spiders are able to run up walls because their feet are covered in tiny hairs that grip the surface. But they can’t get out of a bathtub because the surface is too slippery for hairy feet.