168

A SKILLFUL SPINNER

   Have you ever watched the cunning spider as she makes the strong silken nest for her eggs and spins her pretty lace snares in the corner of your room or across the windowpane?
   As you see her at work, you may wonder what use she can possibly have for so many legs; for there are eight of them in all, and if you look at them closely, you will see that they are many-jointed, and covered with stiff hairs.
   Ah, the poor fly that is caught in her snare would explain it to you, if he could only speak; for, as she glares at him with her eight beadlike eyes, she

 

169

weaves him a shroud, at the same time, with her eight busy feet.
   Her third pair of legs are the shortest, and with these she holds the helpless insect and turns him over and over,—upon his face and upon his back, just whichever pleases her best; in fact, she seems to use these short legs in the place of hands.
   The silken thread with which she shrouds the fly is drawn from some small tubes upon the under side of her abdomen, very near the end.
   These tubes are the spinnerets, or spools, out of which flows a clear, sticky fluid. She draws out this fluid in a very fine stream and guides it with her hind pair of feet. The air dries and hardens it at once, and it then becomes a fine, silken thread.
   When the spinning tubes are kept apart, many single threads may be formed; but when they are held close together, they are all blended into one band.
   As she pulls it out,—not “hand over hand” exactly, but “foot over foot,” she winds it round and round the body of the poor fly, till it can not help itself at all.
   Then she hangs it up in her web, to suck its

 

170

juices whenever she gets hungry. If anything touches her web, she knows it at once; and draws in all her feet towards her body, so as to tighten the threads of her snare.
   So you see she does have use for every one of those eight bristly legs of hers, after all.
   You have already learned that the body of an insect is divided into three parts; but if you look closely at a spider, you will see that the head is joined to the thorax, without any neck between them.
   So we may not speak of the spider as an insect. There are a few insects that have not a very long neck, but their heads are not set closely to the thorax like that of the spider.
   The eyes of a spider are usually eight in number; and they are placed on the top of the head in two rows, with four eyes in each row. Spiders can not move their eyes; but they have so many of them that they can look in all directions at once.
   The mouth parts of a spider consists of an upper and a lower lip, and two pairs of strong jaws. The two upper jaws are placed side by side; and the two lower jaws are set close together in the same way.
   The upper jaws are curved, and are quite stiff and horny. These jaws are the spider’s fangs; and

 

171

at the base of each fang there is a small sac that is filled with poison.
   The lower pair of jaws is smaller than the upper pair, and not quite as strong.
   On each side of the lower pair of jaws there is a five-jointed member that looks something like a spider’s leg, only it is very much shorter; these are its feelers, and with these short feelers it seizes its prey.
   At the end of each bristly leg, there is a claw, well covered with stiff hairs; and with these hair-covered claws the spider can creep up a very smooth wall.
   But if it wants to get down from a high wall, or from the branch of a tree, it fastens one end of a thread there, and then lets itself down to the ground.
   Nearly all spiders build snares; but the mother spider makes a much better net than that of her mate. Once in awhile a father and a mother spider may be found living in the same web; but this does not often happen.
   Young spiders spin very small webs, but their work is perfect.

 

172

   Many of the webs that we see are round in form; and the spiders that make them are called orb weavers, because the word “orb” means “circle.”
   And now let us learn something about the work of the little weaver.
   When this spider finds a good place for her orb, she first spins some strong lines to make a framework; this framework often has four sides, and sometimes it has even more, and the lines of which it is spun are made up of five or six silken threads.
   Then across this framework, she spins a few strong lines, from corner to corner. Now her foundation is laid; and from its center, she spins a number of fine threads, and fastens the end of each thread to the sides of her framework.
   These fine threads stretch out from the center of the web, somewhat as the spokes of a wheel reach toward the hub; but they are not always the same distance apart from one another. These threads are called the rays of the web.
   Now she begins at the center again, and spins a thread across the rays; and as she goes round and round toward the outside lines of her framework, she glues her threads to each fine ray. These threads are called spiral lines, because they wind round and round.

 

173

   But her web is not yet complete; for she must now spin some more spiral lines in the spaces between those that are already done, and these last threads that she spins are covered with small gluey specks that look like little beads.
   Ah, it is these small, sticky beads that hold the poor insects fast when they chance to light upon the snare.
   And now Mistress Spider is ready to take her place on the web, where, with head downward, she awaits her prey. It will not be very long before a fly or a moth will venture to step upon one of the silken threads.
   Then it will struggle to free itself, and the gluey beads of the fine spiral lines will melt upon its wings or upon its legs, and Mistress Spider will see to the rest.
   She has already woven her egg case; it is a round silken cocoon, and she guards it with great care. Sometimes it is made fast to the corner of a window near where she spins her web.
   Some spiders carry the cocoon about with them; and when the young spiders are hatched out, they ride about upon their mother’s back.
   Spiders molt, or cast off their skins, six times before they become full-grown; so when they get their seventh suit, that is the last.

 

174

   Many spiders hide themselves away during the winter months; and that is why they are so often seen spinning their webs so early in the spring.
   Although most spiders do not live more than a year, yet some kinds have been known to live much longer.
   The spiders that we see about us, in outhouses, in garden, and fields, are harmless creatures; they will not bite us; and even if they should nip us with their small jaws, it would do us no harm.
   And they can build rafts and sail upon the water; and they can throw out threads upon the air and make little balloons that will carry them up as high as the top of a tall tree.
   They can even build silken bridges across streams; and do many wonderful things, as we shall find out if we watch them.

 

175


 

A DEVOTED
MOTHER

   And now let me tell you about a very large spider named the ta-ran´-tu-la.
   She lived in a wooden box, having a glass cover; but she did not stay there from choice, for she was a prisoner.
   When she was at home, she led a wandering life and ran about over rocks and stones in the woods and fields in search of her prey.
   She has some relations that live in holes in the ground, and that line the walls of their underground homes with silken curtains of their own spinning. And there are others

 

176

among them that close the top of their holes with a round trapdoor that is both lined and hinged with strong silk.
   Both the body and the legs of this tarantula were covered with short, stiff hairs of a dark-brown color; and the joints of her legs were so clear that they looked like thin scales of mica.
   Like all other spiders, she was an ugly hunchback; for the head and body were joined together without any neck between them.
   On the top of her head were eight, beadlike eyes, arranged in double rows; and she had strong, sharp jaws, with a poison fang at the base; and hidden within her head was a small poison gland.
   She knew well how to use her ugly jaws; for when a living insect was thrown into her cage she would pounce upon it fiercely. Then she would tear its wings from its body, and crush it between her jaws without farther delay.
   One day a dead and withered locust was given her; and when she saw that it was hard and dry, she carried it to her dish of water and soaked it well before she tried to eat it. How could she know that dry crusts are made softer by being soaked in water?
   Very soon after this, Mrs. Tarantula began to spin some soft white threads across the inside

 

177

cover of her box. These threads she fastened, here and there, with a little tuft of silk, so that the whole thing looked very much like a patch of thin, dotted muslin, only that it was finer and more glossy.
   This was the foundation of her cocoon; and when it was well laid, she deposited her eggs there, and inclosed them with a closely-spun covering.
   The cocoon was nearly round in form, and as white and glossy as a white satin cushion.
   When it was completed, she placed her body over it, and stretched out her eight long legs, so that her feet pressed closely against the foundation lines of her egg case.
   From that time, she would neither eat nor drink, and if she ever slept at all, it must have been with one eye closed, and the other seven eyes wide open.
   It was in vain to try to tempt her with large juicy insects, or with any other rare dainties of the kind; for her motherly heart was dead to everything in the world excepting the care of that precious egg basket.
   Every day the cocoon increased in size; and every day the faithful sentinel that guarded it grew weaker.

 

178

   And finally, after she had fasted for two whole months, she was no longer able to hold herself upon the nest; and one day she fell to the bottom of the box, too weak and helpless to move a limb; and in a few hours more this devoted mother spider was dead.
   I am sorry to tell you that the eggs did not hatch out; the young spiders within the cocoon must have died through the lack of warmth that their mother’s body would have furnished them, if she had remained alive.
   But had they lived, there doubtless would have been a very large family of them; for the tarantula spider lays as many as one hundred eggs at one time.
   And had this mother spider been permitted to hatch her brood in her own nest, instead of in a close wooden box, it is very likely that she would not have died; for some spiders of this kind have been known to reach the age of seven or eight years.
   The home of this tarantula was in the southern part of the United States; but such spiders are often brought into northern markets, concealed among clusters of fruit, and so they may sometimes be seen and studied far away from their native haunts.

part 20    BACK