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      Spiders in the Garden

How many of you, if given the opportunity, would just as soon step on a spider as not? We are writing this article on spiders to see if we can encourage everyone to look at spiders in a new and beneficial light. Most folks see spiders as gross, scary, yukky or dangerous. We think folks should see them as one of the hardest workers in the garden, and therefore, deserving of many places - Honorable places, no less- in everyone's garden and home!spider

We recently had a grant, courtesy of the California Energy Commission, to study a more wholistic way to produce artichokes. Part of this study involved the observation and classification of a variety of critters, not the least of which is our friend, the spider.

The fellow doing the data collection is a crazy guy named Will Allen, an anthropologist- turned- farmer- turned- bug watcher. He hung out in the artichoke patch wearing a backwards baseball cap and armed himself with a bug sweep, magnifying glasses, cameras and mason jars. Will would study a wild thistle or an artichoke plant for an hour at a time, maybe more! Any spider stalking prey was apt to encounter a most unfamiliar sight: the grossly enlarged big green eye of Wilie peering curiously at it through a magnifying lens.

All of this sounds rather comical, and it was! We three were having way too much fun studying these eight legged marvels! What was even more exciting was the information we found out about the... (tympani roll, please!) Guardians of the Garden

According to Bill and Helga Olkowski of Bio-Integral Research Center in Berkeley, the Chinese report that arachnids are responsible for about 80% of the biological control in the garden. Not bad for a critter who gets offed as often as not! Next time you are tempted to step on a spider Don't Do It! Give him or her AND your garden a break!

Remind yourself that spiders are part and parcel of a complex food chain! They consume such morsels as grasshoppers, beetles, wasps, moths, flies, mosquitoes, wood lice, small scorpions- in short, they will eat anything that doesn't eat them first. When something else does eat them, that "something" could be anything like frogs, toads, lizards, birds, certain beetles, ants, centipedes, shrews and parasitic wasps and flies.

Instead of disrupting the food chain, wish Mr. Spider a long and happy life with a fertile spider wife and many offspring! Tip your hat to the entire garden community and wish them all, in their turn Bon Apetit!

Instead of busily detroying spiders and their webs, we should again resort to observation and appreciation of the species. Got half an hour to play? Mosey out to the garden and park yourself on the ground. Open your eyes and look to see what you can see.

Different spiders weave different webs. How many different webs did you see? Did the "Felix Unger" of the spider world weave it or did the "Oscar Madison"? Is it symetrical or asymetrical? Is it a sheet web or an orb web, a lace web, a purse web, a funnel web, or a trap door? Is it horizontal or vertical? Is the spider on the web or hidden? Notice the craftsmanship, the intricacy and the uniqueness of each web. Imagine the patience it takes to spin a web. What has been snared in the web? What future culinary delights rest within silken prisons. Imagine yourself with spinnarets (the spider's silk spinning apparatus) coming out of your backside! What sort of web would you be inclined to spin? How long would it take?

A tidbit for your trivia file is that web building spiders have poor eyesight. Nature compensates for this by giving them a good sense of touch and/or smell. They rely on their webs to snag dinner for them. When dinner hits the web, they feel the vibration if they are connected to their web by a signal line. If they actually live on the web they know what's for dinner by the way the web vibrates! Yo! Pretty incredible! Imagine being able to tell what's for dinner when it hits your front door!

Hunting spiders don't spin webs, but cruise the garden looking for food. If you are into mountain climbing, watch the jumping spiders rappel from plant to prey. Willie was hanging in the "chokes" one day and saw a half inch spider jump over a foot. That's the equivalent of you doing a 132 foot standing broad jump AND being alive after you land to take a bow! Hunters and jumpers have very keen eyesight. They rely on that sight and speed to eat; other times that same sight and speed keeps them from being eaten.

Different spider species have different mating techniques and etiquettes! Hunters and jumpers do intricate dances where the males wave their front legs or their pedipalps or both to get the female's attention. Web-builders twang on the female's web; when she comes thither for dinner, the male drops out of sight so it won't be him. He repeats the twang and disappear routine until she descends beside him on a special mating thread. The nursery web spider brings the female dinner to distract her while he mates her. Anyone out there want to imagine that one?

All in all we think the spider is pretty awesome! We hope you'll begin to cultivate a more positive relationship between yourself and the spiders you share garden and house with. If a spider shows up in your bathtub or sink, relocate instead of annihilate. Put into operation the Spider Relocation Program and give some outdoor plant the benefit of your indoor spider. Voila! creative, non-violent co-existence!