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!
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
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
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!