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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Spider Magic

Air Date: Week of January 23, 1998

When she's not writing commentaries for us, Sy Montgomery is often busy making trips around the world researching and recording nature. But, recently she realized that some of the best encounters can take place right at home. Commentator Sy Montgomery comes to us courtesy of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Transcript

CURWOOD: When she's not writing commentaries for us, Sy Montgomery is often busy making trips around the world researching and recording nature. But on one recent journey she realized that some of the best encounters can take place right at home.

MONTGOMERY: In a little bunk house on the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh, my friend Diane woke me up suddenly at 2AM. "Sy," she cried, "look at this!" She shined her flashlight on the mirror. The object of her alarm nearly covered the opposite wall. It was the giant shadow of a spider. The actual spider was only about the size of my fist, and once I got over the shock of being awake I was delighted to see it. We'd come here trying to watch predators tigers, actually but despite many days of searching hadn't seen a single one. Now, here, right in our room, was a predator par excellence. I knew if we watched it for just a few hours, we would see an extraordinary hunter at work.

In 4 trips around the world I've only seen 4 tigers, 3 of whom were just lying there. But in the safety and comfort of your own house you can witness some of nature's most dramatic moments. In an hour, usually early morning, you can watch a typical spider weave its web from start to finish. It's made of liquid protein changed to solid silk by the very action of pulling it out of its body with its back legs. To make it sticky, some spiders lay down drops of glue here and there. Others fluff up certain strands to make a natural velcro to tangle the hairs and legs of insects.

The spider doesn't get caught in its own web because of oils on its feet, and it's careful to stay on the non-sticky part. Spiders eat the sticky strands and re-make them every day.

Admittedly, some people find spiders unappealing. Their heads are covered with eyes, fangs, and legs. To make things worse, the spider's sucking stomach is located in its head, not its abdomen. As Winnifred Duncan put it in her book Webs in the Wind: “A spider's face is pretty awful until you get fond of it.” In fact, in the 1940s, Duncan herself grew so fond of spiders she took to capturing outdoor spiders to let them loose inside her house. That way she could more easily observe them as they wove their webs and stalked their prey in her bedroom curtains, on the hat rack, and along her bedside table.

Seeking hints for better spider watching, I called up Herbert Levi, author of Spiders and Their Kin. His advice for good spider-watching: “Don't keep your house too clean.” That's another reason to love spiders. They provide an excellent excuse for not vacuuming.

CURWOOD: Commentator Sy Montgomery comes to us courtesy of New Hampshire Public Radio.

 

 

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