Spider Season

The spiders of Stonington— industrious creatures that they are—have been busy these days. Every morning the grass spiders have left dozens of their distinctive funnel webs at various locations on the ground and between the flowers of our flower beds. And other spiders, not to be outdone, have left more traditional radial webs on the eaves and railings, as well as the occasional plant.

The spider activity seems to increase as the temperatures cool, and their handiwork is even more noticeable on dewy mornings. Part of my daily activity involves knocking webs off the flowers, which otherwise would look totally mummified and covered in dried leaves and other debris in a few days. And walking just about anywhere poses a risk of stumbling into stray spiderwebbed filaments.

In fact, if you wanted to adopt a scary natural Halloween look, you’d just let the spiders spin their webs undisturbed. By the time Halloween rolled around you’d have a creepy, cobwebbed house and grounds suitable for a slasher flick.

Another Killer From Australia

Recently scientists announced that they discovered a new species of snake that is native to Australia. And here’s a shocker:  the snake is a killer.

With the warm and fuzzy name of Kimberley Death Adder, the newly discovered species is considered to be one of the most venomous snakes in the world.  It lies in wait, camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings, until an unwary victim stumbles into its area, and then it strikes and bites with its deadly fangs.  Before an antivenom was developed and made available, it killed or paralyzed about half of its human victims.

It’s no surprise, really, that the Kimberley Death Adder is one of the most dangerous snakes in the world.  In Australia, it’s par for the course.  Even though many Americans associate Australia with beer and charming accents, the world’s only country-continent is home to an extraordinary assortment of deadly creatures, ranging from man-eating Great White Sharks to killer crocodiles to venomous, paralyzing snails to huge birds with killer claws that can rip off an arm to loads of poisonous fish, jellyfish, and octopus species.  Even certain species of purportedly cuddly koalas can be deadly.  And, of course, Australia is well-represented on the top 10 deadly snake and top 10 venomous spider lists.  There’s a reason Crocodile Dundee carried around that huge knife.

Even though I’d probably be scared snotless the entire time I was there and would need to keep an eye out at all time for spiders, snakes, and dozens of other potential killers, I’d still like to visit Australia one day:  it just seems like the right thing to do.  I’ve wanted to check it out since Kish and I read In A Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson’s classic and hilarious book about his travels in Australia. Now there’s just one more creature waiting to knock me off when I finally make the long flight to the other side of the world.

The Leaping Range Of The Wolf Spider

Hen Island in Lake Erie is a spidery place.  You regularly see little spiders scurrying about in the corners of the old buildings, and if you walk around the island you need to be prepared to scrape some stray cobwebs from your arms or your face.

Coming face to face with a huge, hairy-legged monstrosity on a screened-in porch is quite another matter, however.

IMG_6282This beauty showed up on the porch on Saturday morning.  It was not quite as big as a tarantula — but close . . . appallingly, disgustingly close.  It was down by a baseboard, near a table leg, looking bigger than it actually was because it was a female spider toting an egg sac.  As our group of six or seven sat on our rockers, reading and chatting on a pretty morning, one member of the group noticed the spider.  Then, the conversation went something like this:

“Hey, look at the size of that spider.  Holy shit!”

“That’s a wolf spider.  It’s harmless.”

“You may be right, but my conscious mind refuses to believe that anything that looks like that is harmless.”

“Well, they can bite.”

“Yeah, but the bite is not poisonous.”

“It will still leave a pretty good welt.”

“I’ve heard that wolf spiders can leap ten feet.”

Wait . . . ten feet?  At that point everybody on the porch did a mental calculation of their range from the spider, which now looked suspiciously like it was crouching and ready to spring, and whether they were beyond the ten-foot zone of death.  I’m guessing that many of the rockers had the same thought I did — a mental image of a shaggy horror suddenly flying through the air, landing on their face, close enough so you can get a good look at the inhuman eyes and the slavering mandibles, and delivering a sharp, painful bite.  And if that bulging egg sac happened to burst at just that moment, releasing a horde of ravenous, biting baby spiders with Olympic-caliber leaping abilities into an enclosed area . . . .

At that point, getting a cup of coffee from the kitchen in the next building seemed like a really good idea.

One of the staffers eventually came and put the spider, which had remained blessedly huddled near the table, in a jar.  We all took a good look, then released it outside, feeling good and environmentally sensitive about letting the spider back into its habitat but nevertheless unsettled by our brush with the wild world.

The Perfect Creep-Out Description

A new species of tarantula has been discovered.  Nothing particularly extraordinary about that, except for its appalling size.

It’s much bigger than a normal tarantula.  The Sky News headline on the story announcing the find helpfully described the newly discovered venomous spider as “the size of a human face.”

Hey, thanks, Sky News!  That paints a compelling mental image!  Those of us who think spiders are creepy anyway appreciate knowing that this new shaggy, eight-legged nightmare could fully cover the front of our heads, from ear to ear and crown to chin.

You normally don’t think of measuring size by reference to a human face.  No one says, for example, that a particular dog is about “two human faces long” or that the new flat-screen TV is about four human faces in diameter.  When it comes to spiders, however, the human face measurement technique probably makes sense.  If you are in Sri Lanka, where the new species was discovered, and want to know whether the furry monstrosity laying eggs in your nostrils is a newly discovered tarantula, you can consider whether the creature covers the entire face or just reaches the eyebrow line before you are stung into oblivion.