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Stupendous Spiders

Eight legs and eight eyes

Spun a web and caught three flies


What comes to your mind when someone says the word “spider” to you? Long hairy legs and sticky webs? A scary little creature lurking in some deep dark corner?

If you, like many people, don’t like spiders, that’s quite understandable since spiders rarely get much positive press. But I can guarantee that if you make a little effort to get to know spiders better, you will gradually get fascinated – and may even end up a bit obsessive about them, like I am!

First, find a spider in your home or outside. Now, does it sit in a web that resembles a wheel, or does the web look like a complicated mess? Web-building spiders can take anywhere between 20 minutes to a full day to spin their miniature architectural marvels. In many species it is only the female who weaves a web, and the males (much smaller in size) hang out at the edges, hoping to scrounge a meal.

Webs come in different shapes: a wheel, a dome, a thick white sheet, which becomes really prominent when there is heavy dew in the morning. Most spider webs are coated with a glue-like substance to capture and hold steadfast any unfortunate insects that fly into them. Radiating lines of silk alert the waiting spider when something has been caught, else the poor-sighted spider might never know! A male web-building spider strums and plucks the silk at the edge of the web to announce his arrival. If he is off-tune in his strumming the male is either ignored or eaten by the female!

Perhaps you have come across a spider scurrying quickly about or jumping around athletically, with no web in sight? These spiders are known as hunting spiders and they rely on camouflage, stealth and deceit to get their food. Look for these spunky spiders in your house, on plants or on leaf litter on the ground. Sometimes looking closely at a flower will reveal a small brightly coloured spider that resembles a crab! These crab spiders often match the colour of the flower they live on; and an unsuspecting bee visiting the flower for nectar is soon made a meal of.

Hunting spiders with their keener eyesight are also often brilliantly coloured, which helps to impress a female, since they have no webs to strum on. They often also perform elaborate courtship dances, which consist of swaying movements of their body and legs.

The world of spiders is weird and wonderful indeed. So the next time someone asks you if you would like to go bird watching, decline politely and tell them that you would rather go spider watching!


Spider profile

Spider babies are called spiderlings and when born are miniature versions of the adult spider.

Female spiders belonging to a group called wolf spiders carry their egg sacs for months attached to their spinning organs. Once the spiderlings emerge, all 400-500 of them scramble onto their mother’s back – she then carries them piggyback like this for 6-8 months!

Ant-mimic spiders, which look just like ants and love to feed on ant eggs, are so good with their mimicry that the ants never notice anything amiss when the spider moves around with them!

Web-building spiders don’t get caught in their own webs because their feet are coated with a film of oil allowing the spider full access to her web without getting into a sticky situation.


 

 

This article appeared in the Hindu in School on 16 September 2015.

Picture: What a surprise! A female giant wood spider while waiting for her prey at the centre of her web has also caught the fancy of the small, red, male. Credit: S.U. Saravanakumar

 

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