Tuesday, August 14, 2007


ARACHNIDS: The black widow and brown recluse have a dangerous bite.
Spiders have never been my favorite kind of bug. They are sort of messy critters, I dislike walking through spider webs. And, as youngsters, a lot of us were taught to avoid the little rascals, as some were believed to be poisonous. Especially the large, colorful ones that we often saw in the gardens.
Somewhere along the way, I've been informed that, technically, spiders are arachnids and are not to be referred to as "insects" or "bugs." That they have eight walking legs instead of six. And they have two feelers and two poison fangs. I've never really been interested enough to inspect them carefully.
My "bug expert" friends tell me that spiders are strictly carnivores, that they eat only living prey that they capture. And that they are not equipped to handle solid food in their stomachs, so they must digest it outside their bodies. Crushing their victims, often injecting them with poisonous venom, and then ingesting the resulting liquid is their way of feeding.
There are many thousands of species of spiders scattered over most of the world. A few even live in the water. Their basic design seems to have been very successful, judging by the large population and the way that they are distributed. We find them almost everywhere, in the woods, the fields, the lawns, our homes and especially our garages. Most species are harmless to humans, but the black widow and the brown recluse are considered dangerous, as they are capable of inflicting bites that quite often require immediate medical attention. Such bits are usually very painful and, in certain cases, can even result in death.
Spiders don't appear to be very sociable animals, and seem to prefer to be left alone. An individual seeks out a corner or area where it doesn't expect to be interfered with, and where there appears to be a ready, steady food supply. There the arachnid begins the tedious task of constructing its home. It actually creates a small world of its own. A world built of silk. Fine silk with more flexibility and tensile strength than steel. A spider's carefully woven web furnishes its weaver with safety and isolation, much as does a moat around a castle. Anything touching the sticky network creates vibrations, an advance warning system that alerts the architect and builder of possible impending danger.
The intricately crafted spider's web also is a device for trapping its food. A fly or other insect, on contacting the sticky threads, is soon hopelessly entangled in the filmy mesh. The hunter, alerted by the vibrations, then comes out to harvest, and to feed on its victim.
A "lifeline" of silk can enable a spider to lower itself from a ceiling, or catch itself in a fall. And, in some cases, is used as a sail, allowing its spinner to travel long distances by "riding the wind." A single strand is said to be strong enough to stop a honeybee flying at full speed. And it is said that, in theory, a cable of spider web as thick as a pencil would be able to stop a Boeing 747 in mid-flight!
I remember times when our dairy barns were not whitewashed and sanitary as the are today. In cases where de-horning or other animal surgery resulted in excessive bleeding, one of the more common home remedies was to apply a large handful of dusty spider webs (which were usually plentiful). The "theory" was that the strong fibers formed matting that slowed the blood flow, giving it a better opportunity to begin clotting. And, believe it or not, the treatment usually seemed to work!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the story!!!