My wife and I may think that we are the only ones inhabiting our house, but we are sorely mistaken. Evidence of this fact was exhibited to us a few days ago when a visiting guest held up a glass of water he was using to rinse his mouth after brushing his teeth and asked us if we could identify the little black spot floating on the surface.
There was no doubt about it. That little critter doing the backstroke in the glass was one of our resident spiders. If you live on Salt Spring, you know there’s no way to eliminate the much maligned spider from your home or life. They are ubiquitous, so you might as well accept the fact that they are part of your family and you are sharing accommodation in a fairly fragile codependent relationship.
How do they end up in the house when there is so much natural space in the outdoors? It’s really a mystery to me. I suppose that many of them hang out in the woodshed and take the opportunity to hitchhike a ride into the house with the firewood. Inevitably, whenever we have visitors from the city staying over, I feel responsible to protect them from our spidery menace. After all, for those not used to sidestepping these little creatures on a daily basis, they can be considered right up there on a deadly threat level with great white sharks, grizzly bears and rattlesnakes. The indelible image from cheap Japanese B grade horror movies of giant, furry spiders climbing up the sides of Tokyo skyscrapers while terrified mobs of thousands panic below cannot be easily turned off.
In my more caveman days, I used to squish them every chance I had. Later, as I became more civilized and aware that they were actually nature’s way of controlling the home invasion of ants, flies and other annoying insects, I switched over to some “tough love” tactics. I would fish an empty yogurt tub and lid out of the recycling blue box, herd the offending spider into the container, and escort it out into the shrubbery. There I would give it a little lecture about free-loading and couch surfing before sending it on an arcing trajectory with the flick of a wrist.
If you don’t know already, you might as well accept the fact that spiders are everywhere. There are an estimated 40,000 species of the revoltingly cute little critters around the globe and probably a whole lot more if wildlife scientists really wanted to get close enough to identify them. In just B.C. alone, there are approximately 700 distinct known species setting up shop in the supernatural environment. It is said that you can wander anywhere in the province and you will never be more than one large step away from a spider. Another way of looking at it is that every hectare of land in B.C. has a density of hundreds of thousands of the wee fellers daring you to step in their direction.
A spider may look like just another bug to you, but you’re asking for trouble if you insult it by calling it an insect. An insect has three main body parts: the head, the thorax and the abdomen. In addition, insects all have six legs. The bodies of spiders, on the other hand, are made up of just two parts, the cephalothorax and the abdomen. To make up for the missing body part, spiders are equipped with an extra pair of legs, which brings the total number of appendages to eight. Eight also happens to be the number of eyes that most spiders possess. You would think that would give them incredible vision, but if truth be known, spiders have notoriously terrible eyesight and don’t usually have a clue what’s about to happen when you approach their webs with broom in hand. Understandably, with eight eyes to consider, corrective lenses would be prohibitively costly.
Surprisingly, spiders do not communicate through the usual social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, even though they invented the world wide web millions of years before the internet was even a twinkling in the eye of humankind. There are, however, unsubstantiated claims that certain high-functioning members of the Arachnid class are close to modifying the TikTok app into something called SpikSpok, where they can spend endless hours watching funny videos of web weaving gone wrong.
In actuality, spiders communicate mainly through smell, percussion, gossamer spinning and dancing. Some of the more highly evolved ones can do all these at the same time and can be found mainly in late night jazz clubs.
When it comes to dancing alone, no spider can bust a move better than the species known as the jumping spider. It is easily identified due to the huge size of its eyes when compared to the rest of its body. Although its dance is performed primarily to impress its mate, it has the amazing ability to jump up to 50 times the length of its body, which would make it the betting favourite at the Spider Olympics but not so popular if the direction it was travelling was towards your face.
Of course, the spider that instills fear in the heart is the western black widow. What easily identifies it is the red hourglass icon on the underside of the female’s abdomen (males can have smaller red dot markings on the same area of the abdomen). Although its venom is neurotoxic, this spider is quite shy and non-aggressive. When threatened, it gets into a defensive stance, tilts its abdomen at whatever is the perceived danger, and shoots silk at it. Now that’s scary!
The other interesting tidbit of information is that the female, which can live more than 10 times longer than the male, may eat the male after mating. The male obviously wants to make a good impression on the first date.
Nobody asked me, but I don’t really mind having to share my abode with spiders. In fact, I don’t think I would mind much if I was the daddy long-legs lurking up in the far corner near the ceiling of our bathroom. After all, it’s a living. Better that, than being the male mate of a black widow.