Spiders (arachnophobes look away now)
It is November and the spiders making their annual autumn invasion of the house. Now you have to understand that our house is a spider’s heaven, having been built in stages from the 1500s onward to the late 1600s it has lots of beams, to make webs between and the ceiling, hundreds of nooks and crannies, nice places to sneak away into to hide, and a housekeeper (me) who, 1, quite likes spiders and doesn’t want to harm them and 2, likes important things to be clean (kitchen, bathroom) but is not overly anxious about a few cobwebs here and there – especially there.
Now when I say I like spiders I have to qualify that with I like some spiders more than others. I am not fond of the very dark short-legged varieties and on the infrequent occasions when they do arrive I arrange their safe and harmless transition to the great outdoors (clear plastic cup and sheet of paper work best for me)
My favourite house spider is the Tegenaria gigantea . (It maybe that the ones in my house are actually Tegenaria saeva which is very similar and found more often here in the SW of England) These are the large beasties with equally large legs and beautifully chevron marked abdomens. If it sat in a dessert-spoon its legs would reach or overlap the edges. It is often spotted as it makes a mad dash across the room, pauses, then runs on! The females are quite long lived and can live a number of years as adults and, as is usual in the spider-world are larger than the males. They make quite small webs (so not too much of a nuisance) We used to have one that lived behind a large larder cupboard, where the cupboard didn’t quite fit tight against the wall (not one of the walls in our house is straight). She would come out in the evenings, sitting boldly at the edge of her small web. The boys used to drop flies they’d swatted into this web during the day for her to find later. After about two years she just disappeared.
This one is fairly small and lives in the workshop, high up above the racks that hold the tools etc, for size reference the base of the jar she is sitting in is a good 3″ or 7cm across.
The next and the most prevalent spider in this house is a thin cylindrical bodied, long thin legged variety that I call the cobweb trembler. It makes annoying strandy cobwebs all over the place and hangs in this mess waiting, so while I tolerate these I am not keen on them. If you disturb the cobwebs it trembles violently shaking back and forth over as much as ten centimetres, so that it is hard to catch (if I were a bird or something) If you touch the spider itself it drops, suddenly, to the ground…. and scurries off inefficiently on its spindly legs. These belong to the Pholcidae and are probably phalangioides but I am not sure. They manage to raise armies of young and so each year, twice a year, I brace myself and armed with the vacuum cleaner, try to remove as many as I can from the building.
I often wonder if they survive the vacuum treatment, I hope they do and immediately go and empty the cleaner out on the compost heap (it doesn’t have a bag so the dust and stuff doesn’t get compacted at all) – in the hope that if they have survived the suction and having landed in the body of the cleaner they have curled up and waited until release.
Along with many others I find beauty in the cobweb made by the orb spider and many orb spiders are beautiful in themselves with interesting colours (saw a bright lime green one this past Summer) and patterns. When these decide to make a web across an open window it is with great regret that I destroy the web just to close the window (making sure the spider is safely outside before closing) I really don’t like the thought of hurting them.. maybe growing up with the ‘If you wish to live and thrive, let the spider run alive’ rhyme?
Spiders aren’t the only creepy crawlies that I have a soft spot for. Many, many years ago when at teacher training college I did my biology thesis on Lepisma saccharina (the small primitive insect known as the silverfish) A harmless creature (except if they get into old libraries in numbers – they eat the sizing and glues on books) I had always seen them around but could find very little out about them. After eighteen months keeping them, studying their life cycle, behaviour patterns, preferences for diet, humidity, light, temperature conditions and nearly four hundred pages later, which included sheet after sheet of hand-drawn and coloured graphs (pre-computers!), I think I knew more about them that most entomologists back then, but not now . I was particularly curious as to what the ones that live in the bathroom ate, (as the only information available at the time suggested they ate carbohydrates and sugars – not often found in bathrooms) and discovered that among other things, they eat up all the shed scales of skin we leave behind as we dress and undress. In fact, if they did not get certain levels of protein from this or moulds then they lost their shine. I was awarded a high grade for my research and hence, in this house, these creatures are always rescued from the bath.
Enough of creepy crawlies for now….. I think these have to go under Other passions. Anyone else like spiders and other creepy crawlies?