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The Many Things We Can Learn From Spiders

There are many things we can learn from spiders and they are such beneficial animals to have. Yes, there are dangerous ones but part of my teaching science classes at school is to try to help people over come their arachnophobia and realize most spiders are really a gardeners and even poultry keepers best friend. The one thing that will change in a few years when I retire from my teaching job (no specific year or date set yet) is that I will not do my poultry chores in the dark anymore. I will probably get up early for the rest of my life as I am a creature of habit and enjoy seeing the sunrise each day, but I really hate taking care of all my feathered friends in the dark. Well, this past Monday was the first day of school and I needed to make sure I was out the door to start chores by 4:30 to get done by 7 to get off to work on time. I tend to walk fast and try not to waste motion and have a distinct pathway and system to getting it all done. I was walking a stiff pace rounded the corner between buildings 5 and 6 with my head light on my cap and wham ran right into a giant spider web covering the entire distance of about 5 feet between the two buildings. Didn’t really think anything of it, but used a minute to wipe the web off of my face and note that it was sticky and covering my head and face. About 5 seconds later down over my face came a great big spider. Startled at first, I brushed her off to the ground and went on. Next morning I was a bit more cautious and sure enough she was back same place and just as large a web. I pointed my light at her and said “Well Miss Charlotte we have a problem here.” As a child I enjoyed Charlottes Web. Her web was full of moths and flies and I could see she was hard worker. So, I gently put her web down on one side and went past her on my way to do more chores. Same thing every day and neither one of us was happy by weeks end. She had lots of rebuilding to do each day and I had to slow down. It is kind of interesting to shine the light and see her multiple eyes glisten in the early morning subdued light. What a surprise when yesterday after 5 days she relocated her web above my head height making an archway over the path I take each day. It was fascinating to see her attempt to save herself some daily work. She can go about life now and catch all kinds of insects and I won’t destroy her work each day. Spiders get such a bad rap for being all bad but most are really beneficial to get the annoying bugs in our lives. As a child I grew up in an area where there were lots of black widows and I would highly recommend not to do what I did as a child. I was about 6 and gathered up a bunch of Black Widow spiders and put them in my mothers old quart fruit jars and poked holes in the lids and fed them flies each day. Black Widows make a very unique web and have a beautiful egg case. The only problem is one day the egg cases all seemed to hatch and the babies all got out of the holes and made webs everywhere in my mothers laundry room where I had kept the jars. My mother was not a spider lover and I got in big trouble and my spider raising days ended quickly. In summary I just hope everyone takes the time learn the pluses and minuses of the creatures that inhabit their farms, gardens and even homes and before we get out that can of spray take the time to see what benefits some of the less liked creatures of the world might offer you.

I wrote the above on August 28 and here it is now September 10 and Charlotte and I see each other morning and night. She remains faithfully on an arch over my pathway. As I lock up the birds in the evening in the pens south of her home she is busy (as it is getting dark) fixing her web readying for a hard night of catching pests. Her shiny little eyes glisten as my head light reflects off of them. I guess we have developed a relationship of trust. She sees me coming and doesn’t move out of her web. Each morning about 4:45 I go under her web and let the waterfowl out in the pens to the south and again my light reflects off her beady little eyes and I check out her web to see what she feasted on over night. A couple of mornings I have been able to observe her eating her nighttime catch. One morning I was able to see her sucking the juices out of a fly like a vacuum sealer removes air from a bag. I observed that for long enough I was late getting chores done. She did not seem the least bit bothered by my presence. I know our days of daily meetings will soon come to close as she will eventually lay her egg case and pass on. I can’t help but think of how much work she has done. On Labor Day Ethan and I moved some scrap metal piled up from old buildings that had been torn down. Ethan has caught the spider interest and we had the chance as we lifted up some of the old metal on the pile that had been there since last Fall a whole entire group of wolf spiders. There were at least a dozen or more catching and feasting on crickets. We watched them work for a good five minutes. It was a wonderful lesson on how nature works in such a unique relationship.

I was reminded this past week of how fragile our natural world has become. Our son Cory came to cut the hay and went to move an old gate to get to the hay field and disturbed a group of mud dauber wasps who had made a home in the metal tubes that make up the framework of the gate.They had gained access in a hole in the tubes of the gate framework. The gate is old and nearing its final days. He freaked and I went to see what was going on and sure enough there they were, zooming in and out of the hole in the tube. I told him no, we are not going to kill them. They are in the back field far from every day people contact and the gate only gets opened once in great while and I had not seen any in years. The first few years after I purchased the farm in 1988 they were everywhere and I would actually go out to the garage and other out buildings and steal a few of their mud nests in mid winter and use them for a lab in my biology classes in school to show many different things from food habits to genetic diversity and other things. I stole them in mid winter when they were dormant and we could also study larval development. It makes one stop and think how there used to be so many and now I am guessing it has been15 years since I have seen even one. I can’t even begin to mention how many species of butterflies and moths I have not seen for years. One of the hazards of getting older I guess is you start to think of how so many things have changed. I don’t think it would hurt anyone to stop and learn more about the natural world around them and before you reach for a can of spray think about the pluses and the minuses.

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