I just finished reading a short story about a firefly and a spider by Bruce Sterling in his paperback, Visionary in Residence, that is just too good to keep to myself.
For all my dear friends who read my column and jump out of their skin when confronted by a spider speeding across the floor - or dropping in for lunch - Sterling's neat little caricature will help you with your fear of spiders. Honest! And with that, please let me help you to enjoy yourself as much as possible and read on...
First, about the fear of spiders...There is nothing wrong with jumping out of your britches when a spider suddenly - or even slowly - appears in your life. Spiders are, from a human being's standpoint, the original "creepy crawly critters."
When I was about 12 years old living on my grandfather's farm in Connecticut, one of the things I enjoyed most was eating fresh, ripe, delicious red raspberries. In order to enjoy this elegant fruit, however, it was necessary to walk between the rows of raspberry canes that were almost as high as my 12-year-old body.
Malicious female banded garden spiders placed their enormous silken orbs across the rows of raspberry canes, which trapped grasshoppers, butterflies, and 12 year-old kids.
My grandparents could hear me scream from a mile away when I collided with the web orb, (editors note: This last sentence should be sung to the tune of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Give Me Three Steps") which usually ended with a fat-bellied female spider frantically trying to escape over my forehead, or down my shirt. My lust for raspberries was so focused that I went back again and again. Still, I could never remember to watch for spiders.
Then one day, two things happened. First, I avoided running into orb webs when I noticed a silken zigzag pattern in the spider's orb, a reason why argiopes are also known as "writing spiders." (Perhaps that's where E. B. "Andy" White arrived at the idea of a spider writing "Some Pig!" in his classic, Charlotte's Web.)
Second, I stopped to observe what the spiders were up to - what they were eating, the pattern of the webs, the spider's spinnerets, book lungs, etc. The day that I watched a tiny male spider mating with his gigantic partner, my interest in spiders was kindled for a lifetime.
To the credit of all spiders, even the infamous black widow, they are most often doing something FOR us, not TO us. After all, black widows eat mice!
Another example is the association between jumping spiders and another ill-famed (but doesn't deserve its bum rap) 8-legged wonder, "hobo spiders" found in Bend.
I quote from two of the most outstanding spider people in the world, Wayne Maddison and Jerry Proszynski:
"The single most effective natural agent for the control of hobo spiders is the presence of other competing and predatory spider species. No human method or technology can effectively compete in destroying or keeping hobo spiders away from homes, when compared to the activities of competitive/predatory spiders.
"...Within the current U.S. range of the hobo spider, important food competitors include crab spiders, Pardosa wolf spiders, and jumping spiders of the genera Phidippus and Salticus.
"Some spider species compete with the hobo for web building sites as well, particularly those native or previously introduced members of the spider family Agelenidae, such as the grass spiders, Agelenopsis spp. and harmless members of the genus Tegenaria. When such competition from one species effectively displaces or prevents another species from becoming established in a particular habitat, that process is termed competitive exclusion."
So there you have it, dear friends, when you see a spider scurrying across the kitchen floor, or find a wandering male in your sink or bathtub, you are seeing nature in action, and it's all on your side. Please do as I do, take a wad of toilet paper, lift the poor frightened spider out of the sink or bathtub and drop it outside - or in back the closet.
"Live and let live," is a wonderful motto to follow.