Friday, September 10, 2010

Spied: Spiders

The spider who's staked out the tomato patch
as her website
It is impossible to walk along the path beside the house nowadays without running full-face into a spider web. The sticky, gossamer strands are everywhere. They lace the shrubs and stretch from tree to window. They link the vegetable bed to the tool shed and the birch tree to the Adirondack chair. There is even one persistent spider who insists on stringing her web across the driveway, attaching it to the car at its midpoint.

A wonderful article in last week's Seattle Times indicated that this web siting isn't evidence of an arachnid invasion. The tiny young spiders of spring have simply matured and reached full size. Accordingly, they're building bigger webs.

The webmasters themselves are European cross spiders, named for the pattern of markings on their backs as well as their original range. I knew they were cross spiders but hadn't realized they were European imports. It made me consider just how many of the animals in my garden aren't native to this area. The list includes European leopard slugs, the bane of the garden; honey bees; cabbage butterflies; starlings; and the English house sparrows who line up by the bird feeder, one bird per fence stake, waiting to hog all the food. To be completely honest, I'd have to include my family, too.

The cross spiders don't venture indoors, so we don't end up with webs flung across our faces like burst bubble gum when we mindlessly wander about inside the house. But we do jump out of our socks because the spiders that scuttle across the floor at this time of year are humongous things. They're the appropriately named Giant House Spiders, which the Seattle Times article gleefully notes are sometimes "as big as your hand."

These outsized invertebrates (which are also European imports--thank you, Old World) are actually quite harmless. The ones clattering around the living room are simply male spiders seeking mates. Sadly, they are looking for love in all the wrong places (e.g., under the coffee table, in the bathroom, on the dog bed). They are also relentlessly dispatched by our cats, despite how quickly they can run: a giant house spider in a hurry can cover nearly 10 feet in a second. Their speed plus their size adds up to a truly terrifying encounter when you're caught off guard.

The cross spiders are probably very cross spiders after we've facelifted their webs, but since they eat the strands every evening and rebuild their webs every night, we're really not putting them out too much. As for putting out the house spiders--literally--apparently we are doing them no favors. Catching them and putting them outside, as I've done in brave moments over the years, is like kicking kittens out into the snow. "What part of 'house spider' do you not understand?" this species would scream at me if it could. I would counter by pointing out that it conveniently omitted the "giant" part of its name.