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Ch. 14: Facts and Thoughts About Spiders

Some time ago, while turning over a quantity of rubbish in a little-used
room, I disturbed a large black spider. Rushing forth, just in time to
save itself from destruction through the capsizing of a pile of books,
it paused for one moment, took a swift comprehensive glance at the
position, then scuttled away across the floor, and was lost in an
obscure corner of the room. This incident served to remind me of a fact
I was nearly forgetting, that England is not a spiderless country. A
foreigner, however intelligent, coming from warmer regions, might very
easily make that mistake. In Buenos Ayres, the land of my nativity,
earth teems with these interesting little creatures. They abound in and
on the water, they swarm in the grass and herbage, which everywhere
glistens with the silvery veil they spin over it. Indeed it is scarcely
an exaggeration to say that there is an atmosphere of spiders, for they
are always floating about invisible in the air; their filmy threads are
unfelt when they fly against you; and often enough you are not even
aware of the little arrested aeronaut hurrying over your face with feet
lighter than the lightest thistledown.

It is somewhat strange that although, where other tribes of living
creatures are concerned, I am something of a naturalist, spiders I have
always observed and admired in a non-scientific spirit, and this must be
my excuse for mentioning the habits of some spiders without giving their
specific names--an omission always vexing to the severely-technical
naturalist. They have ministered to the love of the beautiful, the
grotesque, and the marvellous in me; but I have never _collected_ a
spider, and if I wished to preserve one should not know how to do it. I
have been "familiar with the face" of these monsters so long that I have
even learnt to love them; and I believe that if Emerson rightly predicts
that spiders are amongst the things to be expelled from earth by the
perfected man of the future, then a great charm and element of interest
will be lost to nature. Though loving them, I cannot, of course, feel
the same degree of affection towards all the members of so various a
family. The fairy gossamer, scarce seen, a creature of wind and
sunshine; the gem-like Epeira in the centre of its Starry web; even the
terrestrial Salticus, with its puma-like strategy, certainly appeal more
to our aesthetic feelings than does the slow heavy Mygale, looking at a
distance of twenty yards away, as he approaches you, like a gigantic
cockroach mounted on stilts. The rash fury with which the female
wolf-spider defends her young is very admirable; but the admiration she
excites is mingled with other feelings when we remember that the brave
mother proves to her consort a cruel and cannibal spouse.

Possibly my affection for spiders is due in a great measure to the
compassion I have always felt for them. Pity, 'tis said, is akin to
love; and who can help experiencing that tender emotion that considers
the heavy affliction nature has laid on the spiders in compensation for
the paltry drop of venom with which she, unasked, endowed them! And
here, of course, I am alluding to the wasps. These insects, with a
refinement of cruelty, prefer not to kill their victims outright, but
merely maim them, then house them in cells where the grubs can vivisect
them at leisure. This is one of those revolting facts the fastidious
soul cannot escape from in warm climates; for in and out of open windows
and doors, all day long, all the summer through, comes the busy
beautiful mason-wasp. A long body, wonderfully slim at the waist, bright
yellow legs and thorax, and a dark crimson abdomen,--what object can be
prettier to look at? But in her life this wasp is not beautiful. At
home in summer they were the pests of my life, for nothing would serve
to keep them out. One day, while we were seated at dinner, a clay nest,
which a wasp had succeeded in completing unobserved, detached itself
from the ceiling and fell with a crash on to the table, where it was
shattered to pieces, scattering a shower of green half-living spiders
round it. I shall never forget the feeling of intense repugnance I
experienced at the sight, coupled with detestation of the pretty but
cruel little architect. There is, amongst our wasps, even a more
accomplished spider-scourge than the mason-wasp, and I will here give a
brief account of its habits. On the grassy pampas, dry bare spots of
soil are resorted to by a class of spiders that either make or take
little holes in the ground to reside in, and from which they rush forth
to seize their prey. They also frequently sit inside their dens and
patiently wait there for the intrusion of some bungling insect. Now, in
summer, to a dry spot of ground like this, comes a small wasp, scarcely
longer than a blue-bottle fly, body and wings of a deep shining purplish
blue colour, with only a white mark like a collar on the thorax. It
flirts its blue wings, hurrying about here and there, and is extremely
active, and of a slender graceful figure--the type of an assassin. It
visits and explores every crack and hole in the ground, and, if you
watch it attentively, you will at length see it, on arriving at a hole,
give a little start backwards. It knows that a spider lies concealed
within. Presently, having apparently matured a plan of attack, it
disappears into the hole and remains there for some time. Then, just
when you are beginning to think that the little blue explorer has been
trapped, out it rushes, flying in terror, apparently, from the spider
who issues close behind in hot pursuit; but, before they are three
inches away from the hole, quick as lightning the wasp turns on its
follower, and the two become locked together in a deadly embrace.
Looking like one insect, they spin rapidly round for a few moments, then
up springs the wasp--victorious. The wretched victim is not dead; its
legs move a little, but its soft body is paralyzed, and lies collapsed,
flabby, and powerless as a stranded jellyfish. And this is the
invariable result of every such conflict. In other classes of beings,
even the weakest hunted thing occasionally succeeds in inflicting pain
on its persecutor, and the small trembling mouse, unable to save itself,
can sometimes make the cat shriek with paiu; but there is no weak spot
in the wasp's armour, no fatal error of judgment, not even an accident,
ever to save the wretched victim from its fate. And now comes the most
iniquitous part of the proceeding. When the wasp has sufficiently rested
after the struggle, it deliberately drags the disabled spider back into
its own hole, and, having packed it away at the extremity, lays an egg
alongside of it, then, coming out again, gathers dust and rubbish with
which it fills up and obliterates the hole; and, having thus concluded
its Machiavellian task, it flies cheerfully off in quest of another
victim.

The extensive Epeira family supply the mason-wasps and other
spider-killers with the majority of their victims. These spiders have
soft, plump, succulent bodies like pats of butter; they inhabit trees
and bushes chiefly, where their geometric webs-betray their whereabouts;
they are timid, comparatively innocuous, and reluctant to quit the
shelter of their green bower, made of a rolled-up leaf; so that there
are many reasons why they should be persecuted. They exhibit a great
variety of curious forms; many are also very richly coloured; but even
their brightest hues--orange, silver, scarlet--have not been given
without regard to the colouring of their surroundings. Green-leafed
bushes arc frequented by vividly green Epeiras, but the imitative
resemblance does not quite end here. The green spider's method of
escape, when the bush is roughly shaken, is to drop itself down on the
earth, where it lies simulating death. In falling, it drops just as a
green leaf would drop, that is, not quite so rapidly as a round, solid
body like a beetle or spider. Now in the bushes there is another Epeira,
in size and form like the last, but differing in colour; for instead of
a vivid green, it is of a faded yellowish white--the exact hue of a
dead, dried-up leaf. This spider, when it lets itself drop--for it has
the same protective habit as the other--falls not so rapidly as a green
freshly broken off leaf or as the green spider would fall, but with a
slower motion, precisely like a leaf withered up till it has become
almost light as a feather. It is not difficult to imagine how this comes
about: either a thicker line, or a greater stiffness or tenacity of the
viscid fluid composing the web and attached to the point the spider
drops from, causes one to fall slower than the other. But how many
tentative variations in the stiffness of the web material must there
have been before the precise degree was attained enabling the two
distinct species, differing in colour, to complete their resemblance to
falling leaves--a fresh green leaf in one case and a dead, withered leaf
in the other!

The Tetragnatha--a genus of the Epeira family, and known also in
England--are small spiders found on the margin of streams. Their bodies
are slender, oblong, and resembling a canoe in shape; and when they sit
lengthwise on a stem or blade of grass, their long, hair-like legs
arranged straight before and behind them, it is difficult to detect
them, so closely do they resemble a discoloured stripe on the herbage. A
species of Tetragnatha with a curious modification of structure abounds
on the pampas. The long leg of this spider is no thicker than a bristle
from a pig's back, but at the extremity it is flattened and broad,
giving it a striking resemblance to an oar. These spiders are only found
in herbage overhanging the borders of streams: they are very numerous,
and, having a pugnacious temper, are incessantly quarrelling; and it
frequently happens that in these encounters, or where they are pursuing
each other through the leaves, they drop into the water below. I
believe, in fact, that they often drop themselves purposely into it as
the readiest means of escape when hard pressed. When this happens, the
advantage of the modified structure of the legs is seen. The fallen
spider, sitting boat-like on the surface, throws out its long legs, and,
dipping the broad ends into the water, literally rows itself rapidly to
land.

The gossamer-spider, most spiritual of living things, of which there are
numerous species, some extremely beautiful in colouring and markings, is
the most numerous of our spiders. Only when the declining sun flings a
broad track of shiny silver light on the plain does one get some faint
conception of the unnumbered millions of these buoyant little creatures
busy weaving their gauzy veil over the earth and floating unseen, like
an ethereal vital dust, in the atmosphere.

This spider carries within its diminutive abdomen a secret which will
possibly serve to vex subtle intellects for a long time to come; for it
is hard to believe that merely by mechanical force, even aided by
currents of air, a creature half as big as a barley grain can
instantaneously snoot out filaments twenty or thirty inches long, and by
means of which it floats itself in the air.

Naturalists are now giving a great deal of attention to the migrations
of birds in different parts of the world: might not insect and spider
migrations be included with advantage to science in their observations?
The common notion is that the gossamer makes use of its unique method of
locomotion, only to shift its quarters, impelled by want of food or
unfavourable conditions--perhaps only by a roving disposition. I believe
that besides these incessant flittings about from place to place
throughout the summer the gossamer-spiders have great periodical
migrations which are, as a rule, in-visible, since a single floating web
cannot be remarked, and each individual rises and floats away by itself
from its own locality when influenced by the instinct. When great
numbers of spiders rise up simultaneously over a large area, then,
sometimes, the movement forces itself on our attention; for at such
times the whole sky may be filled with visible masses of floating web.
All the great movements of gossamers I have observed have occurred in
the autumn, or, at any rate, several weeks after the summer solstice;
and, like the migrations of birds at the same season of the year, have
been in a northerly direction. I do not assert or believe that the
migratory instinct in the gossamer is universal. In a moist island, like
England, for instance, where the condition of the atmosphere is seldom
favourable, and where the little voyagers would often be blown by
adverse winds to perish far out at sea, it is difficult to believe that
such migrations take place. But where they inhabit a vast area of land,
as in South America, extending without interruption from the equator to
the cold Magellanic regions, and where there is a long autumn of dry,
hot weather, then such an instinct as migration might have been
developed. For this is not a faculty merely of a few birds: the impulse
to migrate at certain seasons affects birds, insects, and even mammals.
In a few birds only is it highly developed, but the elementary feeling,
out of which the wonderful habit of the swallow has grown, exists widely
throughout animated nature. On the continent of Europe it also seems
probable that a great autumnal movement of these spiders takes place;
although, I must confess, I have no grounds for this statement, except
that the floating gossamer is called in Germany "Der fliegender
Summer"--the flying or departing summer.

I have stated that all migrations of gossamers I have witnessed have
been in the autumn; excepting in one instance, these flights occurred
when the weather was still hot and dry. The exceptionally late migration
was on March 22--a full month after the departure of martins,
humming-birds, flycatchers, and most other true bird-migrants. It struck
me as being so remarkable, and seems to lend so much force to the idea I
have suggested, that I wish to give here an exact copy of the entries
made at the time and on the spot in my notebook.

"March 22. This afternoon, while I was out shooting, the
gossamer-spiders presented an appearance quite new to me. Walking along
a stream (the Conchitas, near Buenos Ayres), I noticed a broad white
line skirting the low wet ground. This I found was caused by gossamer
web lying in such quantities over the earth as almost to hide the grass
ad thistles under it. The white zone was about twenty yards wide, and
outside it only a few scattered webs were visible on the grass; its
exact length I did not ascertain, but followed it for about two miles
without finding the end. The spiders were so numerous that they
continually baulked one another in their efforts to rise in the air. As
soon as one threw out its lines they would become entangled with those
of another spider, lanced out at the same moment; both spiders would
immediately seem to know the cause of the trouble, for as soon as their
lines fouled they would rush angrily towards each other, each trying to
drive the other from the elevation. Notwithstanding these difficulties,
numbers were continually floating off on the breeze which blew from the
south.

"I noticed three distinct species: one with a round scarlet body;
another, velvet black, with large square cephalothorax and small pointed
abdomen; the third and most abundant kind were of different shades of
olive green, and varied greatly in size, the largest being fully a
quarter of an inch in length. Apparently these spiders had been driven
up from the low ground along the stream where it was wet, and had
congregated along the borders of the dry ground in readiness to migrate.

"25th. Went again to visit the spiders, scarcely expecting to find them,
as, since first seeing them, we have had much wind and rain. To my
surprise I found them in greatly increased numbers: on the tops of
cardoons, posts, and other elevated situations they were literally lying
together in heaps. Most of them were large and of the olive-coloured
species; their size had probably prevented them from getting away
earlier, but they were now floating off in great numbers, the weather
being calm and tolerably dry. To-day I noticed a new species with a grey
body, elegantly striped with black, and pink legs--a very pretty spider.

"26th. Went again to-day and found that the whole vast army of
gossamers, with the exception of a few stragglers sitting on posts and
dry stalks, had vanished. They had taken advantage of the short spell of
fine weather we are now having, after an unusually wet and boisterous
autumn, to make their escape."

Here it seemed to me that a conjunction of circumstances--first, the
unfavourable season preventing migration at the proper time, and
secondly, the strip of valley out of which the spiders had been driven
to the higher ground till they were massed together--only served to make
visible and evident that a vast annual migration takes place which we
have only to look closely for to discover.

One of the most original spiders in Buenos Ayres--mentally original, I
mean--is a species of Pholcus; a quiet, inoffensive creature found in
houses, and so abundant that they literally swarm where they are not
frequently swept away from ceilings and obscure corners. Certainly it
seems a poor spider after the dynamical and migratory gossamer; but it
happens, curiously enough, that a study of the habits of this dusty
domestic creature leads us incidentally into the realms of fable and
romance. It is remarkable for the extreme length of its legs, and
resembles in colour and general appearance a crane fly, but is double
the size of that insect. It has a singular method of protecting itself:
when attacked or approached even, gathering its feet together and
fastening them to the centre of its web, it swings itself round and
round with the velocity of a whirligig, so that it appears like a mist
on the web, offering no point for an enemy to strike at. "When a fly is
captured the spider approaches it cautiously and spins a web round it,
continually narrowing the circle it describes, until the victim is
inclosed in a cocoon-like covering. This is a common method with
spiders; but the intelligence--for I can call it by no other word--of
the Pholcus has supplemented this instinctive procedure with a very
curious and unique habit. The Pholcus, in spite of its size, is a weak
creature, possessing little venom to despatch its prey with, so that it
makes a long and laborious task of killing a fly. A fly when caught in
a web is a noisy creature, and it thus happens that when the
Daddylonglegs--as Anglo-Argentines have dubbed this species--succeeds in
snaring a captive the shrill outrageous cries of the victim are heard
for a long time--often for ten or twelve minutes. This noise greatly
excites other spiders in the vicinity, and presently they are seen
quitting their webs and flurrying to the scene of conflict. Sometimes
the captor is driven off, and then the strongest or most daring spider
carries away the fly. But where a large colony are allowed to continue
for a long time in undisturbed possession of a ceiling, when one has
caught a fly he proceeds rapidly to throw a covering of web over it,
then, cutting it away, drops it down and lets it hang suspended by a
line at a distance of two or three feet from the ceiling. The other
spiders arrive on the scene, and after a short investigation retreat to
their own webs, and when the coast is clear our spider proceeds to draw
up the captive fly, which is by this time exhausted with its struggles."

Now, I have repeatedly remarked that all spiders, when the shrill
humming of an insect caught in a web is heard near them, become
agitated, like the Pholcus, and will, in the same way, quit their own
webs and hurry to the point the sound proceeds from. This fact convinced
me many years ago that spiders are attracted by the sound of musical
instruments, such as violins, concertinas, guitars, &c., simply because
the sound produces the same effect on them as the shrill buzzing of a
captive fly. I have frequently seen spiders come down walls or from
ceilings, attracted by the sound of a guitar, softly played; and by
gently touching metal strings, stretched on a piece of wood, I have
succeeded in attracting spiders on to the strings, within two or three
inches of my fingers; and I always noticed that the spiders seemed to be
eagerly searching for something which they evidently expected to find
there, moving about in an excited manner and looking very hungry and
fierce. I have no doubt that Pelisson's historical spider in the
Bastille came down in a mood and with a manner just as ferocious when
the prisoner called it with musical sounds to be fed.

The spiders I have spoken of up till now are timid, inoffensive
creatures, chiefly of the Epeira family; but there are many others
exceedingly high-spirited and, like some of the most touchy
hymenopteras, always prepared to "greatly quarrel" over matters of
little moment. The Mygales, of which we have several species, are not to
be treated with contempt. One is extremely abundant on the pampas, the
Mygale fusca, a veritable monster, covered with dark brown hair, and
called in the vernacular _aranea peluda_--hairy spider. In the hot
month of December these spiders take to roaming about on the open plain,
and are then everywhere seen travelling in a straight line with a slow
even pace. They are very great in attitudes, and when one is approached
it immediately throws itself back, like a pugilist preparing for an
encounter, and stands up so erect on its four hind feet that the under
surface of its body is displayed. Humble-bees are commonly supposed to
carry the palm in attitudinizing; and it is wonderful to see the
grotesque motions of these irascible insects when their nest is
approached, elevating their abdomens and two or three legs at a time, so
that they resemble a troupe of acrobats balancing themselves on their
heads or hands, and kicking their legs about in the air. And to impress
the intruder with the dangerous significance of this display they hum a
shrill warning or challenge, and stab at the air with their naked
stings, from which limpid drops of venom are seen to exude. These
threatening gestures probably have an effect. In the case of the hairy
spider, I do not think any creature, however stupid, could mistake its
meaning when it stands suddenly up, a figure horribly grotesque; then,
dropping down on all eights, charges violently forwards. Their long,
shiny black, sickle-shaped falces are dangerous weapons. I knew a native
woman who had been bitten on the leg, and who, after fourteen years,
still suffered at intervals acute pains in the limb.

The king of the spiders on the pampas is, however, not a Mygale, but a
Lycosa of extraordinary size, light grey in colour, with a black ring
round its middle. It is active and swift, and irritable to such a degree
that one can scarcely help thinking that in this species nature has
overshot her mark.

When a person passes near one--say, within three or four yards of its
lurking-place--it starts up and gives chase, and will often follow for a
distance of thirty or forty yards. I came once very nearly being bitten
by one of these savage creatures Riding at an easy trot over the dry
grass, I suddenly observed a spider pursuing me, leaping swiftly along
and keeping up with my beast. I aimed a blow with my whip, and the point
of the lash struck the ground close to it, when it instantly leaped upon
and ran up the lash, and was actually within three or four inches of my
hand when I flung the whip from me.

The gauchos have a very quaint ballad which tells that the city of
Cordova was once invaded by an army of monstrous spiders, and that the
townspeople went out with beating drums and flags flying to repel the
invasion, and that after firing several volleys they were forced to turn
and fly for their lives. I have no doubt that a sudden great increase of
the man-chasing spiders, in a year exceptionally favourable to them,
suggested this fable to some rhyming satirist of the town.

In conclusion of this part of my subject, I will describe a single
combat of a very terrible nature I once witnessed between two little
spiders belong-ing to the same species. One had a small web against a
wall, and of this web the other coveted possession. After vainly trying
by a series of strategic movements to drive out the lawful owner, it
rushed on to the web, and the two envenomed httle duellists closed in
mortal combat. They did nothing so vulgar and natural as to make use of
their falces, and never once actually touched each other, but the fight
was none the less deadly. Rapidly revolving about, or leaping over, or
passing under, each other, each endeavoured to impede or entangle his
adversary, and the dexterity with which each avoided the cunningly
thrown snare, trying at the same time to entangle its opponent, was
wonderful to see. At length, after this equal battle had raged for some
time, one of the combatants made some fatal mistake, and for a moment
there occurred a break in his motions; instantly the other perceived his
advantage, and began leaping backwards and forwards across his
struggling adversary with such rapidity as to confuse the sight,
producing the appearance of two spiders attacking a third one lying
between them. He then changed his tactics, and began revolving round and
round his prisoner, and very soon the poor vanquished wretch--the
aggressor, let us hope, in the interests of justice--was closely wrapped
in a silvery cocoon, which, unlike the cocoon the caterpillar weaves for
itself, was also its winding-sheet.

In the foregoing pages I have thrown together some of the most salient
facts I have noted; but the spider-world still remains to me a
wonderland of which I know comparatively nothing. Nor is any very
intimate knowledge of spiders to be got from books, though numberless
lists of new species are constantly being printed; for they have not yet
had, like the social bees and ants, many loving and patient chroniclers
of their ways. The Hubens and Lubbocks have been many; the Moggridges
few. But even a very slight study of these most versatile and
accomplished of nature's children gives rise to some interesting
reflections. One fact that strikes the mind very forcibly is the
world-wide distribution of groups of species possessing highly developed
instincts. One is the zebra-striped Salticus, with its unique
strategy--that is to say, unique amongst spiders. It is said that the
Australian savage approaches a kangaroo in the open by getting up in
sight of its prey and standing perfectly motionless till he is regarded
as an inanimate object, and every time the animal's attention wanders
advancing a step or two until sufficiently near to hurl his spear. The
Salticus approaches a fly in the same manner, till near enough to make
its spring. Another is the Trapdoor spider. Another the Dolomedes, that
runs over the surface of the water in pursuit of its prey, and dives
down to escape from its enemies; and, strangest of all, the Argyroneta,
that has its luminous dwelling at the bottom of streams; and just as a
mason carries bricks and mortar to its building, so does this spider
carry down bubbles of air from the surface to enlarge its mysterious
house, in which it lays its eggs and rears its young. Community of
descent must be supposed of species having such curious and complex
instincts; but how came these feeble creatures, unable to transport
themselves over seas and continents like the aerial gossamer, to be so
widely distributed, and inhabiting regions with such different
conditions? This can only be attributed to the enormous antiquity of the
species, and of this antiquity the earliness in which the instinct
manifests itself in the young spiders is taken as evidence.

A more important matter, the intelligence of spiders, has not yet
received the attention it deserves. The question of insect
intelligence--naturalists are agreed that insects do possess
intelligence--is an extremely difficult one; probably some of our
conclusions on this matter will have to be reconsidered. For instance,
we regard the Order Hymenoptera as the most intelligent because most of
the social insects are included in it; but it has not yet been proved,
probably never will be proved, that the social instincts resulted from
intelligence which has "lapsed." Whether ants and bees were more
intelligent than other insects during the early stages of their organic
societies or not, it will hardly be disputed by any naturalist who has
observed insects for long that many solitary species display more
intelligence in their actions than those that live in communities.

The nature of the spider's food and the difficulties in the way of
providing for their wants impose on them a life of solitude: hunger,
perpetual watchfulness, and the sense of danger have given them a
character of mixed ferocity and timidity. But these very conditions,
which have made it impossible for them to form societies like some
insects and progress to a state of things resembling civilization in
men, have served to develop the mind that is in a spider, making of him
a very clever barbarian-The spider's only weapon of defence---his
falces--are as poor a protection against the assaults of his insect foes
as are teeth and finger-nails in man employed against wolves, bears, and
tigers. And the spider is here even worse off than man, since his
enemies are winged and able to sweep down instantly on him from above;
they are also protected with an invulnerable shield, and are armedwith
deadly stings. Like man, also, the spider has a soft, unprotected body,
while his muscular strength, compared with that of the insects he has to
contend with, is almost _nil._ His position in nature then, with
relation to his enemies, is like that of man; only the spider has this
disadvantage, that he cannot combine with others for protection. That he
does protect himself and maintains his place in nature is due, not to
special instincts, which are utterly insufficient, but to the
intelligence which supplements them. At the same time this superior
cunning is closely related with, and probably results indirectly from,
the web he is provided with, and which is almost of the nature of an
artificial aid. Let us take the imaginary case of a man-like monkey, or
of an arboreal man, born with a cord of great length attached to his
waist, which could be either dragged after him or carried in a coil.
After many accidents, experience would eventually teach him to put it to
some use; practice would make him more and more skilful in handling it,
and, indirectly, it would be the means of developing his latent mental
faculties. He would begin by using it, as the monkey does its prehensile
tail, to swing himself from branch to branch, and finally, to escape
from an enemy or in pursuit of his prey, he would be able by means of
his cord to drop himself with safety from the tallest trees, or fly down
the steepest precipices. He would coil up his cord to make a bed to lie
on, and also use it for binding branches together when building himself
a refuge. In a close fight, he would endeavour to entangle an adversary,
and at last he would learn to make a snare with it to capture his prey.
To all these, and to a hundred other uses, the spider has put his web.
And when we see him spread his beautiful geometric snare, held by lines
fixed to widely separated points, while he sits concealed in his
web-lined retreat amongst the leaves where every touch on the
far-reaching structure is telegraphed to him by the communicating line
faithfully as if a nerve had been touched, we must admire the wonderful
perfection to which he has attained in the use of his cord. By these
means he is able to conquer creatures too swift and strong for him, and
make them his prey. When we see him repairing damages, weighting his
light fabric in windy weather with pebbles or sticks, as a fisher
weights his net, and cutting loose a captive whose great strength
threatens the destruction of the web, then we begin to suspect that he
has, above his special instinct, a reason that guides, modifies, and in
many ways supplements it. It is not, however, only on these great
occasions, when the end is sought by unusual means, that spiders show
their intelligence; for even these things might be considered by some as
merely parts of one great complex instinct; but at all times, in all
things, the observer who watches them closely cannot fail to be
convinced that they possess a guiding principle which is not mere
instinct. What the stick or stone was to primitive man, when he had made
the discovery that by holding it in his hand he greatly increased the
force of his blow, the possession of a web has been to the spider in
developing that spark of intellect which it possesses in common with all
animal organisms.


W. H. Hudson