Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

May 21, 2008

Along Came a Spider

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 11:34 am

   We’ve all been in the situation where we discover a Buick-sized spider in the tub or sink. Usually the spider in question is more comparable in size to a VW Beetle, but the absence of scale causes us to exaggerate a bit. My son came in from mowing the lawn the other day and bent down to wash his hands. A sizable spider, pictured above, fell off of his shoulder and landed in the sink basin before him – which elicited a gyrating dance accompanied by self flagellation.

  Had this of been my oldest son, he would have immediately washed the thing down the drain in a sudden gush of super hot water. Number two son, however, left the creature in state and informed me of a spider in the sink. “Is it a big one?” I asked. “Kinda,” he said, “but I’m not sure what kind it is.” I followed him back and when he pointed it out I blurted out “Holy Cow!” Now, I didn’t actually say those words, mind you, but expressed an emotion slightly more extreme than that sentiment.

  What I initially saw was a Buick-sized smooth bodied spider lying on its back in the middle of the basin. Large spiders are one of the only natural phobias I have, so I had to fight back the knee-jerk reaction to immediately flush it down the drain with a sudden gush of super hot water. My naturalist’s instinct took over when I realized the thing wasn’t moving at all and was very fresh and un-squished. Dead spiders curl up when dead because they are essentially fluid filled leg bags that deflate when whacked or dried up. This one was as fresh as a…a…. live spider, but without the jerky movements. It was a Sow bug Killer Spider and one of the largest I have seen.

  The thing was actually only about an inch long from leg tip to leg tip – they are much smaller without the fenders and such. I carefully picked it up, or rather, pushed the limp body over onto a napkin and then picked up the napkin (phobias have no rhyme or reason). It was only after verifying that the arachnid was not “alive” that I placed it in my hand to take some photos of the underside. I will admit that if someone had snuck up behind me while I was doing this and screamed something like “It’s moving!,” I would have thrown it into the air and squealed like a little girl. My number two son was far too respectful to engage in such foolishness (a fact that makes me somewhat ashamed because I would have done it to him).

  Anyway, looking at the still spider in hand gave me an opportunity to examine it in some detail and admire its brick red cephalo-thorax (literally “head-body”) and silky textured abdomen (butt). Sow bug Killers are equipped with an incredible set of long fangs which they use to pierce the tough outer shell of their namesake prey – sow bugs (a.k.a. rolly pollies, pill bugs, or woodlice). They are pouncing predators which do not make webs to ensnare their prey. You’ll also notice the slit-like book lungs that can be seen at the front end of the abdomen.

  On the topside (another view here) you can appreciate- or not- the same color features mentioned before and the feminine lines of this specimen which is a female. Male spiders are nearly always smaller than the females. These European immigrants defy the usual spider tradition by having only six rather than eight eyes. The eyes are arranged in a semi-circle at the head end of the “head-body.”

  The question came up as to how this thing ended up on my son’s shoulder in the first place. S.B.K’s are ground dwelling spiders which lurk about under logs or around damp garage spaces where sow bugs live. They can climb well enough, but their chosen lifestyle doesn’t require it, so how did it end up six feet off the ground?  This one was paralyzed as well, which is why it offered no resistance and why it flopped off his shoulder like a rag doll into the sink. There is only one answer that satisfies these two riddles: wasps.

  Many wasp species, such as Mud Daubers, feed their young exclusively on spiders. They paralyze their victims and seal them up in mud chambers so their larvae can feast on their freshly preserved flesh. I believe this spider was in the process of being flown to its grim destiny when the wasp carrying it accidently dropped it onto my son’s shoulder – probably frightened by the sudden motion beneath it.

  Instead of ending up as maggot food, it became a subject of timid study.  I have to admit that I found the Sow bug Killer to be an impressive beast and have to give credit to that nameless wasp for rendering it into a state which I felt almost safe handling it. These things are not dangerous to people whatsoever, but you know what I mean. Finally, thanks to my son for having the presence of mind to resist the urge to flush it down the drain with a sudden gush of super hot water. I will award him six “son points” and allow him to pay for my ticket to the new Indiana Jones movie.

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