National Geographic : 1971 Aug
its walls with saliva-moistened earth, and covered them with a sheet of tightly spun silk. Finally she had woven the hinged and cam ouflaged trapdoor-her shield against a hostile world. She was now safe from most of her enemies but still vulnerable to the pompilid wasp nemesis of all members of the tarantula group. When such a wasp locates a trapdoor, it chews through the cap or simply rushes in if the spider lifts the door too high. Once in side, the wasp engages the spider in the same unequal contest I had observed against the tarantula in Arizona. Then the insect departs through the now-unguarded door. The trap-door spider designs her abode not only for safety, but also as a shelter from sun, rain, and cold. It is her courtship parlor too, her nuptial chamber, and a nursery for her young. Seldom if ever does she leave its con fines, and even then ventures out only a few inches to capture crawling insects. Indians Believed in Spider Power Greek mythology gave us Arachne. Other myths deify the spider. "To the American In dians," writes Dr. Gertsch, "the spider is a creature of mystery and power...." To the Dakotas "the orb web is a symbol of the heav ens ... from the spirals of the orb emanate the mystery and power of the Great Spirit." And the lines connect sky and earth on which an "... Algonkin maiden, fallen from grace as wife of the Morning Star, is sent back to earth." To certain Southwest Indians, the original creator was a spider; to others, weav ing was introduced by a spider woman. Quaint myths. But where do spiders fit into nature's plan, and into the world which man has superimposed on nature? To begin with, the arachnid line goes back 400 million years to the first land-dwelling invertebrates. Ages of adaptation followed, Bridging a gap in one of the anchor lines of her three sided web, a triangle spider patiently waits for dinner. When an insect lands in her snare, she pulls the anchor line taut, then suddenly releases it, making the web vibrate and further entan gling the victim. Then the venomless hunter swathes her prey in silk and sucks the juices from its body. 218 during which spiders infiltrated almost every climate and every ecological niche. Housewives are aware that any closet or dark corner, even on the thirtieth floor of a New York apartment building, if left un swept or undusted for just a few weeks, will inevitably develop cobwebs. How they get there strains one's imagination. Gossamer Webs Capture Morning's Glory Not only are spiders found almost every where; they exist in incalculable numbers. Sampling techniques have revealed some 64,000 spiders in one acre of meadow in a Middle Atlantic state and a quarter of a mil lion in an acre of tropical forest. The world wide count would be beyond comprehension. The spider's marvelously inventive modes are fueled by strictly carnivorous habits which, although deadly in the insect world, are man's distinct blessing. Man must live on what he grows, and thanks in part to his eight-legged friends, destructive insects are held in check. It seems ironic that such a benefactor should typify ugliness and con note menace-should have, as the nursery rhyme has it, "frightened Miss Muffet away." Early one September morning on a New England hillside, I came upon a patch of mountain laurel in which scores of orb webs were strung. Their silken fibers, moist with dew, caught the rays of the rising sun, and the glitter was dazzling (page 197). Perhaps a similar enchanting encounter in 1715 inspired 12-year-old Jonathan Edwards, the future Puritan theologian and scholar, to pen what I think of as the best tribute to man's plentiful eight-legged friends. (Edwards could not have known that a century later scientists would decide that spiders are not insects.) "... every thing belonging to this insect," wrote Edwards, "is admirable .. ." f[ HYPTIOTESPARADOXUS.8 TIMESLIFE-SIZE. EUROPE;BYJOHN A. L. COOKE© N.G.S.