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Another spider…big hairy deal

October 8, 2014

fat-euro-graden-spider-01

Most European garden spiders are the size of a person’s fingernail but they vary. Yesterday I saw one that was nearly as large as the first joint of my thumb.

The bigger they are the more formidable they look. And they are formidable — if you’re a fly.’

Otherwise etymologists assure us that European garden spiders are particularly innocuous. Their bite poses no risk to people and anyways they don’t bite a lot of people — they’re remarkably hard to provoke.

They’re phlegmatic, European garden spiders are

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I know first hand how calm and passive they are from photographing so many of them. Only twice have I seen them react to my attention.

In one instance the spider dashed back and forth across the top of it’s web and in the other, the spider actually lunged at the lens of my camera each time I brought it within a centimetre or so of the web.

Otherwise they just pose. I’m embarrassed to say that I even accidentally knocked one off it’s web but it still showed no visible loss of composure.

Spiders work safe and this one placidly dangled by its silken safety thread for a moment and then repaired back to the centre of its orb web.

So, to recap: hairy and scary looking but actually harmless.

Except now I find out that maybe European garden spiders know how to use tools.

 Another way that European garden spiders rock

Two days ago, four astonishing images were posted on Imgur by a user named reverseLoop, apparently showing how a European garden spider solved a tricky web engineering problem by using a rock.

The small rock a spider suspended fro a web to anchor it. -- reverseLoop

The small rock a spider apparently suspended from a web to anchor it. — reverseLoop

The spider decided to built an orb web hanging from the underside of the peaked roof of a large garage. The roof angle was very shallow and there was nothing to anchor the web to so it didn’t flap around in the wind. The spider’s solution was to use the weight of a small rock as the anchor point for the web. The spider hung the rock from the bottom of the web attached by a long, very reinforced, silken line.

The photos raise some questions. The first is about their authenticity and they seem genuine. Furthermore there is precedent: a video from a 2011 BBC2 documentary showing a small Madagascar spider hoisting a large empty snail shell up into a tree, apparently to use it as a spare bedroom.

Beyond that, does the use of a rock constitute tool use and is it evidence of intelligence over and above pure hardwired instinct?

I don’t know the answers but the fact that the questions beg to be asked is enough to mane me respect — if not fear — spiders all that much more.

And I think that in the future I should be more careful not to bump them with my camera — might just get a rock upside the head one of these days. Click the top two images to enlarge them.

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From → Fairview, Spiders

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