Saying goodbye to a spider, of all things
Properly speaking, astronomical spring in the Northern Hemisphere doesn’t begin for over two weeks (not until March 20). So the European garden spider that lives, or rather lived in my parkade didn’t quite make it through the winter.
Tuesday evening at 11 p.m. I checked up on her. She wasn’t sitting in her worn-out web, woven across a ceiling light fixture and she wasn’t in her hibernating/sleeping spot beside that light fixture.
Directly below the spot, where she had spent the majority of the last four months, I found her lying on the parkade floor.
In life, spiders run up walls and across ceilings or just sit suspended in nearly invisible webs–creating the illusion that they’re weightless creatures, free from the affects of gravity.
In death, the body of this spider laying akimbo on the concrete broke that illusion. I could see that she took the 3-metre fall hard.
A spider for almost all seasons
A few times in October, November and December, the garden spider had come out of her slumber beside the ceiling light and rewove or at least repaired her web.
February 1 was the last time that I saw her up and about. She moved slowly and made no attempt at remaking her web. As she sat in the sturdiest part of the disheveled and dusty mess, I watched a tiny fly dart in and around the gossamer strands, land briefly and then fly away.
It was no good. There was no stickiness left in the web.
It really costs spiders to weave; their silk is pure protein—mostly the amino acids glycine and alanine. So when spiders consume their old webs they’re doing so to re-metabolize all that precious protein.
The spider in my parkade seemingly hadn’t the energy even to eat her old web, let alone weave a new one. She sat in it for a few hours and then wearily went back to her sleeping spot.
On February 2, I wasn’t joking when I wrote that she was dying to meet some of the first flies of spring. In fact, as she slept suspended from the ceiling, with her legs hooked to the side of a lighting fixture, she was literately hanging on for dear life.
Sometime on Tuesday she couldn’t hang on anymore and she let go.
Spider exits curtain right, cue violins
The BBC Nature website’s entry on the European garden spider has been copied by many other websites; I like to think this is because of the compelling touch in the otherwise straightforward first sentence.
“The European garden spider with its poignant life cycle and familiar orb web is the most well known spider in the UK.”
The entry goes on to explain how poignant.
After the female garden spider mates in late summer she lays eggs in a silken egg sac of her own manufacture and then gives up hunting and feeding in order to devote all her time to protect those eggs. But she can only survive without food and water for maybe two or three months and generally dies in late fall. With luck, her spiderlings live on to hatch the following May and use their first silken threads to spread out on the wind.
Male garden spiders are much smaller than the females and for a few days back in late summer I did see one small spider warily orbiting the female imperiously sitting at the centre of her large web.
This, however, doesn’t tell me if she managed to mate and if she was guarding eggs.
I’m going to clear away her web and tidy up around the ceiling light, in order to get the spot ready for the next eight-legged tenant. But I’ll be sure to leave anything that looks remotely like the round egg sacs that I can see on the web.
Who knows, maybe the parkade will be host to the birth of centuplicets in May! Click the image to enlarge it.