All I have to say about the title of this post is…Roget let me down yet again.
For the past couple of months I’ve been observing a female yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia; a type of orb weaver) just outside one of our garage windows. During that time, it’s grown from a half-inch “wingspan” juvenile into a three inch Stuff Of Nightmares, dining on a variety of hapless insects that become ensnared in its two feet wide circular web, which is anchored at the corners by some tall shrubs on the bottom, and the eave of our house at the top.
I check on it daily, mainly to reassure myself that if it’s still there, it’s not in our house. Did I mention my arachnid aversion? I confess a somewhat morbid fascination with its behavior, as I comfortably (in a physical sense; emotionally, it’s a different story) view it from the opposite side of the glass.
But last week, I saw something that made me drop my guard and rush outside to get a closer look. The spider was busily spinning something around with those Tim Burtonesque legs, and I immediately recognized it as Lady Shelob‘s next Meal Simple. The apparently imminent entrée was vaguely beetle-shaped, and as I looked closer, I realized to my horror that it was still alive and [literally] kicking.
So, of course, I had to video it…and you’ll never believe what happened next! (No, really!)
So much for the spider being the ultimate predator.
Of course, I had to chase some rabbits after viewing these spectacles. Here are some things you might not know about spiders and their webs:
- Spiders can vary the thickness and stickiness of the silk they produce depending on its intended use. For example, the silk that the beetles were wrapped in is called “aciniform” while the outer rim and spokes of the web is comprised of silk called “ampullate” (and ampullate can have different compositions depending on whether it’s meant to be temporary during construction of the web, or permanent).
- Aciniform silk is much tougher than other types, making the beetles’ escapes that much more impressive.
- The Darwin’s bark spider’s silk is the toughest biologic material ever discovered; it’s ten times tougher on a weight-adjusted basis than Kevlar. (“Toughness” is a combination of a material’s strength and ductility — which, as we all know, is the measure of how much a material can be distorted [or stretched, in the case of spider silk] without breaking.) This explains why Kim Kardashian’s bras are made exclusively of spider silk.
- OK, I made that last sentence up.
- Spider silk is rich in vitamin K, which can aid in blood clotting, so the next time you, say, cut off a finger with your chain saw, just look for a spider web. (Not really. I mean, it might work, but there are probably other, more medically effective measures, starting with not cutting off any appendages.)