There’s a large orb web at the corner of our house. It’s dark now when I get up in the mornings and I see it in the light. Since the year is winding down the spider in it—which I’m pretty sure is an Aranea cavatica—is stepping up her efforts. It’s not an accident that their webs become more visible at this time of year, or that the crickets seem to get a little louder, the bees a little bolder. This is their last chance.
Last year I wrote about finding three Aranea cavaticas in my yard and, as a tribute to Charlotte’s Web, I named them Joy, Aranea, and Nellie. The one at the corner of the house this year is Charlotte, and next year the cycle will begin again with Joy.
After all these years spiders still fascinate me, and after all these years it still surprises me that they don’t fascinate other people as much. When I pick up a spider in the house my wife usually says the same thing: “Put it outside. No, put it outside. No, I don’t want to see it. Don’t bring it over here. PUT IT OUTSIDE.”
Intellectually I do understand why most people don’t like spiders. It’s all the legs and the way they move. And the fact that some spiders bite. Some people say it’s the multiple eyes but if you don’t like spiders you’re probably not going to get close enough to see its eyes.
In spite of the widespread dislike there’s a whole web of folkore that’s grown up around spiders. Historically spider webs were, and occasionally still are, used as bandages. Maybe it was the silky nature that prompted this use but scientists have found there are antibiotic properties in spider silk. There’s the belief that it’s bad luck to kill a spider, and there’s some truth in that. If you find a spider in your home think about what it’s probably eating.
Then there’s the Tarantella dance that might have originated with the belief that the bite of a certain spider was poisonous and could only be cured by dancing. The likely arachnid was a wolf spider whose bite is harmless to people but I guess people thought they needed an excuse to dance. Some scholars think people used the Tarantella dance as an excuse to have sex and, hey, I’m not sure why you need an excuse, but that does throw a whole new light on Little Miss Muffett and why she dragged her tuffet outside, but that’s another story.
Maybe deep down spiders also give us a sense of our own mortality. As I said spider webs, and the spiders that make them, get bigger as the year winds down. It’s a reminder of time slipping away—although in my yard at least Joy will always come around again.