If I had to undergo one of those transformations we read about in fairy
tales, and were to be turned into a spider, I should very much wish to
be one of the wandering spiders, and not a web-maker. Both in houses and
out of doors, things go badly with spiders' webs and their occupiers;
they are constantly disturbed, and if they get away alive, their work
has to be done over again. But a spider that does not make a web is
usually suffered to go on his way undisturbed; sometimes, indeed, the
hunting spiders are scarcely recognised as spiders, and pass for some
other kind of insect.
The hunting spiders, however, do resemble the spinners. They are mostly,
perhaps, rather more slim in the body, and are furnished with eight
legs, sharp jaws and a poison fang, being able also to spin threads,
should they need to do so. Our British hunters are nearly all small.
Some of them do not run after their prey; they lurk beside a little
pebble, or in the folds of a leaf or flower.
The running spider, called the tarantula, is not very common in Europe,
though it is found in some parts of Italy; it is sometimes known to bite
people, and an old but false belief held that the poison forced them to
keep on dancing till quite worn out. Not long ago, some persons allowed
themselves to be bitten by it, but the only effect was painful swelling.
In tropical countries, however, this spider grows to a great size, and
can cause great pain by its bite. The tarantula is of the wolf-spider
family, whose habit is to chase their prey, not lie in ambush.
We have many British wolf-spiders: one for instance—he has no English
name—is Lycosa amentata. This is a species that is found in numbers
about heaps of stones by the wayside, or upon chalky banks. When
alarmed, these spiders seem to vanish like magic. They also do a good
deal of hunting upon low-growing, large-leaved plants. It is amusing to
watch one standing on the edge of a leaf, whence it makes a dash at some
flying insect that alights. Frequently it misses, but, when successful,
it carries off the prey, bigger perhaps than itself, to a safe retreat.
During autumn, the female spider bears about with her the egg-bag of
yellow or whitish silk, in which the little spiders are hatched. They
are much paler than the old spiders, and remain with their mother till
they have attained to some size. They manage to live through the winter,
and are fully grown in May. Amongst the wolf-spiders generally, we find
a difference between the movements of the males and females. If hard
pressed, the females escape by a succession of short runs, but the males
can manage to jump from leaf to leaf with much agility.
Several of the hunting spiders are equal to flying, or at least manage
to be wafted along by the breeze, when they want to take a trip. The
silk these throw out is occasionally called 'gossamer;' it is slight,
and not unlike the true gossamer, made by web-spinners of various sorts,
which we usually notice in autumn, covering bushes and grassy spaces.
The family to which the airy spiders belong is notable, because it
contains those species which have a likeness to crabs in form, having
short broad bodies, feeble front legs, and long, powerful hind legs.
They run easily forwards, backwards, or sideways, and are mostly pale,
with dark markings. Generally, such spiders follow their prey, since
they are good runners, but a few have the habit of living in ambush,
ready to spring upon insects that come near.
Very common in gardens are the Saltici. Most people have seen one
species in particular, which is grey, the back and legs being barred
with white. This spider leaps upon its prey, and you may notice that it
always has a thread attached to some object. Probably it is a precaution
against slipping, in case the jump is a failure.
Some small, black, very agile spiders, which are found about our rooms,
and also out-of-doors, are evidently hunters; people call them
money-spiders, for it is supposed to be lucky should one of them crawl
over you, or come towards you. There is a spider popularly known as
daddy-long-legs, though this name is shared by other insects; it has a
narrow body, and long pale legs, with dark knee-joints. It is often
noticed roving about, for some reason or other; yet the species is a
web-maker; its web is usually in a dark corner.