Spider Runners

by Unknown

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.