The Banded Epeira


BUILDING THE WEB.



The fowling-snare is one of man's ingenious villainies. With lines,

pegs and poles, two large, earth-coloured nets are stretched upon the

ground, one to the right, the other to the left of a bare surface. A

long cord, pulled at the right moment by the fowler, who hides in a

brushwood hut, works them and brings them together suddenly, like a

pair of shutters.



Di
ided between the two nets are the cages of the decoy-birds--Linnets

and Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Yellowhammers, Buntings and

Ortolans--sharp-eared creatures which, on perceiving the distant

passage of a flock of their own kind, forthwith utter a short calling

note. One of them, the Sambe, an irresistible tempter, hops about and

flaps his wings in apparent freedom. A bit of twine fastens him to his

convict's stake. When, worn with fatigue and driven desperate by his

vain attempts to get away, the sufferer lies down flat and refuses to

do his duty, the fowler is able to stimulate him without stirring from

his hut. A long string sets in motion a little lever working on a

pivot. Raised from the ground by this diabolical contrivance, the bird

flies, falls down and flies up again at each jerk of the cord.



The fowler waits, in the mild sunlight of the autumn morning. Suddenly,

great excitement in the cages. The Chaffinches chirp their rallying

cry:



"Pinck! Pinck!"



There is something happening in the sky. The Sambe, quick! They are

coming, the simpletons; they swoop down upon the treacherous floor.

With a rapid movement, the man in ambush pulls his string. The nets

close and the whole flock is caught.



Man has wild beast's blood in his veins. The fowler hastens to the

slaughter. With his thumb he stifles the beating of the captives'

hearts, staves in their skulls. The little birds, so many piteous heads

of game, will go to market, strung in dozens on a wire passed through

their nostrils.



For scoundrelly ingenuity, the Epeira's net can bear comparison with

the fowler's; it even surpasses it when, on patient study, the main

features of its supreme perfection stand revealed. What refinement of

art for a mess of Flies! Nowhere, in the whole animal kingdom, has the

need to eat inspired a more cunning industry. If the reader will

meditate upon the description that follows, he will certainly share my

admiration.



In bearing and colouring, Epeira fasciata is the handsomest of the

Spiders of the South. On her fat belly, a mighty silk-warehouse nearly

as large as a hazel-nut, are alternate yellow, black and silver sashes,

to which she owes her epithet of Banded. Around that portly abdomen the

eight long legs, with their dark- and pale-brown rings, radiate like

spokes.



Any small prey suits her; and, as long as she can find supports for her

web, she settles wherever the Locust hops, wherever the Fly hovers,

wherever the Dragon-fly dances or the Butterfly flits. As a rule,

because of the greater abundance of game, she spreads her toils across

some brooklet, from bank to bank among the rushes. She also stretches

them, but not so assiduously, in the thickets of evergreen oak, on the

slopes with the scrubby greenswards, dear to the Grasshoppers.



Her hunting-weapon is a large upright web, whose outer boundary, which

varies according to the disposition of the ground, is fastened to the

neighbouring branches by a number of moorings. Let us see, first of

all, how the ropes which form the framework of the building are

obtained.



All day invisible, crouching amid the cypress-leaves, the Spider, at

about eight o'clock in the evening, solemnly emerges from her retreat

and makes for the top of a branch. In this exalted position she sits

for sometime laying her plans with due regard to the locality; she

consults the weather, ascertains if the night will be fine. Then,

suddenly, with her eight legs widespread, she lets herself drop

straight down, hanging to the line that issues from her spinnerets.

Just as the rope-maker obtains the even output of his hemp by walking

backwards, so does the Epeira obtain the discharge of hers by falling.

It is extracted by the weight of her body.



The descent, however, has not the brute speed which the force of

gravity would give it, if uncontrolled. It is governed by the action of

the spinnerets, which contract or expand their pores, or close them

entirely, at the faller's pleasure. And so, with gentle moderation, she

pays out this living plumb-line, of which my lantern clearly shows me

the plumb, but not always the line. The great squab seems at such times

to be sprawling in space, without the least support.



She comes to an abrupt stop two inches from the ground; the silk-reel

ceases working. The Spider turns round, clutches the line which she has

just obtained and climbs up by this road, still spinning. But, this

time, as she is no longer assisted by the force of gravity, the thread

is extracted in another manner. The two hind-legs, with a quick

alternate action, draw it from the wallet and let it go.



On returning to her starting-point, at a height of six feet or more,

the Spider is now in possession of a double line, bent into a loop and

floating loosely in a current of air. She fixes her end where it suits

her and waits until the other end, wafted by the wind, has fastened its

loop to the adjacent twigs.



Feeling her thread fixed, the Epeira runs along it repeatedly, from end

to end, adding a fibre to it on each journey. Whether I help or not,

this forms the "suspension cable," the main piece of the framework. I

call it a cable, in spite of its extreme thinness, because of its

structure. It looks as though it were single, but, at the two ends, it

is seen to divide and spread, tuft-wise, into numerous constituent

parts, which are the product of as many crossings. These diverging

fibres, with their several contact-points, increase the steadiness of

the two extremities.



The suspension-cable is incomparably stronger than the rest of the work

and lasts for an indefinite time. The web is generally shattered after

the night's hunting and is nearly always rewoven on the following

evening. After the removal of the wreckage, it is made all over again,

on the same site, cleared of everything except the cable from which the

new network is to hang.



Once the cable is laid, in this way or in that, the Spider is in

possession of a base that allows her to approach or withdraw from the

leafy piers at will. From the height of the cable she lets herself slip

to a slight depth, varying the points of her fall. In this way she

obtains, to right and left, a few slanting cross-bars, connecting the

cable with the branches.



These cross-bars, in their turn, support others in ever changing

directions. When there are enough of them, the Epeira need no longer

resort to falls in order to extract her threads; she goes from one cord

to the next, always wire-drawing with her hind-legs. This results in a

combination of straight lines owning no order, save that they are kept

in one nearly perpendicular plane. Thus is marked out a very irregular

polygonal area, wherein the web, itself a work of magnificent

regularity, shall presently be woven.



In the lower part of the web, starting from the centre, a wide opaque

ribbon descends zigzag-wise across the radii. This is the Epeira's

trade-mark, the flourish of an artist initialling his creation. "Fecit

So-and-so," she seems to say, when giving the last throw of the shuttle

to her handiwork.



That the Spider feels satisfied when, after passing and repassing from

spoke to spoke, she finishes her spiral, is beyond a doubt: the work

achieved ensures her food for a few days to come. But, in this

particular case, the vanity of the spinstress has naught to say to the

matter: the strong silk zigzag is added to impart greater firmness to

the web.



THE LIME-SNARE.



The spiral network of the Epeirae possesses contrivances of fearsome

cunning. The thread that forms it is seen with the naked eye to differ

from that of the framework and the spokes. It glitters in the sun,

looks as though it were knotted and gives the impression of a chaplet

of atoms. To examine it through the lens on the web itself is scarcely

feasible, because of the shaking of the fabric, which trembles at the

least breath. By passing a sheet of glass under the web and lifting it,

I take away a few pieces of thread to study, pieces that remain fixed

to the glass in parallel lines. Lens and microscope can now play their

part.



The sight is perfectly astounding. Those threads, on the borderland

between the visible and the invisible, are very closely twisted twine,

similar to the gold cord of our officers' sword-knots. Moreover, they

are hollow. The infinitely slender is a tube, a channel full of a

viscous moisture resembling a strong solution of gum arabic. I can see

a diaphanous trail of this moisture trickling through the broken ends.

Under the pressure of the thin glass slide that covers them on the

stage of the microscope, the twists lengthen out, become crinkled

ribbons, traversed from end to end, through the middle, by a dark

streak, which is the empty container.



The fluid contents must ooze slowly through the side of those tubular

threads, rolled into twisted strings, and thus render the network

sticky. It is sticky, in fact, and in such a way as to provoke

surprise. I bring a fine straw flat down upon three or four rungs of a

sector. However gentle the contact, adhesion is at once established.

When I lift the straw, the threads come with it and stretch to twice or

three times their length, like a thread of india-rubber. At last, when

over-taut, they loosen without breaking and resume their original form.

They lengthen by unrolling their twist, they shorten by rolling it

again; lastly, they become adhesive by taking the glaze of the gummy

moisture wherewith they are filled.



In short, the spiral thread is a capillary tube finer than any that our

physics will ever know. It is rolled into a twist so as to possess an

elasticity that allows it, without breaking, to yield to the tugs of

the captured prey; it holds a supply of sticky matter in reserve in its

tube, so as to renew the adhesive properties of the surface by

incessant exudation, as they become impaired by exposure to the air. It

is simply marvellous.



The Epeira hunts not with springs, but with lime-snares. And such

lime-snares! Everything is caught in them, down to the dandelion-plume

that barely brushes against them. Nevertheless, the Epeira, who is in

constant touch with her web, is not caught in them. Why? Because the

Spider has contrived for herself, in the middle of her trap, a floor in

whose construction the sticky spiral thread plays no part. There is

here, covering a space which, in the larger webs, is about equal to the

palm of one's hand, a neutral fabric in which the exploring straw finds

no adhesiveness anywhere.



Here, on this central resting-floor, and here only, the Epeira takes

her stand, waiting whole days for the arrival of the game. However

close, however prolonged her contact with this portion of the web, she

runs no risk of sticking to it, because the gummy coating is lacking,

as is the twisted and tubular structure, throughout the length of the

spokes and throughout the extent of the auxiliary spiral. These pieces,

together with the rest of the framework, are made of plain, straight,

solid thread.



But when a victim is caught, sometimes right at the edge of the web,

the Spider has to rush up quickly, to bind it and overcome its attempts

to free itself. She is walking then upon her network; and I do not find

that she suffers the least inconvenience. The lime-threads are not even

lifted by the movements of her legs.



In my boyhood, when a troop of us would go, on Thursdays (The weekly

half-day in French schools.--Translator's Note.), to try and catch a

Goldfinch in the hemp-fields, we used, before covering the twigs with

glue, to grease our fingers with a few drops of oil, lest we should get

them caught in the sticky matter. Does the Epeira know the secret of

fatty substances? Let us try.



I rub my exploring straw with slightly oiled paper. When applied to the

spiral thread of the web, it now no longer sticks to it. The principle

is discovered. I pull out the leg of a live Epeira. Brought just as it

is into contact with the lime-threads, it does not stick to them any

more than to the neutral cords, whether spokes or part of the

framework. We were entitled to expect this, judging by the Spider's

general immunity.



But here is something that wholly alters the result. I put the leg to

soak for a quarter of an hour in disulphide of carbon, the best solvent

of fatty matters. I wash it carefully with a brush dipped in the same

fluid. When this washing is finished, the leg sticks to the

snaring-thread quite easily and adheres to it just as well as anything

else would, the unoiled straw, for instance.



Did I guess aright when I judged that it was a fatty substance that

preserved the Epeira from the snares of her sticky Catherine-wheel? The

action of the carbon-disulphide seems to say yes. Besides, there is no

reason why a substance of this kind, which plays so frequent a part in

animal economy, should not coat the Spider very slightly by the mere

act of perspiration. We used to rub our fingers with a little oil

before handling the twigs in which the Goldfinch was to be caught; even

so the Epeira varnishes herself with a special sweat, to operate on any

part of her web without fear of the lime-threads.



However, an unduly protracted stay on the sticky threads would have its

drawbacks. In the long run, continual contact with those threads might

produce a certain adhesion and inconvenience to the Spider, who must

preserve all her agility in order to rush upon the prey before it can

release itself. For this reason, gummy threads are never used in

building the post of interminable waiting.



It is only on her resting-floor that the Epeira sits, motionless and

with her eight legs outspread, ready to mark the least quiver in the

net. It is here, again, that she takes her meals, often long-drawn out,

when the joint is a substantial one; it is hither that, after trussing

and nibbling it, she drags her prey at the end of a thread, to consume

it at her ease on a non-viscous mat. As a hunting-post and refectory,

the Epeira has contrived a central space, free from glue.



As for the glue itself, it is hardly possible to study its chemical

properties, because the quantity is so slight. The microscope shows it

trickling from the broken threads in the form of a transparent and more

or less granular streak. The following experiment will tell us more

about it.



With a sheet of glass passed across the web, I gather a series of

lime-threads which remain fixed in parallel lines. I cover this sheet

with a bell-jar standing in a depth of water. Soon, in this atmosphere

saturated with humidity, the threads become enveloped in a watery

sheath, which gradually increases and begins to flow. The twisted shape

has by this time disappeared; and the channel of the thread reveals a

chaplet of translucent orbs, that is to say, a series of extremely fine

drops.



In twenty-four hours the threads have lost their contents and are

reduced to almost invisible streaks. If I then lay a drop of water on

the glass, I get a sticky solution similar to that which a particle of

gum arabic might yield. The conclusion is evident: the Epeira's glue is

a substance that absorbs moisture freely. In an atmosphere with a high

degree of humidity, it becomes saturated and percolates by sweating

through the side of the tubular threads.



These data explain certain facts relating to the work of the net. The

Epeirae weave at very early hours, long before dawn. Should the air

turn misty, they sometimes leave that part of the task unfinished: they

build the general framework, they lay the spokes, they even draw the

auxiliary spiral, for all these parts are unaffected by excess of

moisture; but they are very careful not to work at the lime-threads,

which, if soaked by the fog, would dissolve into sticky shreds and lose

their efficacy by being wetted. The net that was started will be

finished to-morrow, if the atmosphere be favourable.



While the highly-absorbent character of the snaring-thread has its

drawbacks, it also has compensating advantages. The Epeirae, when

hunting by day, affect those hot places, exposed to the fierce rays of

the sun, wherein the Crickets delight. In the torrid heats of the

dog-days, therefore, the lime-threads, but for special provisions,

would be liable to dry up, to shrivel into stiff and lifeless

filaments. But the very opposite happens. At the most scorching times

of the day they continue supple, elastic and more and more adhesive.



How is this brought about? By their very powers of absorption. The

moisture of which the air is never deprived penetrates them slowly; it

dilutes the thick contents of their tubes to the requisite degree and

causes it to ooze through, as and when the earlier stickiness

decreases. What bird-catcher could vie with the Garden Spider in the

art of laying lime-snares? And all this industry and cunning for the

capture of a Moth!



I should like an anatomist endowed with better implements than mine and

with less tired eyesight to explain to us the work of the marvellous

rope-yard. How is the silken matter moulded into a capillary tube? How

is this tube filled with glue and tightly twisted? And how does this

same mill also turn out plain threads, wrought first into a framework

and then into muslin and satin? What a number of products to come from

that curious factory, a Spider's belly! I behold the results, but fail

to understand the working of the machine. I leave the problem to the

masters of the microtome and the scalpel.



THE HUNT.



The Epeirae are monuments of patience in their lime-snare. With her

head down and her eight legs widespread, the Spider occupies the centre

of the web, the receiving-point of the information sent along the

spokes. If anywhere, behind or before, a vibration occur, the sign of a

capture, the Epeira knows about it, even without the aid of sight. She

hastens up at once.



Until then, not a movement: one would think that the animal was

hypnotized by her watching. At most, on the appearance of anything

suspicious, she begins shaking her nest. This is her way of inspiring

the intruder with awe. If I myself wish to provoke the singular alarm,

I have but to tease the Epeira with a bit of straw. You cannot have a

swing without an impulse of some sort. The terror-stricken Spider, who

wishes to strike terror into others, has hit upon something much

better. With nothing to push her, she swings with the floor of ropes.

There is no effort, no visible exertion. Not a single part of the

animal moves; and yet everything trembles. Violent shaking proceeds

from apparent inertia. Rest causes commotion.



When calm is restored, she resumes her attitude, ceaselessly pondering

the harsh problem of life:



"Shall I dine to-day, or not?"



Certain privileged beings, exempt from those anxieties, have food in

abundance and need not struggle to obtain it. Such is the Gentle, who

swims blissfully in the broth of the putrefying Adder. Others--and, by

a strange irony of fate, these are generally the most gifted--only

manage to eat by dint of craft and patience.



You are of their company, O my industrious Epeirae! So that you may

dine, you spend your treasures of patience nightly; and often without

result. I sympathize with your woes, for I, who am as concerned as you

about my daily bread, I also doggedly spread my net, the net for

catching ideas, a more elusive and less substantial prize than the

Moth. Let us not lose heart. The best part of life is not in the

present, still less in the past; it lies in the future, the domain of

hope. Let us wait.



All day long, the sky, of a uniform grey, has appeared to be brewing a

storm. In spite of the threatened downpour, my neighbour, who is a

shrewd weather-prophet, has come out of the cypress-tree and begun to

renew her web at the regular hour. Her forecast is correct: it will be

a fine night. See, the steaming-pan of the clouds splits open; and,

through the apertures, the moon peeps, inquisitively. I too, lantern in

hand, am peeping. A gust of wind from the north clears the realms on

high; the sky becomes magnificent; perfect calm reigns below. The Moths

begin their nightly rounds. Good! One is caught, a mighty fine one. The

Spider will dine to-day.



What happens next, in an uncertain light, does not lend itself to

accurate observation. It is better to turn to those Garden Spiders who

never leave their web and who hunt mainly in the daytime. The Banded

and the Silky Epeira, both of whom live on the rosemaries in the

enclosure, shall show us in broad daylight the innermost details of the

tragedy.



I myself place on the lime-snare a victim of my selecting. Its six legs

are caught without more ado. If the insect raises one of its tarsi and

pulls towards itself, the treacherous thread follows, unwinds slightly

and, without letting go or breaking, yields to the captive's desperate

jerks. Any limb released only tangles the others still more and is

speedily recaptured by the sticky matter. There is no means of escape,

except by smashing the trap with a sudden effort whereof even powerful

insects are not always capable.



Warned by the shaking of the net, the Epeira hastens up; she turns

round about the quarry; she inspects it at a distance, so as to

ascertain the extent of the danger before attacking. The strength of

the snareling will decide the plan of campaign. Let us first suppose

the usual case, that of an average head of game, a Moth or Fly of some

sort. Facing her prisoner, the Spider contracts her abdomen slightly

and touches the insect for a moment with the end of her spinnerets;

then, with her front tarsi, she sets her victim spinning. The Squirrel,

in the moving cylinder of his cage, does not display a more graceful or

nimbler dexterity. A cross-bar of the sticky spiral serves as an axis

for the tiny machine, which turns, turns swiftly, like a spit. It is a

treat to the eyes to see it revolve.



What is the object of this circular motion? It is this: the brief

contact of the spinnerets has given a starting-point for a thread,

which the Spider must now draw from her silk warehouse and gradually

roll around the captive, so as to swathe him in a winding-sheet which

will overpower any effort made. It is the exact process employed in our

wire-mills: a motor-driven spool revolves and, by its action, draws the

wire through the narrow eyelet of a steel plate, making it of the

fineness required, and, with the same movement, winds it round and

round its collar.



Even so with the Epeira's work. The Spider's front tarsi are the motor;

the revolving spool is the captured insect; the steel eyelet is the

aperture of the spinnerets. To bind the subject with precision and

dispatch nothing could be better than this inexpensive and highly

effective method.



Less frequently, a second process is employed. With a quick movement,

the Spider herself turns round about the motionless insect, crossing

the web first at the top and then at the bottom and gradually placing

the fastenings of her line. The great elasticity of the lime-threads

allows the Epeira to fling herself time after time right into the web

and to pass through it without damaging the net.



Let us now suppose the case of some dangerous game: a Praying Mantis,

for instance, brandishing her lethal limbs, each hooked and fitted with

a double saw; an angry Hornet, darting her awful sting; a sturdy

Beetle, invincible under his horny armour. These are exceptional

morsels, hardly ever known to the Epeirae. Will they be accepted, if

supplied by my stratagems?



They are, but not without caution. The game is seen to be perilous of

approach and the Spider turns her back upon it instead of facing it;

she trains her rope-cannon upon it. Quickly the hind-legs draw from the

spinnerets something much better than single cords. The whole

silk-battery works at one and the same time, firing a regular volley of

ribbons and sheets, which a wide movement of the legs spreads fan-wise

and flings over the entangled prisoner. Guarding against sudden starts,

the Epeira casts her armfuls of bands on the front- and hind-parts,

over the legs and over the wings, here, there and everywhere,

extravagantly. The most fiery prey is promptly mastered under this

avalanche. In vain the Mantis tries to open her saw-toothed arm-guards;

in vain the Hornet makes play with her dagger; in vain the Beetle

stiffens his legs and arches his back: a fresh wave of threads swoops

down and paralyses every effort.



The ancient retiarius, when pitted against a powerful wild beast,

appeared in the arena with a rope-net folded over his left shoulder.

The animal made its spring. The man, with a sudden movement of his

right arm, cast the net after the manner of the fisherman; he covered

the beast and tangled it in the meshes. A thrust of the trident gave

the quietus to the vanquished foe.



The Epeira acts in like fashion, with this advantage, that she is able

to renew her armful of fetters. Should the first not suffice, a second

instantly follows and another and yet another, until the reserves of

silk become exhausted.



When all movement ceases under the snowy winding-sheet, the Spider goes

up to her bound prisoner. She has a better weapon than the bestiarius'

trident: she has her poison-fangs. She gnaws at the Locust, without

undue persistence, and then withdraws, leaving the torpid patient to

pine away.



These lavished, far-flung ribbons threaten to exhaust the factory; it

would be much more economical to resort to the method of the spool;

but, to turn the machine, the Spider would have to go up to it and work

it with her leg. This is too risky; and hence the continuous spray of

silk, at a safe distance. When all is used up, there is more to come.



Still, the Epeira seems concerned at this excessive outlay. When

circumstances permit, she gladly returns to the mechanism of the

revolving spool. I saw her practice this abrupt change of tactics on a

big Beetle, with a smooth, plump body, which lent itself admirably to

the rotary process. After depriving the beast of all power of movement,

she went up to it and turned her corpulent victim as she would have

done with a medium-sized Moth.



But with the Praying Mantis, sticking out her long legs and her

spreading wings, rotation is no longer feasible. Then, until the quarry

is thoroughly subdued, the spray of bandages goes on continuously, even

to the point of drying up the silk glands. A capture of this kind is

ruinous. It is true that, except when I interfered, I have never seen

the Spider tackle that formidable provender.



Be it feeble or strong, the game is now neatly trussed, by one of the

two methods. The next move never varies. The bound insect is bitten,

without persistency and without any wound that shows. The Spider next

retires and allows the bite to act, which it soon does. She then

returns.



If the victim be small, a Clothes-moth, for instance, it is consumed on

the spot, at the place where it was captured. But, for a prize of some

importance, on which she hopes to feast for many an hour, sometimes for

many a day, the Spider needs a sequestered dining-room, where there is

naught to fear from the stickiness of the network. Before going to it,

she first makes her prey turn in the converse direction to that of the

original rotation. Her object is to free the nearest spokes, which

supplied pivots for the machinery. They are essential factors which it

behoves her to keep intact, if need be by sacrificing a few cross-bars.



It is done; the twisted ends are put back into position. The

well-trussed game is at last removed from the web and fastened on

behind with a thread. The Spider then marches in front and the load is

trundled across the web and hoisted to the resting-floor, which is both

an inspection-post and a dining-hall. When the Spider is of a species

that shuns the light and possesses a telegraph-line, she mounts to her

daytime hiding-place along this line, with the game bumping against her

heels.



While she is refreshing herself, let us enquire into the effects of the

little bite previously administered to the silk-swathed captive. Does

the Spider kill the patient with a view to avoiding unseasonable jerks,

protests so disagreeable at dinner-time? Several reasons make me doubt

it. In the first place, the attack is so much veiled as to have all the

appearance of a mere kiss. Besides, it is made anywhere, at the first

spot that offers. The expert slayers employ methods of the highest

precision: they give a stab in the neck, or under the throat; they

wound the cervical nerve-centres, the seat of energy. The paralysers,

those accomplished anatomists, poison the motor nerve-centres, of which

they know the number and position. The Epeira possesses none of this

fearsome knowledge. She inserts her fangs at random, as the Bee does

her sting. She does not select one spot rather than another; she bites

indifferently at whatever comes within reach. This being so, her poison

would have to possess unparalleled virulence to produce a corpse-like

inertia no matter which the point attacked. I can scarcely believe in

instantaneous death resulting from the bite, especially in the case of

insects, with their highly-resistant organisms.



Besides, is it really a corpse that the Epeira wants, she who feeds on

blood much more than on flesh? It were to her advantage to suck a live

body, wherein the flow of the liquids, set in movement by the pulsation

of the dorsal vessel, that rudimentary heart of insects, must act more

freely than in a lifeless body, with its stagnant fluids. The game

which the Spider means to suck dry might very well not be dead. This is

easily ascertained.



I place some Locusts of different species on the webs in my menagerie,

one on this, another on that. The Spider comes rushing up, binds the

prey, nibbles at it gently and withdraws, waiting for the bite to take

effect. I then take the insect and carefully strip it of its silken

shroud. The Locust is not dead; far from it; one would even think that

he had suffered no harm. I examine the released prisoner through the

lens in vain; I can see no trace of a wound.



Can he be unscathed, in spite of the sort of kiss which I saw given to

him just now? You would be ready to say so, judging by the furious way

in which he kicks in my fingers. Nevertheless, when put on the ground,

he walks awkwardly, he seems reluctant to hop. Perhaps it is a

temporary trouble, caused by his terrible excitement in the web. It

looks as though it would soon pass.



I lodge my Locusts in cages, with a lettuce-leaf to console them for

their trials; but they will not be comforted. A day elapses, followed

by a second. Not one of them touches the leaf of salad; their appetite

has disappeared. Their movements become more uncertain, as though

hampered by irresistible torpor. On the second day they are dead,

everyone irrecoverably dead.



The Epeira, therefore, does not incontinently kill her prey with her

delicate bite; she poisons it so as to produce a gradual weakness,

which gives the blood-sucker ample time to drain her victim, without

the least risk, before the rigor mortis stops the flow of moisture.



The meal lasts quite twenty-four hours, if the joint be large; and to

the very end the butchered insect retains a remnant of life, a

favourable condition for the exhausting of the juices. Once again, we

see a skilful method of slaughter, very different from the tactics in

use among the expert paralysers or slayers. Here there is no display of

anatomical science. Unacquainted with the patient's structure, the

Spider stabs at random. The virulence of the poison does the rest.



There are, however, some very few cases in which the bite is speedily

mortal. My notes speak of an Angular Epeira grappling with the largest

Dragon-fly in my district (Aeshna grandis, Lin.) I myself had entangled

in the web this head of big game, which is not often captured by the

Epeirae. The net shakes violently, seems bound to break its moorings.

The Spider rushes from her leafy villa, runs boldly up to the giantess,

flings a single bundle of ropes at her and, without further

precautions, grips her with her legs, tries to subdue her and then digs

her fangs into the Dragon-fly's back. The bite is prolonged in such a

way as to astonish me. This is not the perfunctory kiss with which I am

already familiar; it is a deep, determined wound. After striking her

blow, the Spider retires to a certain distance and waits for her poison

to take effect.



I at once remove the Dragon-fly. She is dead, really and truly dead.

Laid upon my table and left alone for twenty-four hours, she makes not

the slightest movement. A prick of which my lens cannot see the marks,

so sharp-pointed are the Epeira's weapons, was enough, with a little

insistence, to kill the powerful animal. Proportionately, the

Rattlesnake, the Horned Viper, the Trigonocephalus and other ill-famed

serpents produce less paralysing effects upon their victims.



And these Epeirae, so terrible to insects, I am able to handle without

any fear. My skin does not suit them. If I persuaded them to bite me,

what would happen to me? Hardly anything. We have more cause to dread

the sting of a nettle than the dagger which is fatal to Dragon-flies.

The same virus acts differently upon this organism and that, is

formidable here and quite mild there. What kills the insect may easily

be harmless to us. Let us not, however, generalize too far. The

Narbonne Lycosa, that other enthusiastic insect-huntress, would make us

pay dearly if we attempted to take liberties with her.



It is not uninteresting to watch the Epeira at dinner. I light upon

one, the Banded Epeira, at the moment, about three o'clock in the

afternoon, when she has captured a Locust. Planted in the centre of the

web, on her resting-floor, she attacks the venison at the joint of a

haunch. There is no movement, not even of the mouth-parts, so far as I

am able to discover. The mouth lingers, close-applied, at the point

originally bitten. There are no intermittent mouthfuls, with the

mandibles moving backwards and forwards. It is a sort of continuous

kiss.



I visit my Epeira at intervals. The mouth does not change its place. I

visit her for the last time at nine o'clock in the evening. Matters

stand exactly as they did: after six hours' consumption, the mouth is

still sucking at the lower end of the right haunch. The fluid contents

of the victim are transferred to the ogress's belly, I know not how.



Next morning, the Spider is still at table. I take away her dish.

Naught remains of the Locust but his skin, hardly altered in shape, but

utterly drained and perforated in several places. The method,

therefore, was changed during the night. To extract the non-fluent

residue, the viscera and muscles, the stiff cuticle had to be tapped

here, there and elsewhere, after which the tattered husk, placed bodily

in the press of the mandibles, would have been chewed, re-chewed and

finally reduced to a pill, which the sated Spider throws up. This would

have been the end of the victim, had I not taken it away before the

time.



Whether she wound or kill, the Epeira bites her captive somewhere or

other, no matter where. This is an excellent method on her part,

because of the variety of the game that comes her way. I see her

accepting with equal readiness whatever chance may send her:

Butterflies and Dragon-flies, Flies and Wasps, small Dung-beetles and

Locusts. If I offer her a Mantis, a Bumble-bee, an Anoxia--the

equivalent of the common Cockchafer--and other dishes probably unknown

to her race, she accepts all and any, large and small, thin-skinned and

horny-skinned, that which goes afoot and that which takes winged

flight. She is omnivorous, she preys on everything, down to her own

kind, should the occasion offer.



Had she to operate according to individual structure, she would need an

anatomical dictionary; and instinct is essentially unfamiliar with

generalities: its knowledge is always confined to limited points. The

Cerceres know their Weevils and their Buprestis-beetles absolutely; the

Sphex their Grasshoppers, their Crickets and their Locusts; the Scoliae

their Cetonia- and Oryctes-grubs. (The Scolia is a Digger-wasp, like

the Cerceris and the Sphex, and feeds her larvae on the grubs of the

Cetonia, or Rose-chafer, and the Oryctes, or

Rhinoceros-beetle.--Translator's Note.) Even so the other paralysers.

Each has her own victim and knows nothing of any of the others.



The same exclusive tastes prevail among the slayers. Let us remember,

in this connection, Philanthus apivorus and, especially, the Thomisus,

the comely Spider who cuts Bees' throats. They understand the fatal

blow, either in the neck or under the chin, a thing which the Epeira

does not understand; but, just because of this talent, they are

specialists. Their province is the Domestic Bee.



Animals are a little like ourselves: they excel in an art only on

condition of specializing in it. The Epeira, who, being omnivorous, is

obliged to generalize, abandons scientific methods and makes up for

this by distilling a poison capable of producing torpor and even death,

no matter what the point attacked.



Recognizing the large variety of game, we wonder how the Epeira manages

not to hesitate amid those many diverse forms, how, for instance, she

passes from the Locust to the Butterfly, so different in appearance. To

attribute to her as a guide an extensive zoological knowledge were

wildly in excess of what we may reasonably expect of her poor

intelligence. The thing moves, therefore it is worth catching: this

formula seems to sum up the Spider's wisdom.



THE TELEGRAPH-WIRE.



Of the six Garden Spiders that form the object of my observations, two

only, the Banded and the Silky Epeira, remain constantly in their webs,

even under the blinding rays of a fierce sun. The others, as a rule, do

not show themselves until nightfall. At some distance from the net they

have a rough-and-ready retreat in the brambles, an ambush made of a few

leaves held together by stretched threads. It is here that, for the

most part, they remain in the daytime, motionless and sunk in

meditation.



But the shrill light that vexes them is the joy of the fields. At such

times the Locust hops more nimbly than ever, more gaily skims the

Dragon-fly. Besides, the limy web, despite the rents suffered during

the night, is still in serviceable condition. If some giddy-pate allow

himself to be caught, will the Spider, at the distance whereto she has

retired, be unable to take advantage of the windfall? Never fear. She

arrives in a flash. How is she apprised? Let us explain the matter.



The alarm is given by the vibration of the web, much more than by the

sight of the captured object. A very simple experiment will prove this.

I lay upon a Banded Epeira's lime-threads a Locust that second

asphyxiated with carbon disulphide. The carcass is placed in front, or

behind, or at either side of the Spider, who sits moveless in the

centre of the net. If the test is to be applied to a species with a

daytime hiding-place amid the foliage, the dead Locust is laid on the

web, more or less near the centre, no matter how.



In both cases, nothing happens at first. The Epeira remains in her

motionless attitude, even when the morsel is at a short distance in

front of her. She is indifferent to the presence of the game, does not

seem to perceive it, so much so that she ends by wearing out my

patience. Then, with a long straw, which enables me to conceal myself

slightly, I set the dead insect trembling.



That is quite enough. The Banded Epeira and the Silky Epeira hasten to

the central floor; the others come down from the branch; all go to the

Locust, swathe him with tape, treat him, in short, as they would treat

a live prey captured under normal conditions. It took the shaking of

the web to decide them to attack.



Perhaps the grey colour of the Locust is not sufficiently conspicuous

to attract attention by itself. Then let us try red, the brightest

colour to our retina and probably also to the Spiders'. None of the

game hunted by the Epeirae being clad in scarlet, I make a small bundle

out of red wool, a bait of the size of a Locust. I glue it to the web.



My stratagem succeeds. As long as the parcel is stationary, the Spider

is not roused; but, the moment it trembles, stirred by my straw, she

runs up eagerly.



There are silly ones who just touch the thing with their legs and,

without further enquiries, swathe it in silk after the manner of the

usual game. They even go so far as to dig their fangs into the bait,

following the rule of the preliminary poisoning. Then and then only the

mistake is recognized and the tricked Spider retires and does not come

back, unless it be long afterwards, when she flings the lumbersome

object out of the web.



There are also clever ones. Like the others, these hasten to the

red-woollen lure, which my straw insidiously keeps moving; they come

from their tent among the leaves as readily as from the centre of the

web; they explore it with their palpi and their legs; but, soon

perceiving that the thing is valueless, they are careful not to spend

their silk on useless bonds. My quivering bait does not deceive them.

It is flung out after a brief inspection.



Still, the clever ones, like the silly ones, run even from a distance,

from their leafy ambush. How do they know? Certainly not by sight.

Before recognizing their mistake, they have to hold the object between

their legs and even to nibble at it a little. They are extremely

short-sighted. At a hand's-breadth's distance, the lifeless prey,

unable to shake the web, remains unperceived. Besides, in many cases,

the hunting takes place in the dense darkness of the night, when sight,

even if it were good, would not avail.



If the eyes are insufficient guides, even close at hand, how will it be

when the prey has to be spied from afar? In that case, an intelligence

apparatus for long-distance work becomes indispensable. We have no

difficulty in detecting the apparatus.



Let us look attentively behind the web of any Epeira with a daytime

hiding-place: we shall see a thread that starts from the centre of the

network, ascends in a slanting line outside the plane of the web and

ends at the ambush where the Spider lurks all day. Except at the

central point, there is no connection between this thread and the rest

of the work, no interweaving with the scaffolding-threads. Free of

impediment, the line runs straight from the centre of the net to the

ambush-tent. Its length averages twenty-two inches. The Angular Epeira,

settled high up in the trees, has shown me some as long as eight or

nine feet.



There is no doubt that this slanting line is a foot-bridge which allows

the Spider to repair hurriedly to the web, when summoned by urgent

business, and then, when her round is finished, to return to her hut.

In fact, it is the road which I see her follow, in going and coming.

But is that all? No; for, if the Epeira had no aim in view but a means

of rapid transit between her tent and the net, the foot-bridge would be

fastened to the upper edge of the web. The journey would be shorter and

the slope less steep.



Why, moreover, does this line always start in the centre of the sticky

network and nowhere else? Because that is the point where the spokes

meet and, therefore, the common centre of vibration. Anything that

moves upon the web sets it shaking. All then that is needed is a thread

issuing from this central point to convey to a distance the news of a

prey struggling in some part or other of the net. The slanting cord,

extending outside the plane of the web, is more than a foot-bridge: it

is, above all, a signalling-apparatus, a telegraph-wire.



Let us try experiment. I place a Locust on the network. Caught in the

sticky toils, he plunges about. Forthwith, the Spider issues

impetuously from her hut, comes down the foot-bridge, makes a rush for

the Locust, wraps him up and operates on him according to rule. Soon

after, she hoists him, fastened by a line to her spinneret, and drags

him to her hiding-place, where a long banquet will be held. So far,

nothing new: things happen as usual.



I leave the Spider to mind her own affairs for some days before I

interfere with her. I again propose to give her a Locust; but this time

I first cut the signalling-thread with a touch of the scissors, without

shaking any part of the edifice. The game is then laid on the web.

Complete success: the entangled insect struggles, sets the net

quivering; the Spider, on her side, does not stir, as though heedless

of events.



The idea might occur to one that, in this business, the Epeira stays

motionless in her cabin since she is prevented from hurrying down,

because the foot-bridge is broken. Let us undeceive ourselves: for one

road open to her there are a hundred, all ready to bring her to the

place where her presence is now required. The network is fastened to

the branches by a host of lines, all of them very easy to cross. Well,

the Epeira embarks upon none of them, but remains moveless and

self-absorbed.



Why? Because her telegraph, being out of order, no longer tells her of

the shaking of the web. The captured prey is too far off for her to see

it; she is all unwitting. A good hour passes, with the Locust still

kicking, the Spider impassive, myself watching. Nevertheless, in the

end, the Epeira wakes up: no longer feeling the signalling-thread,

broken by my scissors, as taut as usual under her legs, she comes to

look into the state of things. The web is reached, without the least

difficulty, by one of the lines of the framework, the first that

offers. The Locust is then perceived and forthwith enswathed, after

which the signalling-thread is remade, taking the place of the one

which I have broken. Along this road the Spider goes home, dragging her

prey behind her.



My neighbour, the mighty Angular Epeira, with her telegraph-wire nine

feet long, has even better things in store for me. One morning I find

her web, which is now deserted, almost intact, a proof that the night's

hunting has not been good. The animal must be hungry. With a piece of

game for a bait, I hope to bring her down from her lofty retreat.



I entangle in the web a rare morsel, a Dragon-fly, who struggles

desperately and sets the whole net a-shaking. The other, up above,

leaves her lurking-place amid the cypress-foliage, strides swiftly down

along her telegraph-wire, comes to the Dragon-fly, trusses her and at

once climbs home again by the same road, with her prize dangling at her

heels by a thread. The final sacrifice will take place in the quiet of

the leafy sanctuary.



A few days later I renew my experiment under the same conditions, but,

this time, I first cut the signalling-thread. In vain I select a large

Dragon-fly, a very restless prisoner; in vain I exert my patience: the

Spider does not come down all day. Her telegraph being broken, she

receives no notice of what is happening nine feet below. The entangled

morsel remains where it lies, not despised, but unknown. At nightfall

the Epeira leaves her cabin, passes over the ruins of her web, finds

the Dragon-fly and eats him on the spot, after which the net is

renewed.



The Epeirae, who occupy a distant retreat by day, cannot do without a

private wire that keeps them in permanent communication with the

deserted web. All of them have one, in point of fact, but only when age

comes, age prone to rest and to long slumbers. In their youth, the

Epeirae, who are then very wide awake, know nothing of the art of

telegraphy. Besides, their web, a short-lived work whereof hardly a

trace remains on the morrow, does not allow of this kind of industry.

It is no use going to the expense of a signalling-apparatus for a

ruined snare wherein nothing can now be caught. Only the old Spiders,

meditating or dozing in their green tent, are warned from afar, by

telegraph, of what takes place on the web.



To save herself from keeping a close watch that would degenerate into

drudgery and to remain alive to events even when resting, with her back

turned on the net, the ambushed Spider always has her foot upon the

telegraph-wire. Of my observations on this subject, let me relate the

following, which will be sufficient for our purpose.



An Angular Epeira, with a remarkably fine belly, has spun her web

between two laurustine-shrubs, covering a width of nearly a yard. The

sun beats upon the snare, which is abandoned long before dawn. The

Spider is in her day manor, a resort easily discovered by following the

telegraph-wire. It is a vaulted chamber of dead leaves, joined together

with a few bits of silk. The refuge is deep: the Spider disappears in

it entirely, all but her rounded hind-quarters, which bar the entrance

to her donjon.



With her front half plunged into the back of her hut, the Epeira

certainly cannot see her web. Even if she had good sight, instead of

being purblind, her position could not possibly allow her to keep the

prey in view. Does she give up hunting during this period of bright

sunlight? Not at all. Look again.



Wonderful! One of her hind-legs is stretched outside the leafy cabin;

and the signalling-thread ends just at the tip of that leg. Whoso has

not seen the Epeira in this attitude, with her hand, so to speak, on

the telegraph-receiver, knows nothing of one of the most curious

instances of animal cleverness. Let any game appear upon the scene; and

the slumberer, forthwith aroused by means of the leg receiving the

vibrations, hastens up. A Locust whom I myself lay on the web procures

her this agreeable shock and what follows. If she is satisfied with her

bag, I am still more satisfied with what I have learnt.



One word more. The web is often shaken by the wind. The different parts

of the framework, tossed and teased by the eddying air-currents, cannot

fail to transmit their vibration to the signalling-thread.

Nevertheless, the Spider does not quit her hut and remains indifferent

to the commotion prevailing in the net. Her line, therefore, is

something better than a bell-rope that pulls and communicates the

impulse given: it is a telephone capable, like our own, of transmitting

infinitesimal waves of sound. Clutching her telephone-wire with a toe,

the Spider listens with her leg; she perceives the innermost

vibrations; she distinguishes between the vibration proceeding from a

prisoner and the mere shaking caused by the wind.



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