Note: The following mad rambling on arachnids was originally submitted, in extremely abridged form, as part of my application to become a Tufts admissions blogger. I'm releasing it in its full, beautiful form today for your reading pleasure!
Did you know that Carparachne aureoflava, commonly known as the wheel spider, A) lives in desert dunes, B) doesn’t spin a web, and C) when attacked by a predator, doesn’t run or jump or yell bloody murder but actually curls up its legs and rolls away, down the dune slopes? Did you also know that Ca) the wheel spider is 20mm in size and that Cb) when it rolls it does so at a rate of one meter per second, which Cd) is a rate of 50 times its body length per second which Ce) is absolutely insane? And that’s just one species.
But let’s backtrack a tiny bit. In the olden days, I, much like most people I know, used to be exceedingly upset if not downright terrified by every spider I saw. I hated their fast movements and their sticky webs and their prickly legs and oh God their eyes. They were everywhere, all of the time – in fact, the impressionable young Adam was told in preschool (preschool!) that he was never further than three feet away from a spider, which, I kid you not, kept Adam up at night, staring into the darkness. Spiders are ubiquitous in this cold, cruel world, sitting and waiting on walls, nesting in windows and basements, crawling up your left shoulder as you sit reading this, et cetera.
Over time, though, it became clear to me that as far as members of Anthropoda go, I didn’t hate spiders nearly as much as I hated two cursed creatures: mosquitos and gnats, whose purposeless and horrific lives frustrated me endlessly. I then made the connection (which, in retrospect, is only somewhat true) that because spiders prey on things like gnats and mosquitos, they, in a sort of WWII-connection-between-the-Allies-and-Russia sense, were my friends, or at least not my enemies. We then at that moment began our life of coexistence. I wouldn’t bother spiders, and they wouldn’t bother me.
Soon, though, this coexistence began to morph into a moderate to severe fascination on my part. Whereas I used to notice a spider and grimace and walk away (instead of screaming and killing it), I found myself more and more frequently staring at every spider I found, looking at its web and its prey and the typically gorgeous designs and colors on its body. I’m not sure if you’ve had the opportunity to experience it, but watching a spider weave a web, simply but beautifully forming complex geometric designs without even batting an eye (as if spiders had eyelids), is one of the most incredible things nature can show you.
And that beginning of the obsession was about 2 years ago – now, I’m just full-on in love with spiders.
Here’s an example of something awesome: a couple of weeks ago I was cleaning the moss off of the roof of my house, as any boy does during the summer, and I noticed a common house spider chilling in her web in a little corner under the gutter. Also chilling in her web was an egg sac and a massive, fully-grown caterpillar, struggling (in vain, I would assume) for its life. This made me happy for a couple of reasons. The first was that the whole play of events that must have led to this was just comical to imagine. Like how in the world did the caterpillar get itself into that mess in the first place? Secondly, this caterpillar was probably three times the size of the spider, so what precisely did the spider think she was going to do with the caterpillar once it finally died? I literally didn’t think that the spider had a large enough stomach to consume the whole caterpillar, much like your average human is just physically incapable of eating an entire horse.
I think the single coolest thing about spiders, though, is that they really just do not care about their social stigma. Oh, Adam, you’re thinking, spiders don’t speak English, they don’t know that everybody is scared of them! I disagree. Perhaps they don’t hear or comprehend our conversations about them, but I’d be willing to bet that they do notice that certain insects (like the famed Daddy Longlegs) mimic spiders in order to make themselves less appealing to predators, but spiders show no sign of being offended by this. I mean, think about it – if the average deer evolved to look like a human dressed in hunting garb in order to intimidate the animals that prey on deer, don’t you think you’d be a little bit weirded out? Exactly. But spiders don’t care, they just keep doing their thing. Other spiders probably say “oh, arctic wolf spider, there’s nothing to eat in Greenland! Why don’t you just move down to Canada or Europe where things actually live?” But the arctic wolf spider just does its thing. Fish probably go up the diving bell spider and are like “bro you’re a spider, how are you gonna live your entire life in a bubble underwater like that’s just not pragmatic,” but the diving bell spider just continues its awesome life (and probably doesn’t take too much offense anyway because it’s not like the fish will remember the insult after five seconds).
So I guess what I’m saying is this: the next time you’re rolling down sand dunes at 50 times your body length per second, remember that the wheel spider has already been doing that for millions of years and that if we all just chilled for a moment and acted a little bit more like spiders, we might be a little bit better off.