The Life of the Spider
J. Henri Fabre - translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos

Part 2 out of 4

sometimes on the same day. In spite of the earthy casing, the silk
woof gives it the requisite pliancy to cleave when pushed by the
anchorite and to rip open without falling into ruins. Swept back
to the circumference of the mouth and increased by the wreckage of
further ceilings, it becomes a parapet, which the Lycosa raises by
degrees in her long moments of leisure. The bastion which
surmounts the burrow, therefore, takes its origin from the
temporary lid. The turret derives from the split ceiling.

What is the purpose of this turret? My pans will tell us that. An
enthusiastic votary of the chase, so long as she is not permanently
fixed, the Lycosa, once she has set up house, prefers to lie in
ambush and wait for the quarry. Every day, when the heat is
greatest, I see my captives come up slowly from under ground and
lean upon the battlements of their woolly castle-keep. They are
then really magnificent in their stately gravity. With their
swelling belly contained within the aperture, their head outside,
their glassy eyes staring, their legs gathered for a spring, for
hours and hours they wait, motionless, bathing voluptuously in the

Should a tit-bit to her liking happen to pass, forthwith the
watcher darts from her tall tower, swift as an arrow from the bow.
With a dagger-thrust in the neck, she stabs the jugular of the
Locust, Dragon-fly or other prey whereof I am the purveyor; and she
as quickly scales the donjon and retires with her capture. The
performance is a wonderful exhibition of skill and speed.

Very seldom is a quarry missed, provided that it pass at a
convenient distance, within the range of the huntress' bound. But,
if the prey be at some distance, for instance on the wire of the
cage, the Lycosa takes no notice of it. Scorning to go in pursuit,
she allows it to roam at will. She never strikes except when sure
of her stroke. She achieves this by means of her tower. Hiding
behind the wall, she sees the stranger advancing, keeps her eyes on
him and suddenly pounces when he comes within reach. These abrupt
tactics make the thing a certainty. Though he were winged and
swift of flight, the unwary one who approaches the ambush is lost.

This presumes, it is true, an exemplary patience on the Lycosa's
part; for the burrow has naught that can serve to entice victims.
At best, the ledge provided by the turret may, at rare intervals,
tempt some weary wayfarer to use it as a resting-place. But, if
the quarry do not come to-day, it is sure to come to-morrow, the
next day, or later, for the Locusts hop innumerable in the waste-
land, nor are they always able to regulate their leaps. Some day
or other, chance is bound to bring one of them within the purlieus
of the burrow. This is the moment to spring upon the pilgrim from
the ramparts. Until then, we maintain a stoical vigilance. We
shall dine when we can; but we shall end by dining.

The Lycosa, therefore, well aware of these lingering eventualities,
waits and is not unduly distressed by a prolonged abstinence. She
has an accommodating stomach, which is satisfied to be gorged to-
day and to remain empty afterwards for goodness knows how long. I
have sometimes neglected my catering-duties for weeks at a time;
and my boarders have been none the worse for it. After a more or
less protracted fast, they do not pine away, but are smitten with a
wolf-like hunger. All these ravenous eaters are alike: they
guzzle to excess to-day, in anticipation of to-morrow's dearth.

In her youth, before she has a burrow, the Lycosa earns her living
in another manner. Clad in grey like her elders, but without the
black-velvet apron which she receives on attaining the marriageable
age, she roams among the scrubby grass. This is true hunting.
Should a suitable quarry heave in sight, the Spider pursues it,
drives it from its shelters, follows it hot-foot. The fugitive
gains the heights, makes as though to fly away. He has not the
time. With an upward leap, the Lycosa grabs him before he can

I am charmed with the agility wherewith my yearling boarders seize
the Flies which I provide for them. In vain does the Fly take
refuge a couple of inches up, on some blade of grass. With a
sudden spring into the air, the Spider pounces on the prey. No Cat
is quicker in catching her Mouse.

But these are the feats of youth not handicapped by obesity.
Later, when a heavy paunch, dilated with eggs and silk, has to be
trailed along, those gymnastic performances become impracticable.
The Lycosa then digs herself a settled abode, a hunting-box, and
sits in her watch-tower, on the look-out for game.

When and how is the burrow obtained wherein the Lycosa, once a
vagrant, now a stay-at-home, is to spend the remainder of her long
life? We are in autumn, the weather is already turning cool. This
is how the Field Cricket sets to work: as long as the days are
fine and the nights not too cold, the future chorister of spring
rambles over the fallows, careless of a local habitation. At
critical moments, the cover of a dead leaf provides him with a
temporary shelter. In the end, the burrow, the permanent dwelling,
is dug as the inclement season draws nigh.

The Lycosa shares the Cricket's views: like him, she finds a
thousand pleasures in the vagabond life. With September comes the
nuptial badge, the black-velvet bib. The Spiders meet at night, by
the soft moonlight: they romp together, they eat the beloved
shortly after the wedding; by day, they scour the country, they
track the game on the short-pile, grassy carpet, they take their
fill of the joys of the sun. That is much better than solitary
meditation at the bottom of a well. And so it is not rare to see
young mothers dragging their bag of eggs, or even already carrying
their family, and as yet without a home.

In October, it is time to settle down. We then, in fact, find two
sorts of burrows, which differ in diameter. The larger, bottle-
neck burrows belong to the old matrons, who have owned their house
for two years at least. The smaller, of the width of a thick lead-
pencil, contain the young mothers, born that year. By dint of long
and leisurely alterations, the novice's earths will increase in
depth as well as in diameter and become roomy abodes, similar to
those of the grandmothers. In both, we find the owner and her
family, the latter sometimes already hatched and sometimes still
enclosed in the satin wallet.

Seeing no digging-tools, such as the excavation of the dwelling
seemed to me to require, I wondered whether the Lycosa might not
avail herself of some chance gallery, the work of the Cicada or the
Earth-worm. This ready-made tunnel, thought I, must shorten the
labours of the Spider, who appears to be so badly off for tools;
she would only have to enlarge it and put it in order. I was
wrong: the burrow is excavated, from start to finish, by her
unaided labour.

Then where are the digging-implements? We think of the legs, of
the claws. We think of them, but reflection tells us that tools
such as these would not do: they are too long and too difficult to
wield in a confined space. What is required is the miner's short-
handled pick, wherewith to drive hard, to insert, to lever and to
extract; what is required is the sharp point that enters the earth
and crumbles it into fragments. There remain the Lycosa's fangs,
delicate weapons which we at first hesitate to associate with such
work, so illogical does it seem to dig a pit with surgeon's

The fangs are a pair of sharp, curved points, which, when at rest,
crook like a finger and take shelter between two strong pillars.
The Cat sheathes her claws under the velvet of the paw, to preserve
their edge and sharpness. In the same way, the Lycosa protects her
poisoned daggers by folding them within the case of two powerful
columns, which come plumb on the surface and contain the muscles
that work them.

Well, this surgical outfit, intended for stabbing the jugular
artery of the prey, suddenly becomes a pick-axe and does rough
navvy's work. To witness the underground digging is impossible;
but we can, at least, with the exercise of a little patience, see
the rubbish carted away. If I watch my captives, without tiring,
at a very early hour--for the work takes place mostly at night and
at long intervals--in the end I catch them coming up with a load.
Contrary to what I expected, the legs take no part in the carting.
It is the mouth that acts as the barrow. A tiny ball of earth is
held between the fangs and is supported by the palpi, or feelers,
which are little arms employed in the service of the mouth-parts.
The Lycosa descends cautiously from her turret, goes to some
distance to get rid of her burden and quickly dives down again to
bring up more.

We have seen enough: we know that the Lycosa's fangs, those lethal
weapons, are not afraid to bite into clay and gravel. They knead
the excavated rubbish into pellets, take up the mass of earth and
carry it outside. The rest follows naturally; it is the fangs that
dig, delve and extract. How finely-tempered they must be, not to
be blunted by this well-sinker's work and to do duty presently in
the surgical operation of stabbing the neck!

I have said that the repairs and extensions of the burrow are made
at long intervals. From time to time, the circular parapet
receives additions and becomes a little higher; less frequently
still, the dwelling is enlarged and deepened. As a rule, the
mansion remains as it was for a whole season. Towards the end of
winter, in March more than at any other period, the Lycosa seems to
wish to give herself a little more space. This is the moment to
subject her to certain tests.

We know that the Field Cricket, when removed from his burrow and
caged under conditions that would allow him to dig himself a new
home should the fit seize him, prefers to tramp from one casual
shelter to another, or rather abandons every idea of creating a
permanent residence. There is a short season whereat the instinct
for building a subterranean gallery is imperatively aroused. When
this season is past, the excavating artist, if accidentally
deprived of his abode, becomes a wandering Bohemian, careless of a
lodging. He has forgotten his talents and he sleeps out.

That the bird, the nest-builder, should neglect its art when it has
no brood to care for is perfectly logical: it builds for its
family, not for itself. But what shall we say of the Cricket, who
is exposed to a thousand mishaps when away from home? The
protection of a roof would be of great use to him; and the giddy-
pate does not give it a thought, though he is very strong and more
capable than ever of digging with his powerful jaws.

What reason can we allege for this neglect? None, unless it be
that the season of strenuous burrowing is past. The instincts have
a calendar of their own. At the given hour, suddenly they awaken;
as suddenly, afterwards, they fall asleep. The ingenious become
incompetent when the prescribed period is ended.

On a subject of this kind, we can consult the Spider of the waste-
lands. I catch an old Lycosa in the fields and house her, that
same day, under wire, in a burrow where I have prepared a soil to
her liking. If, by my contrivances and with a bit of reed, I have
previously moulded a burrow roughly representing the one from which
I took her, the Spider enters it forthwith and seems pleased with
her new residence. The product of my art is accepted as her lawful
property and undergoes hardly any alterations. In course of time,
a bastion is erected around the orifice; the top of the gallery is
cemented with silk; and that is all. In this establishment of my
building, the animal's behaviour remains what it would be under
natural conditions.

But place the Lycosa on the surface of the ground, without first
shaping a burrow. What will the homeless Spider do? Dig herself a
dwelling, one would think. She has the strength to do so; she is
in the prime of life. Besides, the soil is similar to that whence
I ousted her and suits the operation perfectly. We therefore
expect to see the Spider settled before long in a shaft of her own

We are disappointed. Weeks pass and not an effort is made, not
one. Demoralized by the absence of an ambush, the Lycosa hardly
vouchsafes a glance at the game which I serve up. The Crickets
pass within her reach in vain; most often she scorns them. She
slowly wastes away with fasting and boredom. At length, she dies.

Take up your miner's trade again, poor fool! Make yourself a home,
since you know how to, and life will be sweet to you for many a
long day yet: the weather is fine and victuals plentiful. Dig,
delve, go underground, where safety lies. Like an idiot, you
refrain; and you perish. Why?

Because the craft which you were wont to ply is forgotten; because
the days of patient digging are past and your poor brain is unable
to work back. To do a second time what has been done already is
beyond your wit. For all your meditative air, you cannot solve the
problem of how to reconstruct that which is vanished and gone.

Let us now see what we can do with younger Lycosae, who are at the
burrowing-stage. I dig out five or six at the end of February.
They are half the size of the old ones; their burrows are equal in
diameter to my little finger. Rubbish quite fresh-spread around
the pit bears witness to the recent date of the excavations.

Relegated to their wire cages, these young Lycosae behave
differently according as the soil placed at their disposal is or is
not already provided with a burrow made by me. A burrow is hardly
the word: I give them but the nucleus of a shaft, about an inch
deep, to lure them on. When in possession of this rudimentary
lair, the Spider does not hesitate to pursue the work which I have
interrupted in the fields. At night, she digs with a will. I can
see this by the heap of rubbish flung aside. She at last obtains a
house to suit her, a house surmounted by the usual turret.

The others, on the contrary, those Spiders for whom the thrust of
my pencil has not contrived an entrance-hall representing, to a
certain extent, the natural gallery whence I dislodged them,
absolutely refuse to work; and they die, notwithstanding the
abundance of provisions.

The first pursue the season's task. They were digging when I
caught them; and, carried away by the enthusiasm of their activity,
they go on digging inside my cages. Taken in by my decoy-shaft,
they deepen the imprint of the pencil as though they were deepening
their real vestibule. They do not begin their labours over again;
they continue them.

The second, not having this inducement, this semblance of a burrow
mistaken for their own work, forsake the idea of digging and allow
themselves to die, because they would have to travel back along the
chain of actions and to resume the pick-strokes of the start. To
begin all over again requires reflection, a quality wherewith they
are not endowed.

To the insect--and we have seen this in many earlier cases--what is
done is done and cannot be taken up again. The hands of a watch do
not move backwards. The insect behaves in much the same way. Its
activity urges it in one direction, ever forwards, without allowing
it to retrace its steps, even when an accident makes this

What the Mason-bees and the others taught us erewhile the Lycosa
now confirms in her manner. Incapable of taking fresh pains to
build herself a second dwelling, when the first is done for, she
will go on the tramp, she will break into a neighbour's house, she
will run the risk of being eaten should she not prove the stronger,
but she will never think of making herself a home by starting

What a strange intellect is that of the animal, a mixture of
mechanical routine and subtle brain-power! Does it contain gleams
that contrive, wishes that pursue a definite object? Following in
the wake of so many others, the Lycosa warrants us in entertaining
a doubt.


For three weeks and more, the Lycosa trails the bag of eggs hanging
to her spinnerets. The reader will remember the experiments
described in the third chapter of this volume, particularly those
with the cork ball and the thread pellet which the Spider so
foolishly accepts in exchange for the real pill. Well, this
exceedingly dull-witted mother, satisfied with aught that knocks
against her heels, is about to make us wonder at her devotion.

Whether she come up from her shaft to lean upon the kerb and bask
in the sun, whether she suddenly retire underground in the face of
danger, or whether she be roaming the country before settling down,
never does she let go her precious bag, that very cumbrous burden
in walking, climbing or leaping. If, by some accident, it become
detached from the fastening to which it is hung, she flings herself
madly on her treasure and lovingly embraces it, ready to bite whoso
would take it from her. I myself am sometimes the thief. I then
hear the points of the poison-fangs grinding against the steel of
my pincers, which tug in one direction while the Lycosa tugs in the
other. But let us leave the animal alone: with a quick touch of
the spinnerets, the pill is restored to its place; and the Spider
strides off, still menacing.

Towards the end of summer, all the householders, old or young,
whether in captivity on the window-sill or at liberty in the paths
of the enclosure, supply me daily with the following improving
sight. In the morning, as soon as the sun is hot and beats upon
their burrow, the anchorites come up from the bottom with their bag
and station themselves at the opening. Long siestas on the
threshold in the sun are the order of the day throughout the fine
season; but, at the present time, the position adopted is a
different one. Formerly, the Lycosa came out into the sun for her
own sake. Leaning on the parapet, she had the front half of her
body outside the pit and the hinder half inside.

The eyes took their fill of light; the belly remained in the dark.
When carrying her egg-bag, the Spider reverses the posture: the
front is in the pit, the rear outside. With her hind-legs she
holds the white pill bulging with germs lifted above the entrance;
gently she turns and returns it, so as to present every side to the
life-giving rays. And this goes on for half the day, so long as
the temperature is high; and it is repeated daily, with exquisite
patience, during three or four weeks. To hatch its eggs, the bird
covers them with the quilt of its breast; it strains them to the
furnace of its heart. The Lycosa turns hers in front of the hearth
of hearths, she gives them the sun as an incubator.

In the early days of September, the young ones, who have been some
time hatched, are ready to come out. The pill rips open along the
middle fold. We read of the origin of this fold in an earlier
chapter. {24} Does the mother, feeling the brood quicken inside
the satin wrapper, herself break open the vessel at the opportune
moment? It seems probable. On the other hand, there may be a
spontaneous bursting, such as we shall see later in the Banded
Epeira's balloon, a tough wallet which opens a breach of its own
accord, long after the mother has ceased to exist.

The whole family emerges from the bag straightway. Then and there,
the youngsters climb to the mother's back. As for the empty bag,
now a worthless shred, it is flung out of the burrow; the Lycosa
does not give it a further thought. Huddled together, sometimes in
two or three layers, according to their number, the little ones
cover the whole back of the mother, who, for seven or eight months
to come, will carry her family night and day. Nowhere can we hope
to see a more edifying domestic picture than that of the Lycosa
clothed in her young.

From time to time, I meet a little band of gipsies passing along
the high-road on their way to some neighbouring fair. The new-born
babe mewls on the mother's breast, in a hammock formed out of a
kerchief. The last-weaned is carried pick-a-back; a third toddles
clinging to its mother's skirts; others follow closely, the biggest
in the rear, ferreting in the blackberry-laden hedgerows. It is a
magnificent spectacle of happy-go-lucky fruitfulness. They go
their way, penniless and rejoicing. The sun is hot and the earth
is fertile.

But how this picture pales before that of the Lycosa, that
incomparable gipsy whose brats are numbered by the hundred! And
one and all of them, from September to April, without a moment's
respite, find room upon the patient creature's back, where they are
content to lead a tranquil life and to be carted about.

The little ones are very good; none moves, none seeks a quarrel
with his neighbours. Clinging together, they form a continuous
drapery, a shaggy ulster under which the mother becomes
unrecognizable. Is it an animal, a fluff of wool, a cluster of
small seeds fastened to one another? 'Tis impossible to tell at
the first glance.

The equilibrium of this living blanket is not so firm but that
falls often occur, especially when the mother climbs from indoors
and comes to the threshold to let the little ones take the sun.
The least brush against the gallery unseats a part of the family.
The mishap is not serious. The Hen, fidgeting about her Chicks,
looks for the strays, calls them, gathers them together. The
Lycosa knows not these maternal alarms. Impassively, she leaves
those who drop off to manage their own difficulty, which they do
with wonderful quickness. Commend me to those youngsters for
getting up without whining, dusting themselves and resuming their
seat in the saddle! The unhorsed ones promptly find a leg of the
mother, the usual climbing-pole; they swarm up it as fast as they
can and recover their places on the bearer's back. The living bark
of animals is reconstructed in the twinkling of an eye.

To speak here of mother-love were, I think, extravagant. The
Lycosa's affection for her offspring hardly surpasses that of the
plant, which is unacquainted with any tender feeling and
nevertheless bestows the nicest and most delicate care upon its
seeds. The animal, in many cases, knows no other sense of
motherhood. What cares the Lycosa for her brood! She accepts
another's as readily as her own; she is satisfied so long as her
back is burdened with a swarming crowd, whether it issue from her
ovaries or elsewhence. There is no question here of real maternal

I have described elsewhere the prowess of the Copris {25} watching
over cells that are not her handiwork and do not contain her
offspring. With a zeal which even the additional labour laid upon
her does not easily weary, she removes the mildew from the alien
dung-balls, which far exceed the regular nests in number; she
gently scrapes and polishes and repairs them; she listens to them
attentively and enquires by ear into each nursling's progress. Her
real collection could not receive greater care. Her own family or
another's: it is all one to her.

The Lycosa is equally indifferent. I take a hair-pencil and sweep
the living burden from one of my Spiders, making it fall close to
another covered with her little ones. The evicted youngsters
scamper about, find the new mother's legs outspread, nimbly clamber
up these and mount on the back of the obliging creature, who
quietly lets them have their way.

They slip in among the others, or, when the layer is too thick,
push to the front and pass from the abdomen to the thorax and even
to the head, though leaving the region of the eyes uncovered. It
does not do to blind the bearer: the common safety demands that.
They know this and respect the lenses of the eyes, however populous
the assembly be. The whole animal is now covered with a swarming
carpet of young, all except the legs, which must preserve their
freedom of action, and the under part of the body, where contact
with the ground is to be feared.

My pencil forces a third family upon the already overburdened
Spider; and this too is peacefully accepted. The youngsters huddle
up closer, lie one on top of the other in layers and room is found
for all. The Lycosa has lost the last semblance of an animal, has
become a nameless bristling thing that walks about. Falls are
frequent and are followed by continual climbings.

I perceive that I have reached the limits not of the bearer's good-
will, but of equilibrium. The Spider would adopt an indefinite
further number of foundlings, if the dimensions of her back
afforded them a firm hold. Let us be content with this. Let us
restore each family to its mother, drawing at random from the lot.
There must necessarily be interchanges, but that is of no
importance: real children and adopted children are the same thing
in the Lycosa's eyes.

One would like to know if, apart from my artifices, in
circumstances where I do not interfere, the good-natured dry-nurse
sometimes burdens herself with a supplementary family; it would
also be interesting to learn what comes of this association of
lawful offspring and strangers. I have ample materials wherewith
to obtain an answer to both questions. I have housed in the same
cage two elderly matrons laden with youngsters. Each has her home
as far removed from the other's as the size of the common pan
permits. The distance is nine inches or more. It is not enough.
Proximity soon kindles fierce jealousies between those intolerant
creatures, who are obliged to live far apart, so as to secure
adequate hunting-grounds.

One morning, I catch the two harridans fighting out their quarrel
on the floor. The loser is laid flat upon her back; the victress,
belly to belly with her adversary, clutches her with her legs and
prevents her from moving a limb. Both have their poison-fangs wide
open, ready to bite without yet daring, so mutually formidable are
they. After a certain period of waiting, during which the pair
merely exchange threats, the stronger of the two, the one on top,
closes her lethal engine and grinds the head of the prostrate foe.
Then she calmly devours the deceased by small mouthfuls.

Now what do the youngsters do, while their mother is being eaten?
Easily consoled, heedless of the atrocious scene, they climb on the
conqueror's back and quietly take their places among the lawful
family. The ogress raises no objection, accepts them as her own.
She makes a meal off the mother and adopts the orphans.

Let us add that, for many months yet, until the final emancipation
comes, she will carry them without drawing any distinction between
them and her own young. Henceforth, the two families, united in so
tragic a fashion, will form but one. We see how greatly out of
place it would be to speak, in this connection, of mother-love and
its fond manifestations.

Does the Lycosa at least feed the younglings who, for seven months,
swarm upon her back? Does she invite them to the banquet when she
has secured a prize? I thought so at first; and, anxious to assist
at the family repast, I devoted special attention to watching the
mothers eat. As a rule, the prey is consumed out of sight, in the
burrow; but sometimes also a meal is taken on the threshold, in the
open air. Besides, it is easy to rear the Lycosa and her family in
a wire-gauze cage, with a layer of earth wherein the captive will
never dream of sinking a well, such work being out of season.
Everything then happens in the open.

Well, while the mother munches, chews, expresses the juices and
swallows, the youngsters do not budge from their camping-ground on
her back. Not one quits its place nor gives a sign of wishing to
slip down and join in the meal. Nor does the mother extend an
invitation to them to come and recruit themselves, nor put any
broken victuals aside for them. She feeds and the others look on,
or rather remain indifferent to what is happening. Their perfect
quiet during the Lycosa's feast points to the posession of a
stomach that knows no cravings.

Then with what are they sustained, during their seven months'
upbringing on the mother's back? One conceives a notion of
exudations supplied by the bearer's body, in which case the young
would feed on their mother, after the manner of parasitic vermin,
and gradually drain her strength.

We must abandon this notion. Never are they seen to put their
mouths to the skin that should be a sort of teat to them. On the
other hand, the Lycosa, far from being exhausted and shrivelling,
keeps perfectly well and plump. She has the same pot-belly when
she finishes rearing her young as when she began. She has not lost
weight: far from it; on the contrary, she has put on flesh: she
has gained the wherewithal to beget a new family next summer, one
as numerous as to-day's.

Once more, with what do the little ones keep up their strength? We
do not like to suggest reserves supplied by the egg as rectifying
the beastie's expenditure of vital force, especially when we
consider that those reserves, themselves so close to nothing, must
be economized in view of the silk, a material of the highest
importance, of which a plentiful use will be made presently. There
must be other powers at play in the tiny animal's machinery.

Total abstinence from food could be understood, if it were
accompanied by inertia: immobility is not life. But the young
Lycosae, although usually quiet on their mother's back, are at all
times ready for exercise and for agile swarming. When they fall
from the maternal perambulator, they briskly pick themselves up,
briskly scramble up a leg and make their way to the top. It is a
splendidly nimble and spirited performance. Besides, once seated,
they have to keep a firm balance in the mass; they have to stretch
and stiffen their little limbs in order to hang on to their
neighbours. As a matter of fact, there is no absolute rest for
them. Now physiology teaches us that not a fibre works without
some expenditure of energy. The animal, which can be likened, in
no small measure, to our industrial machines, demands, on the one
hand, the renovation of its organism, which wears out with
movement, and, on the other, the maintenance of the heat
transformed into action. We can compare it with the locomotive-
engine. As the iron horse performs its work, it gradually wears
out its pistons, its rods, its wheels, its boiler-tubes, all of
which have to be made good from time to time. The founder and the
smith repair it, supply it, so to speak, with 'plastic food,' the
food that becomes embodied with the whole and forms part of it.
But, though it have just come from the engine-shop, it is still
inert. To acquire the power of movement, it must receive from the
stoker a supply of 'energy-producing food;' in other words, he
lights a few shovelfuls of coal in its inside. This heat will
produce mechanical work.

Even so with the beast. As nothing is made from nothing, the egg
supplies first the materials of the new-born animal; then the
plastic food, the smith of living creatures, increases the body, up
to a certain limit, and renews it as it wears away. The stoker
works at the same time, without stopping. Fuel, the source of
energy, makes but a short stay in the system, where it is consumed
and furnishes heat, whence movement is derived. Life is a fire-
box. Warmed by its food, the animal machine moves, walks, runs,
jumps, swims, flies, sets its locomotory apparatus going in a
thousand manners.

To return to the young Lycosae, they grow no larger until the
period of their emancipation. I find them at the age of seven
months the same as when I saw them at their birth. The egg
supplied the materials necessary for their tiny frames; and, as the
loss of waste substance is, for the moment, excessively small, or
even nil, additional plastic food is not needed so long as the
beastie does not grow. In this respect, the prolonged abstinence
presents no difficulty. But there remains the question of energy-
producing food, which is indispensable, for the little Lycosa
moves, when necessary, and very actively at that. To what shall we
attribute the heat expended upon action, when the animal takes
absolutely no nourishment?

An idea suggests itself. We say to ourselves that, without being
life, a machine is something more than matter, for man has added a
little of his mind to it. Now the iron beast, consuming its ration
of coal, is really browsing the ancient foliage of arborescent
ferns in which solar energy has accumulated.

Beasts of flesh and blood act no otherwise. Whether they mutually
devour one another or levy tribute on the plant, they invariably
quicken themselves with the stimulant of the sun's heat, a heat
stored in grass, fruit, seed and those which feed on such. The
sun, the soul of the universe, is the supreme dispenser of energy.

Instead of being served up through the intermediary of food and
passing through the ignominious circuit of gastric chemistry, could
not this solar energy penetrate the animal directly and charge it
with activity, even as the battery charges an accumulator with
power? Why not live on sun, seeing that, after all, we find naught
but sun in the fruits which we consume?

Chemical science, that bold revolutionary, promises to provide us
with synthetic food-stuffs. The laboratory and the factory will
take the place of the farm. Why should not physical science step
in as well? It would leave the preparation of plastic food to the
chemist's retorts; it would reserve for itself that of energy-
producing food, which, reduced to its exact terms, ceases to be
matter. With the aid of some ingenious apparatus, it would pump
into us our daily ration of solar energy, to be later expended in
movement, whereby the machine would be kept going without the often
painful assistance of the stomach and its adjuncts. What a
delightful world, where one would lunch off a ray of sunshine!

Is it a dream, or the anticipation of a remote reality? The
problem is one of the most important that science can set us. Let
us first hear the evidence of the young Lycosae regarding its

For seven months, without any material nourishment, they expend
strength in moving. To wind up the mechanism of their muscles,
they recruit themselves direct with heat and light. During the
time when she was dragging the bag of eggs behind her, the mother,
at the best moments of the day, came and held up her pill to the
sun. With her two hind-legs, she lifted it out of the ground, into
the full light; slowly she turned it and returned it, so that every
side might receive its share of the vivifying rays. Well, this
bath of life, which awakened the germs, is now prolonged to keep
the tender babes active.

Daily, if the sky be clear, the Lycosa, carrying her young, comes
up from the burrow, leans on the kerb and spends long hours basking
in the sun. Here, on their mother's back, the youngsters stretch
their limbs delightedly, saturate themselves with heat, take in
reserves of motor power, absorb energy.

They are motionless; but, if I only blow upon them, they stampede
as nimbly as though a hurricane were passing. Hurriedly, they
disperse; hurriedly, they reassemble: a proof that, without
material nourishment, the little animal machine is always at full
pressure, ready to work. When the shade comes, mother and sons go
down again, surfeited with solar emanations. The feast of energy
at the Sun Tavern is finished for the day. It is repeated in the
same way daily, if the weather be mild, until the hour of
emancipation comes, followed by the first mouthfuls of solid food.


The month of March comes to an end; and the departure of the
youngsters begins, in glorious weather, during the hottest hours of
the morning. Laden with her swarming burden, the mother Lycosa is
outside her burrow, squatting on the parapet at the entrance. She
lets them do as they please; as though indifferent to what is
happening, she exhibits neither encouragement nor regret. Whoso
will goes; whoso will remains behind.

First these, then those, according as they feel themselves duly
soaked with sunshine, the little ones leave the mother in batches,
run about for a moment on the ground and then quickly reach the
trellis-work of the cage, which they climb with surprising
alacrity. They pass through the meshes, they clamber right to the
top of the citadel. All, with not one exception, make for the
heights, instead of roaming on the ground, as might reasonably be
expected from the eminently earthly habits of the Lycosae; all
ascend the dome, a strange procedure whereof I do not yet guess the

I receive a hint from the upright ring that finishes the top of the
cage. The youngsters hurry to it. It represents the porch of
their gymnasium. They hang out threads across the opening; they
stretch others from the ring to the nearest points of the trellis-
work. On these foot-bridges, they perform slack-rope exercises
amid endless comings and goings. The tiny legs open out from time
to time and straddle as though to reach the most distant points. I
begin to realize that they are acrobats aiming at loftier heights
than those of the dome.

I top the trellis with a branch that doubles the attainable height.
The bustling crowd hastily scrambles up it, reaches the tip of the
topmost twigs and thence sends out threads that attach themselves
to every surrounding object. These form so many suspension-
bridges; and my beasties nimbly run along them, incessantly passing
to and fro. One would say that they wished to climb higher still.
I will endeavour to satisfy their desires.

I take a nine-foot reed, with tiny branches spreading right up to
the top, and place it above the cage. The little Lycosae clamber
to the very summit. Here, longer threads are produced from the
rope-yard and are now left to float, anon converted into bridges by
the mere contact of the free end with the neighbouring supports.
The rope-dancers embark upon them and form garlands which the least
breath of air swings daintily. The thread is invisible when it
does not come between the eyes and the sun; and the whole suggests
rows of Gnats dancing an aerial ballet.

Then, suddenly, teased by the air-currents, the delicate mooring
breaks and flies through space. Behold the emigrants off and away,
clinging to their thread. If the wind be favourable, they can land
at great distances. Their departure is thus continued for a week
or two, in bands more or less numerous, according to the
temperature and the brightness of the day. If the sky be overcast,
none dreams of leaving. The travellers need the kisses of the sun,
which give energy and vigour.

At last, the whole family has disappeared, carried afar by its
flying-ropes. The mother remains alone. The loss of her offspring
hardly seems to distress her. She retains her usual colour and
plumpness, which is a sign that the maternal exertions have not
been too much for her.

I also notice an increased fervour in the chase. While burdened
with her family, she was remarkably abstemious, accepting only with
great reserve the game placed at her disposal. The coldness of the
season may have militated against copious refections; perhaps also
the weight of the little ones hampered her movements and made her
more discreet in attacking the prey.

To-day, cheered by the fine weather and able to move freely, she
hurries up from her lair each time I set a tit-bit to her liking
buzzing at the entrance to her burrow; she comes and takes from my
fingers the savoury Locust, the portly Anoxia; {26} and this
performance is repeated daily, whenever I have the leisure to
devote to it. After a frugal winter, the time has come for
plentiful repasts.

This appetite tells us that the animal is not at the point of
death; one does not feast in this way with a played-out stomach.
My boarders are entering in full vigour upon their fourth year. In
the winter, in the fields, I used to find large mothers, carting
their young, and others not much more than half their size. The
whole series, therefore, represented three generations. And now,
in my earthenware pans, after the departure of the family, the old
matrons still carry on and continue as strong as ever. Every
outward appearance tells us that, after becoming great-
grandmothers, they still keep themselves fit for propagating their

The facts correspond with these anticipations. When September
returns, my captives are dragging a bag as bulky as that of last
year. For a long time, even when the eggs of the others have been
hatched for some weeks past, the mothers come daily to the
threshold of the burrow and hold out their wallets for incubation
by the sun. Their perseverance is not rewarded: nothing issues
from the satin purse; nothing stirs within. Why? Because, in the
prison of my cages, the eggs have had no father. Tired of waiting
and at last recognizing the barrenness of their produce, they push
the bag of eggs outside the burrow and trouble about it no more.
At the return of spring, by which time the family, if developed
according to rule, would have been emancipated, they die. The
mighty Spider of the waste-lands, therefore, attains to an even
more patriarchal age than her neighbour the Sacred Beetle: {27}
she lives for five years at the very least.

Let us leave the mothers to their business and return to the
youngsters. It is not without a certain surprise that we see the
little Lycosae, at the first moment of their emancipation, hasten
to ascend the heights. Destined to live on the ground, amidst the
short grass, and afterwards to settle in the permanent abode, a
pit, they start by being enthusiastic acrobats. Before descending
to the low levels, their normal dwelling-place, they affect lofty

To rise higher and ever higher is their first need. I have not, it
seems, exhausted the limit of their climbing-instinct even with a
nine-foot pole, suitably furnished with branches to facilitate the
escalade. Those who have eagerly reached the very top wave their
legs, fumble in space as though for yet higher stalks. It behoves
us to begin again and under better conditions.

Although the Narbonne Lycosa, with her temporary yearning for the
heights, is more interesting than other Spiders, by reason of the
fact that her usual habitation is underground, she is not so
striking at swarming-time, because the youngsters, instead of all
migrating at once, leave the mother at different periods and in
small batches. The sight will be a finer one with the common
Garden or Cross Spider, the Diadem Epeira (Epeira diadema, LIN.),
decorated with three white crosses on her back.

She lays her eggs in November and dies with the first cold snap.
She is denied the Lycosa's longevity. She leaves the natal wallet
early one spring and never sees the following spring. This wallet,
which contains the eggs, has none of the ingenious structure which
we admired in the Banded and in the Silky Epeira. No longer do we
see a graceful balloon-shape nor yet a paraboloid with a starry
base; no longer a tough, waterproof satin stuff; no longer a
swan's-down resembling a fleecy, russet cloud; no longer an inner
keg in which the eggs are packed. The art of stout fabrics and of
walls within walls is unknown here.

The work of the Cross Spider is a pill of white silk, wrought into
a yielding felt, through which the new-born Spiders will easily
work their way, without the aid of the mother, long since dead, and
without having to rely upon its bursting at the given hour. It is
about the size of a damson.

We can judge the method of manufacture from the structure. Like
the Lycosa, whom we saw, in Chapter III., at work in one of my
earthenware pans, the Cross Spider, on the support supplied by a
few threads stretched between the nearest objects, begins by making
a shallow saucer of sufficient thickness to dispense with
subsequent corrections. The process is easily guessed. The tip of
the abdomen goes up and down, down and up with an even beat, while
the worker shifts her place a little. Each time, the spinnerets
add a bit of thread to the carpet already made.

When the requisite thickness is obtained, the mother empties her
ovaries, in one continuous flow, into the centre of the bowl.
Glued together by their inherent moisture, the eggs, of a handsome
orange-yellow, form a ball-shaped heap. The work of the spinnerets
is resumed. The ball of germs is covered with a silk cap,
fashioned in the same way as the saucer. The two halves of the
work are so well joined that the whole constitutes an unbroken

The Banded Epeira and the Silky Epeira, those experts in the
manufacture of rainproof textures, lay their eggs high up, on
brushwood and bramble, without shelter of any kind. The thick
material of the wallets is enough to protect the eggs from the
inclemencies of the winter, especially from damp. The Diadem
Epeira, or Cross Spider, needs a cranny for hers, which is
contained in a non-waterproof felt. In a heap of stones, well
exposed to the sun, she will choose a large slab to serve as a
roof. She lodges her pill underneath it, in the company of the
hibernating Snail.

More often still, she prefers the thick tangle of some dwarf shrub,
standing eight or nine inches high and retaining its leaves in
winter. In the absence of anything better, a tuft of grass answers
the purpose. Whatever the hiding-place, the bag of eggs is always
near the ground, tucked away as well as may be, amid the
surrounding twigs.

Save in the case of the roof supplied by a large stone, we see that
the site selected hardly satisfies proper hygienic needs. The
Epeira seems to realize this fact. By way of an additional
protection, even under a stone, she never fails to make a thatched
roof for her eggs. She builds them a covering with bits of fine,
dry grass, joined together with a little silk. The abode of the
eggs becomes a straw wigwam.

Good luck procures me two Cross Spiders' nests, on the edge of one
of the paths in the enclosure, among some tufts of ground-cypress,
or lavender-cotton. This is just what I wanted for my plans. The
find is all the more valuable as the period of the exodus is near
at hand.

I prepare two lengths of bamboo, standing about fifteen feet high
and clustered with little twigs from top to bottom. I plant one of
them straight up in the tuft, beside the first nest. I clear the
surrounding ground, because the bushy vegetation might easily,
thanks to threads carried by the wind, divert the emigrants from
the road which I have laid out for them. The other bamboo I set up
in the middle of the yard, all by itself, some few steps from any
outstanding object. The second nest is removed as it is, shrub and
all, and placed at the bottom of the tall, ragged distaff.

The events expected are not long in coming. In the first fortnight
in May, a little earlier in one case, a little later in the other,
the two families, each presented with a bamboo climbing-pole, leave
their respective wallets. There is nothing remarkable about the
mode of egress. The precincts to be crossed consist of a very
slack net-work, through which the outcomers wriggle: weak little
orange-yellow beasties, with a triangular black patch upon their
sterns. One morning is long enough for the whole family to make
its appearance.

By degrees, the emancipated youngsters climb the nearest twigs,
clamber to the top, and spread a few threads. Soon, they gather in
a compact, ball-shaped cluster, the size of a walnut. They remain
motionless. With their heads plunged into the heap and their
sterns projecting, they doze gently, mellowing under the kisses of
the sun. Rich in the possession of a thread in their belly as
their sole inheritance, they prepare to disperse over the wide

Let us create a disturbance among the globular group by stirring it
with a straw. All wake up at once. The cluster softly dilates and
spreads, as though set in motion by some centrifugal force; it
becomes a transparent orb wherein thousands and thousands of tiny
legs quiver and shake, while threads are extended along the way to
be followed. The whole work resolves itself into a delicate veil
which swallows up the scattered family. We then see an exquisite
nebula against whose opalescent tapestry the tiny animals gleam
like twinkling orange stars.

This straggling state, though it last for hours, is but temporary.
If the air grow cooler, if rain threaten, the spherical group
reforms at once. This is a protective measure. On the morning
after a shower, I find the families on either bamboo in as good
condition as on the day before. The silk veil and the pill
formation have sheltered them well enough from the downpour. Even
so do Sheep, when caught in a storm in the pastures, gather close,
huddle together and make a common rampart of their backs.

The assembly into a ball-shaped mass is also the rule in calm,
bright weather, after the morning's exertions. In the afternoon,
the climbers collect at a higher point, where they weave a wide,
conical tent, with the end of a shoot for its top, and, gathered
into a compact group, spend the night there. Next day, when the
heat returns, the ascent is resumed in long files, following the
shrouds which a few pioneers have rigged and which those who come
after elaborate with their own work.

Collected nightly into a globular troop and sheltered under a fresh
tent, for three or four days, each morning, before the sun grows
too hot, my little emigrants thus raise themselves, stage by stage,
on both bamboos, until they reach the sun-unit, at fifteen feet
above the ground. The climb comes to an end for lack of foothold.

Under normal conditions, the ascent would be shorter. The young
Spiders have at their disposal the bushes, the brushwood, providing
supports on every side for the threads wafted hither and thither by
the eddying air-currents. With these rope-bridges flung across
space, the dispersal presents no difficulties. Each emigrant
leaves at his own good time and travels as suits him best.

My devices have changed these conditions somewhat. My two
bristling poles stand at a distance from the surrounding shrubs,
especially the one which I planted in the middle of the yard.
Bridges are out of the question, for the threads flung into the air
are not long enough. And so the acrobats, eager to get away, keep
on climbing, never come down again, are impelled to seek in a
higher position what they have failed to find in a lower. The top
of my two bamboos probably fails to represent the limit of what my
keen climbers are capable of achieving.

We shall see, in a moment, the object of this climbing-propensity,
which is a sufficiently remarkable instinct in the Garden Spiders,
who have as their domain the low-growing brushwood wherein their
nets are spread; it becomes a still more remarkable instinct in the
Lycosa, who, except at the moment when she leaves her mother's
back, never quits the ground and yet, in the early hours of her
life, shows herself as ardent a wooer of high places as the young
Garden Spiders.

Let us consider the Lycosa in particular. In her, at the moment of
the exodus, a sudden instinct arises, to disappear, as promptly and
for ever, a few hours later. This is the climbing-instinct, which
is unknown to the adult and soon forgotten by the emancipated
youngling, doomed to wander homeless, for many a long day, upon the
ground. Neither of them dreams of climbing to the top of a grass-
stalk. The full-grown Spider hunts trapper-fashion, ambushed in
her tower; the young one hunts afoot through the scrubby grass. In
both cases there is no web and therefore no need for lofty contact-
points. They are not allowed to quit the ground and climb the

Yet here we have the young Lycosa, wishing to leave the maternal
abode and to travel far afield by the easiest and swiftest methods,
suddenly becoming an enthusiastic climber. Impetuously she scales
the wire trellis of the cage where she was born; hurriedly she
clambers to the top of the tall mast which I have prepared for her.
In the same way, she would make for the summit of the bushes in her

We catch a glimpse of her object. From on high, finding a wide
space beneath her, she sends a thread floating. It is caught by
the wind and carries her hanging to it. We have our aeroplanes;
she too possesses her flying-machine. Once the journey is
accomplished, naught remains of this ingenious business. The
climbing-instinct conies suddenly, at the hour of need, and no less
suddenly vanishes.


Seeds, when ripened in the fruit, are disseminated, that is to say,
scattered on the surface of the ground, to sprout in spots as yet
unoccupied and fill the expanses that realize favourable

Amid the wayside rubbish grows one of the gourd family, Ecbalium
elaterium, commonly called the squirting cucumber, whose fruit--a
rough and extremely bitter little cucumber--is the size of a date.
When ripe, the fleshy core resolves into a liquid in which float
the seeds. Compressed by the elastic rind of the fruit, this
liquid bears upon the base of the footstalk, which is gradually
forced out, yields like a stopper, breaks off and leaves an orifice
through which a stream of seeds and fluid pulp is suddenly ejected.
If, with a novice hand, under a scorching sun, you shake the plant
laden with yellow fruit, you are bound to be somewhat startled when
you hear a noise among the leaves and receive the cucumber's
grapeshot in your face.

The fruit of the garden balsam, when ripe, splits, at the least
touch, into five fleshy valves, which curl up and shoot their seeds
to a distance. The botanical name of Impatiens given to the balsam
alludes to this sudden dehiscence of the capsules, which cannot
endure contact without bursting.

In the damp and shady places of the woods there exists a plant of
the same family which, for similar reasons, bears the even more
expressive name of Impatiens noli-me-tangere, or touch-me-not.

The capsule of the pansy expands into three valves, each scooped
out like a boat and laden in the middle with two rows of seeds.
When these valves dry, the edges shrivel, press upon the grains and
eject them.

Light seeds, especially those of the order of Compositae, have
aeronautic apparatus--tufts, plumes, fly-wheels--which keep them up
in the air and enable them to take distant voyages. In this way,
at the least breath, the seeds of the dandelion, surmounted by a
tuft of feathers, fly from their dry receptacle and waft gently in
the air.

Next to the tuft, the wing is the most satisfactory contrivance for
dissemination by wind. Thanks to their membranous edge, which
gives them the appearance of thin scales, the seeds of the yellow
wall-flower reach high cornices of buildings, clefts of
inaccessible rocks, crannies in old walls, and sprout in the
remnant of mould bequeathed by the mosses that were there before

The samaras, or keys, of the elm, formed of a broad, light fan with
the seed cased in its centre; those of the maple, joined in pairs
and resembling the unfurled wings of a bird; those of the ash,
carved like the blade of an oar, perform the most distant journeys
when driven before the storm.

Like the plant, the insect also sometimes possesses travelling-
apparatus, means of dissemination that allow large families to
disperse quickly over the country, so that each member may have his
place in the sun without injuring his neighbour; and these
apparatus, these methods vie in ingenuity with the elm's samara,
the dandelion-plume and the catapult of the squirting cucumber.

Let us consider, in particular, the Epeirae, those magnificent
Spiders who, to catch their prey, stretch, between one bush and the
next, great vertical sheets of meshes, resembling those of the
fowler. The most remarkable in my district is the Banded Epeira
(Epeira fasciata, WALCK.), so prettily belted with yellow, black
and silvery white. Her nest, a marvel of gracefulness, is a satin
bag, shaped like a tiny pear. Its neck ends in a concave
mouthpiece closed with a lid, also of satin. Brown ribbons, in
fanciful meridian waves, adorn the object from pole to pole.

Open the nest. We have seen, in an earlier chapter, {28} what we
find there; let us retell the story. Under the outer wrapper,
which is as stout as our woven stuffs and, moreover, perfectly
waterproof, is a russet eiderdown of exquisite delicacy, a silky
fluff resembling driven smoke. Nowhere does mother-love prepare a
softer bed.

In the middle of this downy mass hangs a fine, silk, thimble-shaped
purse, closed with a movable lid. This contains the eggs, of a
pretty orange-yellow and about five hundred in number.

All things considered, is not this charming edifice an animal
fruit, a germ-casket, a capsule to be compared with that of the
plants? Only, the Epeira's wallet, instead of seeds, holds eggs.
The difference is more apparent than real, for egg and grain are

How will this living fruit, ripening in the heat beloved of the
Cicadae, manage to burst? How, above all, will dissemination take
place? They are there in their hundreds. They must separate, go
far away, isolate themselves in a spot where there is not too much
fear of competition among neighbours. How will they set to work to
achieve this distant exodus, weaklings that they are, taking such
very tiny steps?

I receive the first answer from another and much earlier Epeira,
whose family I find, at the beginning of May, on a yucca in the
enclosure. The plant blossomed last year. The branching flower-
stem, some three feet high, still stands erect, though withered.
On the green leaves, shaped like a sword-blade, swarm two newly-
hatched families. The wee beasties are a dull yellow, with a
triangular black patch upon their stern. Later on, three white
crosses, ornamenting the back, will tell me that my find
corresponds with the Cross or Diadem Spider (Epeira diadema,

When the sun reaches this part of the enclosure, one of the two
groups falls into a great state of flutter. Nimble acrobats that
they are, the little Spiders scramble up, one after the other, and
reach the top of the stem. Here, marches and countermarches,
tumult and confusion reign, for there is a slight breeze which
throws the troop into disorder. I see no connected manoeuvres.
From the top of the stalk they set out at every moment, one by one;
they dart off suddenly; they fly away, so to speak. It is as
though they had the wings of a Gnat.

Forthwith they disappear from view. Nothing that my eyes can see
explains this strange flight; for precise observation is impossible
amid the disturbing influences out of doors. What is wanted is a
peaceful atmosphere and the quiet of my study.

I gather the family in a large box, which I close at once, and
instal it in the animals' laboratory, on a small table, two steps
from the open window. Apprised by what I have just seen of their
propensity to resort to the heights, I give my subjects a bundle of
twigs, eighteen inches tall, as a climbing-pole. The whole band
hurriedly clambers up and reaches the top. In a few moments there
is not one lacking in the group on high. The future will tell us
the reason of this assemblage on the projecting tips of the twigs.

The little Spiders are now spinning here and there at random: they
go up, go down, come up again. Thus is woven a light veil of
divergent threads, a many-cornered web with the end of the branch
for its summit and the edge of the table for its base, some
eighteen inches wide. This veil is the drill-ground, the work-yard
where the preparations for departure are made.

Here hasten the humble little creatures, running indefatigably to
and fro. When the sun shines upon them, they become gleaming
specks and form upon the milky background of the veil a sort of
constellation, a reflex of those remote points in the sky where the
telescope shows us endless galaxies of stars. The immeasurably
small and the immeasurably large are alike in appearance. It is
all a matter of distance.

But the living nebula is not composed of fixed stars; on the
contrary, its specks are in continual movement. The young Spiders
never cease shifting their position on the web. Many let
themselves drop, hanging by a length of thread, which the faller's
weight draws from the spinnerets. Then quickly they climb up again
by the same thread, which they wind gradually into a skein and
lengthen by successive falls. Others confine themselves to running
about the web and also give me the impression of working at a
bundle of ropes.

The thread, as a matter of fact, does not flow from the spinneret;
it is drawn thence with a certain effort. It is a case of
extraction, not emission. To obtain her slender cord, the Spider
has to move about and haul, either by falling or by walking, even
as the rope-maker steps backwards when working his hemp. The
activity now displayed on the drill-ground is a preparation for the
approaching dispersal. The travellers are packing up.

Soon we see a few Spiders trotting briskly between the table and
the open window. They are running in mid-air. But on what? If
the light fall favourably, I manage to see, at moments, behind the
tiny animal, a thread resembling a ray of light, which appears for
an instant, gleams and disappears. Behind, therefore, there is a
mooring, only just perceptible, if you look very carefully; but, in
front, towards the window, there is nothing to be seen at all.

In vain I examine above, below, at the side; in vain I vary the
direction of the eye: I can distinguish no support for the little
creature to walk upon. One would think that the beastie were
paddling in space. It suggests the idea of a small bird, tied by
the leg with a thread and making a flying rush forwards.

But, in this case, appearances are deceptive: flight is
impossible; the Spider must necessarily have a bridge whereby to
cross the intervening space. This bridge, which I cannot see, I
can at least destroy. I cleave the air with a ruler in front of
the Spider making for the window. That is quite enough: the tiny
animal at once ceases to go forward and falls. The invisible foot-
plank is broken. My son, young Paul, who is helping me, is
astounded at this wave of the magic wand, for not even he, with his
fresh, young eyes, is able to see a support ahead for the
Spiderling to move along.

In the rear, on the other hand, a thread is visible. The
difference is easily explained. Every Spider, as she goes, at the
same time spins a safety-cord which will guard the rope-walker
against the risk of an always possible fall. In the rear,
therefore, the thread is of double thickness and can be seen,
whereas, in front, it is still single and hardly perceptible to the

Obviously, this invisible foot-bridge is not flung out by the
animal: it is carried and unrolled by a gust of air. The Epeira,
supplied with this line, lets it float freely; and the wind,
however softly blowing, bears it along and unwinds it. Even so is
the smoke from the bowl of a pipe whirled up in the air.

This floating thread has but to touch any object in the
neighbourhood and it will remain fixed to it. The suspension-
bridge is thrown; and the Spider can set out. The South-American
Indians are said to cross the abysses of the Cordilleras in
travelling-cradles made of twisted creepers; the little Spider
passes through space on the invisible and the imponderable.

But to carry the end of the floating thread elsewhither a draught
is needed. At this moment, the draught exists between the door of
my study and the window, both of which are open. It is so slight
that I do not feel its; I only know of it by the smoke from my
pipe, curling softly in that direction. Cold air enters from
without through the door; warm air escapes from the room through
the window. This is the drought that carries the threads with it
and enables the Spiders to embark upon their journey.

I get rid of it by closing both apertures and I break off any
communication by passing my ruler between the window and the table.
Henceforth, in the motionless atmosphere, there are no departures.
The current of air is missing, the skeins are not unwound and
migration becomes impossible.

It is soon resumed, but in a direction whereof I never dreamt. The
hot sun is beating on a certain part of the floor. At this spot,
which is warmer than the rest, a column of lighter, ascending air
is generated. If this column catch the threads, my Spiders ought
to rise to the ceiling of the room.

The curious ascent does, in fact, take place. Unfortunately, my
troop, which has been greatly reduced by the number of departures
through the window, does not lend itself to prolonged experiment.
We must begin again.

The next morning, on the same yucca, I gather the second family, as
numerous as the first. Yesterday's preparations are repeated. My
legion of Spiders first weaves a divergent framework between the
top of the brushwood placed at the emigrants' disposal and the edge
of the table. Five or six hundred wee beasties swarm all over this

While this little world is busily fussing, making its arrangements
for departure, I make my own. Every aperture in the room is
closed, so as to obtain as calm an atmosphere as possible. A small
chafing-dish is lit at the foot of the table. My hands cannot feel
the heat of it at the level of the web whereon my Spiders are
weaving. This is the very modest fire which, with its column of
rising air, shall unwind the threads and carry them on high.

Let us first enquire the direction and strength of the current.
Dandelion-plumes, made lighter by the removal of their seeds, serve
as my guides. Released above the chafing-dish, on the level of the
table, they float slowly upwards and, for the most part, reach the
ceiling. The emigrants' lines should rise in the same way and even

The thing is done: with the aid of nothing that is visible to the
three of us looking on, a Spider makes her ascent. She ambles with
her eight legs through the air; she mounts, gently swaying. The
others, in ever-increasing numbers, follow, sometimes by different
roads, sometimes by the same road. Any one who did not possess the
secret would stand amazed at this magic ascent without a ladder.
In a few minutes, most of them are up, clinging to the ceiling.

Not all of them reach it. I see some who, on attaining a certain
height, cease to go up and even lose ground, although moving their
legs forward with all the nimbleness of which they are capable.
The more they struggle upwards, the faster they come down. This
drifting, which neutralizes the distance covered and even converts
it into a retrogression, is easily explained.

The thread has not reached the platform; it floats, it is fixed
only at the lower end. As long as it is of a fair length, it is
able, although moving, to bear the minute animal's weight. But, as
the Spider climbs, the float becomes shorter in proportion; and the
time comes when a balance is struck between the ascensional force
of the thread and the weight carried. Then the beastie remains
stationary, although continuing to climb.

Presently, the weight becomes too much for the shorter and shorter
float; and the Spider slips down, in spite of her persistent,
forward striving. She is at last brought back to the branch by the
falling threads. Here, the ascent is soon renewed, either on a
fresh thread, if the supply of silk be not yet exhausted, or on a
strange thread, the work, of those who have gone before.

As a rule, the ceiling is reached. It is twelve feet high. The
little Spider is able, therefore, as the first product of her
spinning-mill, before taking any refreshment, to obtain a line
fully twelve feet in length. And all this, the rope-maker and her
rope, was contained in the egg, a particle of no size at all. To
what a degree of fineness can the silky matter be wrought wherewith
the young Spider is provided! Our manufacturers are able to turn
out platinum-wire that can only be seen when it is made red-hot.
With much simpler means, the Spiderling draws from her wire-mill
threads so delicate that, even the brilliant light of the sun does
not always enable us to discern them.

We must not let all the climbers be stranded on the ceiling, an
inhospitable region where most of them will doubtless perish, being
unable to produce a second thread before they have had a meal. I
open the window. A current of lukewarm air, coming from the
chafing-dish, escapes through the top. Dandelion-plumes, taking
that direction, tell me so. The wafting threads cannot fail to be
carried by this flow of air and to lengthen out in the open, where
a light breeze is blowing.

I take a pair of sharp scissors and, without shaking the threads,
cut a few that are just visible at the base, where they are
thickened with an added strand. The result of this operation is
marvellous. Hanging to the flying-rope, which is borne on the wind
outside, the Spider passes through the window, suddenly flies off
and disappears. An easy way of travelling, if the conveyance
possessed a rudder that allowed the passenger to land where he
pleases! But the little things are at the mercy of the winds:
where will they alight? Hundreds, thousands of yards away,
perhaps. Let us wish them a prosperous journey.

The problem of dissemination is now solved. What would happen if
matters, instead of being brought about by my wiles, took place in
the open fields? The answer is obvious. The young Spiders, born
acrobats and rope-walkers, climb to the top of a branch so as to
find sufficient space below them to unfurl their apparatus. Here,
each draws from her rope-factory a thread which she abandons to the
eddies of the air. Gently raised by the currents that ascend from
the ground warmed by the sun, this thread wafts upwards, floats,
undulates, makes for its point of contact. At last, it breaks and
vanishes in the distance, carrying the spinstress hanging to it.

The Epeira with the three white crosses, the Spider who has
supplied us with these first data concerning the process of
dissemination, is endowed with a moderate maternal industry. As a
receptacle for the eggs, she weaves a mere pill of silk. Her work
is modest indeed beside the Banded Epeira's balloons. I looked to
these to supply me with fuller documents. I had laid up a store by
rearing some mothers during the autumn. So that nothing of
importance might escape me, I divided my stock of balloons, most of
which were woven before my eyes, into two sections. One half
remained in my study, under a wire-gauze cover, with, small bunches
of brushwood as supports; the other half were experiencing the
vicissitudes of open-air life on the rosemaries in the enclosure.

These preparations, which promised so well, did not provide me with
the sight which I expected, namely, a magnificent exodus, worthy of
the tabernacle occupied. However, a few results, not devoid of
interest, are to be noted. Let us state them briefly.

The hatching takes place as March approaches. When this time
comes, let us open the Banded Epeira's nest with the scissors. We
shall find that some of the youngsters have already left the
central chamber and scattered over the surrounding eiderdown, while
the rest of the laying still consists of a compact mass of orange
eggs. The appearance of the younglings is not simultaneous; it
takes place with intermissions and may last a couple of weeks.

Nothing as yet suggests the future, richly-striped livery. The
abdomen is white and, as it were, floury in the front half; in the
other half it is a blackish-brown. The rest of the body is pale-
yellow, except in front, where the eyes form a black edging. When
left alone, the little ones remain motionless in the soft, russet
swan's-down; if disturbed, they shuffle lazily where they are, or
even walk about in a hesitating and unsteady fashion. One can see
that they have to ripen before venturing outside.

Maturity is achieved in the exquisite floss that surrounds the
natal chamber and fills out the balloon. This is the waiting-room
in which the body hardens. All dive into it as and when they
emerge from the central keg. They will not leave it until four
months later, when the midsummer heats have come.

Their number is considerable. A patient and careful census gives
me nearly six hundred. And all this comes out of a purse no larger
than a pea. By what miracle is there room for such a family? How
do those thousands of legs manage to grow without straining

The egg-bag, as we learnt in Chapter II., is a short cylinder
rounded at the bottom. It is formed of compact white satin, an
insuperable barrier. It opens into a round orifice wherein is
bedded a lid of the same material, through which the feeble
beasties would be incapable of passing. It is not a porous felt,
but a fabric as tough as that of the sack. Then by what mechanism
is the delivery effected?

Observe that the disk of the lid doubles back into a short fold,
which edges into the orifice of the bag. In the same way, the lid
of a sauce-pan fits the mouth by means of a projecting rim, with
this difference, that the rim is not attached to the saucepan,
whereas, in the Epeira's work, it is soldered to the bag or nest.
Well, at the time of the hatching, this disk becomes unstuck, lifts
and allows the new-born Spiders to pass through.

If the rim were movable and simply inserted, if, moreover, the
birth of all the family took place at the same time, we might think
that the door is forced open by the living wave of inmates, who
would set their backs to it with a common effort. We should find
an approximate image in the case of the saucepan, whose lid is
raised by the boiling of its contents. But the fabric of the cover
is one with the fabric of the bag, the two are closely welded;
besides, the hatching is effected in small batches, incapable of
the least exertion. There must, therefore, be a spontaneous
bursting, or dehiscence, independent of the assistance of the
youngsters and similar to that of the seed-pods of plants.

When fully ripened, the dry fruit of the snap-dragon opens three
windows; that of the pimpernel splits into two rounded halves,
something like those of the outer case of a fob-watch; the fruit of
the carnation partly unseals its valves and opens at the top into a
star-shaped hatch. Each seed-casket has its own system of locks,
which are made to work smoothly by the mere kiss of the sun.

Well, that other dry fruit, the Banded Epeira's germ-box, likewise
possesses its bursting-gear. As long as the eggs remain unhatched,
the door, solidly fixed in its frame, holds good; as soon as the
little ones swarm and want to get out, it opens of itself.

Come June and July, beloved of the Cicadae, no less beloved of the
young Spiders who are anxious to be off. It were difficult indeed
for them to work their way through the thick shell of the balloon.
For the second time, a spontaneous dehiscence seems called for.
Where will it be effected?

The idea occurs off-hand that it will take place along the edges of
the top cover. Remember the details given in an earlier chapter.
The neck of the balloon ends in a wide crater, which is closed by a
ceiling dug out cup-wise. The material is as stout in this part as
in any other; but, as the lid was the finishing touch to the work,
we expect to find an incomplete soldering, which would allow it to
be unfastened.

The method of construction deceives us: the ceiling is immovable;
at no season can my forceps manage to extract it, without
destroying the building from top to bottom. The dehiscence takes
place elsewhere, at some point on the sides. Nothing informs us,
nothing suggests to us that it will occur at one place rather than

Moreover, to tell the truth, it is not a dehiscence prepared by
means of some dainty piece of mechanism; it is a very irregular
tear. Somewhat sharply, under the fierce heat of the sun, the
satin bursts like the rind of an over-ripe pomegranate. Judging by
the result, we think of the expansion of the air inside, which,
heated by the sun, causes this rupture. The signs of pressure from
within are manifest: the tatters of the torn fabric are turned
outwards; also, a wisp of the russet eiderdown that fills the
wallet invariably straggles through the breach. In the midst of
the protruding floss, the Spiderlings, expelled from their home by
the explosion, are in frantic commotion.

The balloons of the Banded Epeira are bombs which, to free their
contents, burst under the rays of a torrid sun. To break they need
the fiery heat-waves of the dog-days. When kept in the moderate
atmosphere of my study, most of them do not open and the emergence
of the young does not take place, unless I myself I have a hand in
the business; a few others open with a round hole, a hole so neat
that it might have been made with a punch. This aperture is the
work of the prisoners, who, relieving one another in turns, have,
with a patient tooth, bitten through the stuff of the jar at some
point or other.

When exposed to the full force of the sun, however, on the
rosemaries in the enclosure, the balloons burst and shoot forth a
ruddy flood of floss and tiny animals. That is how things occur in
the free sun-bath of the fields. Unsheltered, among the bushes,
the wallet of the Banded Epeira, when the July heat arrives, splits
under the effort of the inner air. The delivery is effected by an
explosion of the dwelling.

A very small part of the family are expelled with the flow of tawny
floss; the vast majority remain in the bag, which is ripped open,
but still bulges with eiderdown. Now that the breach is made, any
one can go out who pleases, in his own good time, without hurrying.
Besides, a solemn action has to be performed before the emigration.
The animal must cast its skin; and the moult is an event that does
not fall on the same date for all. The evacuation of the place,
therefore, lasts several days. It is effected in small squads, as
the slough is flung aside.

Those who sally forth climb up the neighbouring twigs and there, in
the full heat of the sun, proceed with the work of dissemination.
The method is the same as that which we saw in the case of the
Cross Spider. The spinnerets abandon to the breeze a thread that
floats, breaks and flies away, carrying the rope-maker with it.
The number of starters on any one morning is so small as to rob the
spectacle of the greater part of its interest. The scene lacks
animation because of the absence of a crowd.

To my intense disappointment, the Silky Epeira does not either
indulge in a tumultuous and dashing exodus. Let me remind you of
her handiwork, the handsomest of the maternal wallets, next to the
Banded Epeira's. It is an obtuse conoid, closed with a star-shaped
disk. It is made of a stouter and especially a thicker material
than the Banded Epeira's balloon, for which reason a spontaneous
rupture becomes more necessary than ever.

This rupture is effected at the sides of the bag, not far from the
edge of the lid. Like the ripping of the balloon, it requires the
rough aid of the heat of July. Its mechanism also seems to work by
the expansion of the heated air, for we again see a partial
emission of the silky floss that fills the pouch.

The exit of the family is performed in a single group and, this
time, before the moult, perhaps for lack of the space necessary for
the delicate casting of the skin. The conical bag falls far short
of the balloon in size; those packed within would sprain their legs
in extracting them from their sheaths. The family, therefore,
emerges in a body and settles on a sprig hard by.

This is a temporary camping-ground, where, spinning in unison, the
youngsters soon weave an open-work tent, the abode of a week, or
thereabouts. The moult is effected in this lounge of intersecting
threads. The sloughed skins form a heap at the bottom of the
dwelling; on the trapezes above, the flaylings take exercise and
gain strength and vigour. Finally, when maturity is attained, they
set out, now these, now those, little by little and always
cautiously. There are no audacious flights on the thready air-
ship; the journey is accomplished by modest stages.

Hanging to her thread, the Spider lets herself drop straight down,
to a depth of nine or ten inches. A breath of air sets her
swinging like a pendulum, sometimes drives her against a
neighbouring branch. This is a step towards the dispersal. At the
point reached, there is a fresh fall, followed by a fresh pendulous
swing that lands her a little farther afield. Thus, in short
tacks, for the thread is never very long, does the Spiderling go
about, seeing the country, until she comes to a place that suits
her. Should the wind blow at all hard, the voyage is cut short:
the cable of the pendulum breaks and the beastie is carried for
some distance on its cord.

To sum up, although, on the whole, the tactics of the exodus remain
much the same, the two spinstresses of my region best-versed in the
art of weaving mothers' wallets failed to come up to my
expectations. I went to the trouble of rearing them, with
disappointing results. Where shall I find again the wonderful
spectacle which the Cross Spider offered me by chance? I shall
find it--in an even more striking fashion--among humbler Spiders,
whom I had neglected to observe.


The Spider that showed me the exodus in all its magnificence is
known officially as Thomisus onustus, WALCK. Though the name
suggest nothing to the reader's mind, it has the advantage, at any
rate, of hurting neither the throat nor the ear, as is too often
the case with scientific nomenclature, which sounds more like
sneezing than articulate speech. Since it is the rule to dignify
plants and animals with a Latin label, let us at least respect the
euphony of the classics and refrain from harsh splutters which spit
out a name instead of pronouncing it.

What will posterity do in face of the rising tide of a barbarous
vocabulary which, under the pretence of progress, stifles real
knowledge? It will relegate the whole business to the quagmire of
oblivion. But what will never disappear is the popular name, which
sounds well, is picturesque and conveys some sort of information.
Such is the term Crab Spider, applied by the ancients to the group
to which the Thomisus belongs, a pretty accurate term, for, in this
case, there is an evident analogy between the Spider and the

Like the Crab, the Thomisus walks sideways; she also has fore-legs
stronger than her hind-legs. The only thing wanting to complete
the resemblance is the front pair of stone gauntlets, raised in the
attitude of self-defence.

The Spider with the Crab-like figure does not know how to
manufacture nets for catching game. Without springs or snares, she
lies in ambush, among the flowers, and awaits the arrival of the
quarry, which she kills by administering a scientific stab in the
neck. The Thomisus, in particular, the subject of this chapter, is
passionately addicted to the pursuit of the Domestic Bee. I have
described the contests between the victim and her executioner, at
greater length, elsewhere.

The Bee appears, seeking no quarrel, intent upon plunder. She
tests the flowers with her tongue; she selects a spot that will
yield a good return. Soon she is wrapped up in her harvesting.
While she is filling her baskets and distending her crop, the
Thomisus, that bandit lurking under cover of the flowers, issues
from her hiding-place, creeps round behind the bustling insect,
steals up close and, with a sudden rush, nabs her in the nape of
the neck. In vain, the Bee protests and darts her sting at random;
the assailant does not let go.

Besides, the bite in the neck is paralysing, because the cervical
nerve-centres are affected. The poor thing's legs stiffen; and all
is over in a second. The murderess now sucks the victim's blood at
her ease and, when she has done, scornfully flings the drained
corpse aside. She hides herself once more, ready to bleed a second
gleaner should the occasion offer.

This slaughter of the Bee engaged in the hallowed delights of
labour has always revolted me. Why should there be workers to feed
idlers, why sweated to keep sweaters in luxury? Why should so many
admirable lives be sacrificed to the greater prosperity of
brigandage? These hateful discords amid the general harmony
perplex the thinker, all the more as we shall see the cruel vampire
become a model of devotion where her family is concerned.

The ogre loved his children; he ate the children of others. Under
the tyranny of the stomach, we are all of us, beasts and men alike,
ogres. The dignity of labour, the joy of life, maternal affection,
the terrors of death: all these do not count, in others; the main
point is that morsel the be tender and savoury.

According to the etymology of her name--[Greek text], a cord--the
Thomisus should be like the ancient lictor, who bound the sufferer
to the stake. The comparison is not inappropriate as regards many
Spiders who tie their prey with a thread to subdue it and consume
it at their ease; but it just happens that the Thomisus is at
variance with her label. She does not fasten her Bee, who, dying
suddenly of a bite in the neck, offers no resistance to her
consumer. Carried away by his recollection of the regular tactics,
our Spider's godfather overlooked the exception; he did not know of
the perfidious mode of attack which renders the use of a bow-string

Nor is the second name of onustus--loaded, burdened, freighted--any
too happily chosen. The fact that the Bee-huntress carries a heavy
paunch is no reason to refer to this as a distinctive
characteristic. Nearly all Spiders have a voluminous belly, a
silk-warehouse where, in some cases, the rigging of the net, in
others, the swan's-down of the nest is manufactured. The Thomisus,
a first-class nest-builder, does like the rest: she hoards in her
abdomen, but without undue display of obesity, the wherewithal to
house her family snugly.

Can the expression onustus refer simply to her slow and sidelong
walk? The explanation appeals to me, without satisfying me fully.
Except in the case of a sudden alarm, every Spider maintains a
sober gait and a wary pace. When all is said, the scientific term
is composed of a misconception and a worthless epithet. How
difficult it is to name animals rationally! Let us be indulgent to
the nomenclator: the dictionary is becoming exhausted and the
constant flood that requires cataloguing mounts incessantly,
wearing out our combinations of syllables.

As the technical name tells the reader nothing, how shall he be
informed? I see but one means, which is to invite him to the May
festivals, in the waste-lands of the South. The murderess of the
Bees is of a chilly constitution; in our parts, she hardly ever
moves away from the olive-districts. Her favourite shrub is the
white-leaved rock-rose (Cistus albidus), with the large, pink,
crumpled, ephemeral blooms that last but a morning and are
replaced, next day, by fresh flowers, which have blossomed in the
cool dawn. This glorious efflorescence goes on for five or six

Here, the Bees plunder enthusiastically, fussing and bustling in
the spacious whorl of the stamens, which beflour them with yellow.
Their persecutrix knows of this affluence. She posts herself in
her watch-house, under the rosy screen of a petal. Cast your eyes
over the flower, more or less everywhere. If you see a Bee lying
lifeless, with legs and tongue out-stretched, draw nearer: the
Thomisus will be there, nine times out of ten. The thug has struck
her blow; she is draining the blood of the departed.

After all, this cutter of Bees' throats is a pretty, a very pretty
creature, despite her unwieldy paunch fashioned like a squat
pyramid and embossed on the base, on either side, with a pimple
shaped like a camel's hump. The skin, more pleasing to the eye
than any satin, is milk-white in some, in others lemon-yellow.
There are fine ladies among them who adorn their legs with a number
of pink bracelets and their back with carmine arabesques. A narrow
pale-green ribbon sometimes edges the right and left of the breast.
It is not so rich as the costume of the Banded Epeira, but much
more elegant because of its soberness, its daintiness and the
artful blending of its hues. Novice fingers, which shrink from
touching any other Spider, allow themselves to be enticed by these
attractions; they do not fear to handle the beauteous Thomisus, so
gentle in appearance.

Well, what can this gem among Spiders do? In the first place, she
makes a nest worthy of its architect. With twigs and horse-hair
and bits of wool, the Goldfinch, the Chaffinch and other masters of
the builder's art construct an aerial bower in the fork of the
branches. Herself a lover of high places, the Thomisus selects as
the site of her nest one of the upper twigs of the rock-rose, her
regular hunting-ground, a twig withered by the heat and possessing
a few dead leaves, which curl into a little cottage. This is where
she settles with a view to her eggs.

Ascending and descending with a gentle swing in more or less every
direction, the living shuttle, swollen with silk, weaves a bag
whose outer casing becomes one with the dry leaves around. The
work, which is partly visible and partly hidden by its supports, is
a pure dead-white. Its shape, moulded in the angular interval
between the bent leaves, is that of a cone and reminds us, on a
smaller scale, of the nest of the Silky Epeira.

When the eggs are laid, the mouth of the receptacle is hermetically
closed with a lid of the same white silk. Lastly, a few threads,
stretched like a thin curtain, form a canopy above the nest and,
with the curved tips of the leaves, frame a sort of alcove wherein
the mother takes up her abode.

It is more than a place of rest after the fatigues of her
confinement: it is a guard-room, an inspection-post where the
mother remains sprawling until the youngsters' exodus. Greatly
emaciated by the laying of her eggs and by her expenditure of silk,
she lives only for the protection of her nest.

Should some vagrant pass near by, she hurries from her watch-tower,
lifts a limb and puts the intruder to flight. If I tease her with
a straw, she parries with big gestures, like those of a prize-
fighter. She uses her fists against my weapon. When I propose to
dislodge her in view of certain experiments, I find some difficulty
in doing so. She clings to the silken floor, she frustrates my
attacks, which I am bound to moderate lest I should injure her.
She is no sooner attracted outside than she stubbornly returns to
her post. She declines to leave her treasure.

Even so does the Narbonne Lycosa struggle when we try to take away
her pill. Each displays the same pluck and the same devotion; and
also the same denseness in distinguishing her property from that of
others. The Lycosa accepts without hesitation any strange pill
which she is, given in exchange for her own; she confuses alien
produce with the produce of her ovaries and her silk-factory.
Those hallowed words, maternal love, were out of place here: it is
an impetuous, an almost mechanical impulse, wherein real affection
plays no part whatever. The beautiful Spider of the rock-roses is
no more generously endowed. When moved from her nest to another of
the same kind, she settles upon it and never stirs from it, even
though the different arrangement of the leafy fence be such as to
warn her that she is not really at home. Provided that she have
satin under her feet, she does not notice her mistake; she watches
over another's nest with the same vigilance which she might show in
watching over her own.

The Lycosa surpasses her in maternal blindness. She fastens to her
spinnerets and dangles, by way of a bag of eggs, a ball of cork
polished with my file, a paper pellet, a little ball of thread. In
order to discover if the Thomisus is capable of a similar error, I
gathered some broken pieces of silk-worm's cocoon into a closed
cone, turning the fragments so as to bring the smoother and more
delicate inner surface outside. My attempt was unsuccessful. When
removed from her home and placed on the artificial wallet, the
mother Thomisus obstinately refused to settle there. Can she be
more clear-sighted than the Lycosa? Perhaps so. Let us not be too
extravagant with our praise, however; the imitation of the bag was
a very clumsy one.

The work of laying is finished by the end of May, after which,
lying flat on the ceiling of her nest, the mother never leaves her
guard-room, either by night or day. Seeing her look so thin and
wrinkled, I imagine that I can please her by bringing her a
provision of Bees, as I was wont to do. I have misjudged her
needs. The Bee, hitherto her favourite dish, tempts her no longer.
In vain does the prey buzz close by, an easy capture within the
cage: the watcher does not shift from her post, takes no notice of
the windfall. She lives exclusively upon maternal devotion, a
commendable but unsubstantial fare. And so I see her pining away
from day to day, becoming more and more wrinkled. What is the
withered thing waiting for, before expiring? She is waiting for
her children to emerge; the dying creature is still of use to them.

When the Banded Epeira's little ones issue from their balloon, they
have long been orphans. There is none to come to their assistance;
and they have not the strength to free themselves unaided. The
balloon has to split automatically and to scatter the youngsters
and their flossy mattress all mixed up together. The Thomisus'
wallet, sheathed in leaves over the greater part of its surface,
never bursts; nor does the lid rise, so carefully is it sealed
down. Nevertheless, after the delivery of the brood, we see, at
the edge of the lid, a small, gaping hole, an exit-window. Who
contrived this window, which was not there at first?

The fabric is too thick and tough to have yielded to the twitches
of the feeble little prisoners. It was the mother, therefore, who,
feeling her offspring shuffle impatiently under the silken ceiling,
herself made a hole in the bag. She persists in living for five or
six weeks, despite her shattered health, so as to give a last
helping hand and open the door for her family. After performing
this duty, she gently lets herself die, hugging her nest and
turning into a shrivelled relic.

When July comes, the little ones emerge. In view of their
acrobatic habits, I have placed a bundle of slender twigs at the
top of the cage in which they were born. All of them pass through
the wire gauze and form a group on the summit of the brushwood,
where they swiftly weave a spacious lounge of criss-cross threads.
Here they remain, pretty quietly, for a day or two; then foot-
bridges begin to be flung from one object to the next. This is the
opportune moment.

I put the bunch laden with beasties on a small table, in the shade,
before the open window. Soon, the exodus commences, but slowly and
unsteadily. There are hesitations, retrogressions, perpendicular
falls at the end of a thread, ascents that bring the hanging Spider
up again. In short much ado for a poor result.

As matters continue to drag, it occurs to me, at eleven o'clock, to
take the bundle of brush-wood swarming with the little Spiders, all
eager to be off, and place it on the window-sill, in the glare of
the sun. After a few minutes of heat and light, the scene assumes
a very different aspect. The emigrants run to the top of the
twigs, bustle about actively. It becomes a bewildering rope-yard,
where thousands of legs are drawing the hemp from the spinnerets.
I do not see the ropes manufactured and sent floating at the mercy
of the air; but I guess their presence.

Three or four Spiders start at a time, each going her own way in
directions independent of her neighbours'. All are moving upwards,
all are climbing some support, as can be perceived by the nimble
motion of their legs. Moreover, the road is visible behind the
climber, it is of double thickness, thanks to an added thread.
Then, at a certain height, individual movement ceases. The tiny
animal soars in space and shines, lit up by the sun. Softly it
sways, then suddenly takes flight.

What has happened? There is a slight breeze outside. The floating
cable has snapped and the creature has gone off, borne on its
parachute. I see it drifting away, showing, like a spot of light,
against the dark foliage of the near cypresses, some forty feet
distant. It rises higher, it crosses over the cypress-screen, it
disappears. Others follow, some higher, some lower, hither and

But the throng has finished its preparations; the hour has come to
disperse in swarms. We now see, from the crest of the brushwood, a
continuous spray of starters, who shoot up like microscopic
projectiles and mount in a spreading cluster. In the end, it is
like the bouquet at the finish of a pyrotechnic display, the sheaf
of rockets fired simultaneously. The comparison is correct down to
the dazzling light itself. Flaming in the sun like so many
gleaming points, the little Spiders are the sparks of that living
firework. What a glorious send-off! What an entrance into the
world! Clutching its aeronautic thread, the minute creature mounts
in an apotheosis.

Sooner or later, nearer or farther, the fall comes. To live, we
have to descend, often very low, alas! The Crested Lark crumbles
the mule-droppings in the road and thus picks up his food, the
oaten grain which he would never find by soaring in the sky, his
throat swollen with song. We have to descend; the stomach's
inexorable claims demand it. The Spiderling, therefore, touches
land. Gravity, tempered by the parachute, is kind to her.

The rest of her story escapes me. What infinitely tiny Midges does
she capture before possessing the strength to stab her Bee? What
are the methods, what the wiles of atom contending with atom? I
know not. We shall find her again in spring, grown quite large and
crouching among the flowers whence the Bee takes toll.


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.

Divided 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.

First of all, we must witness the making of the net; we must see it
constructed and see it again and again, for the plan of such a
complex work can only be grasped in fragments. To-day, observation
will give us one detail; to-morrow, it will give us a second,
suggesting fresh points of view; as our visits multiply, a new fact
is each time added to the sum total of the acquired data,
confirming those which come before or directing our thoughts along
unsuspected paths.

The snow-ball rolling over the carpet of white grows enormous,
however scanty each fresh layer be. Even so with truth in
observational science: it is built up of trifles patiently
gathered together. And, while the collecting of these trifles
means that the student of Spider industry must not be chary of his
time, at least it involves no distant and speculative research.
The smallest garden contains Epeirae, all accomplished weavers.

In my enclosure, which I have stocked carefully with the most
famous breeds, I have six different species under observation, all
of a useful size, all first-class spinners. Their names are the
Banded Epeira (Epeira fasciata, WALCK.), the Silky Epeira (E.
sericea, WALCK.), the Angular Epeira (E. angulata, WALCK.), the
Pale-tinted Epeira (E. pallida, OLIV.), the Diadem Epeira, or Cross
Spider (E. diadema, CLERK.), and the Crater Epeira (E. cratera,

I am able, at the proper hours, all through the fine season, to
question them, to watch them at work, now this one, anon that,
according to the chances of the day. What I did not see very
plainly yesterday I can see the next day, under better conditions,
and on any of the following days, until the phenomenon under
observation is revealed in all clearness.

Let us go every evening, step by step, from one border of tall
rosemaries to the next. Should things move too slowly, we will sit
down at the foot of the shrubs, opposite the rope-yard, where the
light falls favourably, and watch with unwearying attention. Each
trip will be good for a fact that fills some gap in the ideas
already gathered. To appoint one's self, in this way, an inspector
of Spiders' webs, for many years in succession and for long
seasons, means joining a not overcrowded profession, I admit.
Heaven knows, it does not enable one to put money by! No matter:
the meditative mind returns from that school fully satisfied.

To describe the separate progress of the work in the case of each
of the six Epeirae mentioned would be a useless repetition: all
six employ the same methods and weave similar webs, save for
certain details that shall be set forth later. I will, therefore,
sum up in the aggregate the particulars supplied by one or other of

My subjects, in the first instance, are young and boast but a
slight corporation, very far removed from what it will be in the
late autumn. The belly, the wallet containing the rope-works,
hardly exceeds a peppercorn in bulk. This slenderness on the part
of the spinstresses must not prejudice us against their work:
there is no parity between their skill and their years. The adult
Spiders, with their disgraceful paunches, can do no better.

Moreover, the beginners have one very precious advantage for the
observer: they work by day, work even in the sun, whereas the old
ones weave only at night, at unseasonable hours. The first show us
the secrets of their looms without much difficulty; the others
conceal them from us. Work starts in July, a couple of hours
before sunset.

The spinstresses of my enclosure then leave their daytime hiding-
places, select their posts and begin to spin, one here, another
there. There are many of them; we can choose where we please. Let
us stop in front of this one, whom we surprise in the act of laying
the foundations of the structure. Without any appreciable order,
she runs about the rosemary-hedge, from the tip of one branch to
another within the limits of some eighteen inches. Gradually, she
puts a thread in position, drawing it from her wire-mill with the
combs attached to her hind-legs. This preparatory work presents no
appearance of a concerted plan. The Spider comes and goes
impetuously, as though at random; she goes up, comes down, goes up
again, dives down again and each time strengthens the points of
contact with intricate moorings distributed here and there. The
result is a scanty and disordered scaffolding.

Is disordered the word? Perhaps not. The Epeira's eye, more
experienced in matters of this sort than mine, has recognized the
general lie of the land; and the rope-fabric has been erected
accordingly: it is very inaccurate in my opinion, but very
suitable for the Spider's designs. What is it that she really
wants? A solid frame to contain the network of the web. The
shapeless structure which she has just built fulfils the desired
conditions: it marks out a flat, free and perpendicular area.
This is all that is necessary.

The whole work, for that matter, is now soon completed; it is done
all over again, each evening, from top to bottom, for the incidents
of the chase destroy it in a night. The net is as yet too delicate
to resist the desperate struggles of the captured prey. On the
other hand, the adults' net, which is formed of stouter threads, is
adapted to last some time; and the Epeira gives it a more
carefully-constructed frame-work, as we shall see elsewhere.

A special thread, the foundation of the real net, is stretched
across the area so capriciously circumscribed. It is distinguished
from the others by its isolation, its position at a distance from
any twig that might interfere with its swaying length. It never
fails to have, in the middle, a thick white point, formed of a
little silk cushion. This is the beacon that marks the centre of
the future edifice, the post that will guide the Epeira and bring
order into the wilderness of twists and turns.

The time has come to weave the hunting-snare. The Spider starts
from the centre, which bears the white sign-post, and, running
along the transversal thread, hurriedly reaches the circumference,
that is to say, the irregular frame enclosing the free space.
Still with the same sudden movement, she rushes from the
circumference to the centre; she starts again backwards and
forwards, makes for the right, the left, the top, the bottom; she
hoists herself up, dives down, climbs up again, runs down and
always returns to the central landmark by roads that slant in the


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