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

Part 3 out of 4

most unexpected manner. Each time, a radius or spoke is laid,
here, there, or elsewhere, in what looks like mad disorder.

The operation is so erratically conducted that it takes the most
unremitting attention to follow it at all. The Spider reaches the
margin of the area by one of the spokes already placed. She goes
along this margin for some distance from the point at which she
landed, fixes her thread to the frame and returns to the centre by
the same road which she has just taken.

The thread obtained on the way in a broken line, partly on the
radius and partly on the frame, is too long for the exact distance
between the circumference and the central point. On returning to
this point, the Spider adjusts her thread, stretches it to the
correct length, fixes it and collects what remains on the central
signpost. In the case of each radius laid, the surplus is treated
in the same fashion, so that the signpost continues to increase in
size. It was first a speck; it is now a little pellet, or even a
small cushion of a certain breadth.

We shall see presently what becomes of this cushion whereon the
Spider, that niggardly housewife, lays her saved-up bits of thread;
for the moment, we will note that the Epeira works it up with her
legs after placing each spoke, teazles it with her claws, mats it
into felt with noteworthy diligence. In so doing, she gives the
spokes a solid common support, something like the hub of our

The eventual regularity of the work suggests that the radii are
spun in the same order in which they figure in the web, each
following immediately upon its next neighbour. Matters pass in
another manner, which at first looks like disorder, but which is
really a judicious contrivance. After setting a few spokes in one
direction, the Epeira runs across to the other side to draw some in
the opposite direction. These sudden changes of course are highly
logical; they show us how proficient the Spider is in the mechanics
of rope-construction. Were they to succeed one another regularly,
the spokes of one group, having nothing as yet to counteract them,
would distort the work by their straining, would even destroy it
for lack of a stabler support. Before continuing, it is necessary
to lay a converse group which will maintain the whole by its
resistance. Any combination of forces acting in one direction must
be forthwith neutralized by another in the opposite direction.
This is what our statics teach us and what the Spider puts into
practice; she is a past mistress of the secrets of rope-building,
without serving an apprenticeship.

One would think that this interrupted and apparently disordered
labour must result in a confused piece of work. Wrong: the rays
are equidistant and form a beautifully-regular orb. Their number
is a characteristic mark of the different species. The Angular
Epeira places 21 in her web, the Banded Epeira 32, the Silky Epeira
42. These numbers are not absolutely fixed; but the variation is
very slight.

Now which of us would undertake, off-hand, without much preliminary
experiment and without measuring-instruments, to divide a circle
into a given quantity of sectors of equal width? The Epeirae,
though weighted with a wallet and tottering on threads shaken by
the wind, effect the delicate division without stopping to think.
They achieve it by a method which seems mad according to our
notions of geometry. Out of disorder they evolve order.

We must not, however, give them more than their due. The angles
are only approximately equal; they satisfy the demands of the eye,
but cannot stand the test of strict measurement. Mathematical
precision would be superfluous here. No matter, we are amazed at
the result obtained. How does the Epeira come to succeed with her
difficult problem, so strangely managed? I am still asking myself
the question.

The laying of the radii is finished. The Spider takes her place in
the centre, on the little cushion formed of the inaugural sign-post
and the bits of thread left over. Stationed on this support, she
slowly turns round and round. She is engaged on a delicate piece
of work. With an extremely thin thread, she describes from spoke
to spoke, starting from the centre, a spiral line with very close
coils. The central space thus worked attains, in the adults' webs,
the dimensions of the palm of one's hand; in the younger Spiders'
webs, it is much smaller, but it is never absent. For reasons
which I will explain in the course of this study, I shall call it,
in future, the 'resting-floor.'

The thread now becomes thicker. The first could hardly be seen;
the second is plainly visible. The Spider shifts her position with
great slanting strides, turns a few times, moving farther and
farther from the centre, fixes her line each time to the spoke
which she crosses and at last comes to a stop at the lower edge of
the frame. She has described a spiral with coils of rapidly-
increasing width. The average distance between the coils, even in
the structures of the young Epeirae, is one centimetre. {29}

Let us not be misled by the word 'spiral,' which conveys the notion
of a curved line. All curves are banished from the Spiders' work;
nothing is used but the straight line and its combinations. All
that is aimed at is a polygonal line drawn in a curve as geometry
understands it. To this polygonal line, a work destined to
disappear as the real toils are woven, I will give the name of the
'auxiliary spiral.' Its object is to supply cross-bars, supporting
rungs, especially in the outer zone, where the radii are too
distant from one another to afford a suitable groundwork. Its
object is also to guide the Epeira in the extremely delicate
business which she is now about to undertake.

But, before that, one last task becomes essential. The area
occupied by the spokes is very irregular, being marked out by the
supports of the branch, which are infinitely variable. There are
angular niches which, if skirted too closely, would disturb the
symmetry of the web about to be constructed. The Epeira needs an
exact space wherein gradually to lay her spiral thread. Moreover,
she must not leave any gaps through which her prey might find an

An expert in these matters, the Spider soon knows the corners that
have to be filled up. With an alternating movement, first in this
direction, then in that, she lays, upon the support of the radii, a
thread that forms two acute angles at the lateral boundaries of the
faulty part and describes a zigzag line not wholly unlike the
ornament known as the fret.

The sharp corners have now been filled with frets on every side;
the time has come to work at the essential part, the snaring-web
for which all the rest is but a support. Clinging on the one hand
to the radii, on the other to the chords of the auxiliary spiral,
the Epeira covers the same ground as when laying the spiral, but in
the opposite direction: formerly, she moved away from the centre;
now she moves towards it and with closer and more numerous circles.
She starts from the base of the auxiliary spiral, near the frame.

What follows is difficult to observe, for the movements are very
quick and spasmodic, consisting of a series of sudden little
rushes, sways and bends that bewilder the eye. It needs continuous
attention and repeated examination to distinguish the progress of
the work however slightly.

The two hind-legs, the weaving implements, keep going constantly.
Let us name them according to their position on the work-floor. I
call the leg that faces the centre of the coil, when the animal
moves, the 'inner leg;' the one outside the coil the 'outer leg.'

The latter draws the thread from the spinneret and passes it to the
inner leg, which, with a graceful movement, lays it on the radius
crossed. At the same time, the first leg measures the distance; it
grips the last coil placed in position and brings within a suitable
range that point of the radius whereto the thread is to be fixed.
As soon as the radius is touched, the thread sticks to it by its
own glue. There are no slow operations, no knots: the fixing is
done of itself.

Meanwhile, turning by narrow degrees, the spinstress approaches the
auxiliary chords that have just served as her support. When, in
the end, these chords become too close, they will have to go; they
would impair the symmetry of the work. The Spider, therefore,
clutches and holds on to the rungs of a higher row; she picks up,
one by one, as she goes along, those which are of no more use to
her and gathers them into a fine-spun ball at the contact-point of
the next spoke. Hence arises a series of silky atoms marking the
course of the disappearing spiral.

The light has to fall favourably for us to perceive these specks,
the only remains of the ruined auxiliary thread. One would take
them for grains of dust, if the faultless regularity of their
distribution did not remind us of the vanished spiral. They
continue, still visible, until the final collapse of the net.

And the Spider, without a stop of any kind, turns and turns and
turns, drawing nearer to the centre and repeating the operation of
fixing her thread at each spoke which she crosses. A good half-
hour, an hour even among the full-grown Spiders, is spent on spiral
circles, to the number of about fifty for the web of the Silky
Epeira and thirty for those of the Banded and the Angular Epeira.

At last, at some distance from the centre, on the borders of what I
have called the resting-floor, the Spider abruptly terminates her
spiral when the space would still allow of a certain number of
turns. We shall see the reason of this sudden stop presently.
Next, the Epeira, no matter which, young or old, hurriedly flings
herself upon the little central cushion, pulls it out and rolls it
into a ball which I expected to see thrown away. But no: her
thrifty nature does not permit this waste. She eats the cushion,
at first an inaugural landmark, then a heap of bits of thread; she
once more melts in the digestive crucible what is no doubt intended
to be restored to the silken treasury. It is a tough mouthful,
difficult for the stomach to elaborate; still, it is precious and
must not be lost. The work finishes with the swallowing. Then and
there, the Spider instals herself, head downwards, at her hunting-
post in the centre of the web.

The operation which we have just seen gives rise to a reflection.
Men are born right-handed. Thanks to a lack of symmetry that has
never been explained, our right side is stronger and readier in its
movements than our left. The inequality is especially noticeable
in the two hands. Our language expresses this supremacy of the
favoured side in the terms dexterity, adroitness and address, all
of which allude to the right hand.

Is the animal, on its side, right-handed, left-handed, or unbiased?
We have had opportunities of showing that the Cricket, the
Grasshopper and many others draw their bow, which is on the right
wing-case, over the sounding apparatus, which is on the left wing-
case. They are right-handed.

When you and I take an unpremeditated turn, we spin round on our
right heel. The left side, the weaker, moves on the pivot of the
right, the stronger. In the same way, nearly all the Molluscs that
have spiral shells roll their coils from left to right. Among the
numerous species in both land and water fauna, only a very few are
exceptional and turn from right to left.

It would be interesting to try and work out to what extent that
part of the zoological kingdom which boasts a two-sided structure
is divided into right-handed and left-handed animals. Can
dissymetry, that source of contrasts, be a general rule? Or are
there neutrals, endowed with equal powers of skill and energy on
both sides? Yes, there are; and the Spider is one of them. She
enjoys the very enviable privilege of possessing a left side which
is no less capable than the right. She is ambidextrous, as witness
the following observations.

When laying her snaring-thread, every Epeira turns in either
direction indifferently, as a close watch will prove. Reasons
whose secret escapes us determine the direction adopted. Once this
or the other course is taken, the spinstress does not change it,
even after incidents that sometimes occur to disturb the progress
of the work. It may happen that a Gnat gets caught in the part
already woven. The Spider thereupon abruptly interrupts her
labours, hastens up to the prey, binds it and then returns to where
she stopped and continues the spiral in the same order as before.

At the commencement of the work, gyration in one direction being
employed as well as gyration in the other, we see that, when making
her repeated webs, the same Epeira turns now her right side, now
her left to the centre of the coil. Well, as we have said, it is
always with the inner hind-leg, the leg nearer the centre, that is
to say, in some cases the right and in some cases the left leg,
that she places the thread in position, an exceedingly delicate
operation calling for the display of exquisite skill, because of
the quickness of the action and the need for preserving strictly
equal distances. Any one seeing this leg working with such extreme
precision, the right leg to-day, the left tomorrow, becomes
convinced that the Epeira is highly ambidextrous.


Age does not modify the Epeira's talent in any essential feature.
As the young worked, so do the old, the richer by a year's
experience. There are no masters nor apprentices in their guild;
all know their craft from the moment that the first thread is laid.
We have learnt something from the novices: let us now look into
the matter of their elders and see what additional task the needs
of age impose upon them.

July comes and gives me exactly what I wish for. While the new
inhabitants are twisting their ropes on the rosemaries in the
enclosure, one evening, by the last gleams of twilight, I discover
a splendid Spider, with a mighty belly, just outside my door. This
one is a matron; she dates back to last year; her majestic
corpulence, so exceptional at this season, proclaims the fact. I
know her for the Angular Epeira (Epeira angulata, WALCK.), clad in
grey and girdled with two dark stripes that meet in a point at the
back. The base of her abdomen swells into a short nipple on either

This neighbour will certainly serve my turn, provided that she do
not work too late at night. Things bode well: I catch the buxom
one in the act of laying her first threads. At this rate my
success need not be won at the expense of sleep. And, in fact, I
am able, throughout the month of July and the greater part of
August, from eight to ten o'clock in the evening, to watch the
construction of the web, which is more or less ruined nightly by
the incidents of the chase and built up again, next day, when too
seriously dilapidated.

During the two stifling months, when the light fails and a spell of
coolness follows upon the furnace-heat of the day, it is easy for
me, lantern in hand, to watch my neighbour's various operations.
She has taken up her abode, at a convenient height for observation,
between a row of cypress-trees and a clump of laurels, near the
entrance to an alley haunted by Moths. The spot appears well-
chosen, for the Epeira does not change it throughout the season,
though she renews her net almost every night.

Punctually as darkness falls, our whole family goes and calls upon
her. Big and little, we stand amazed at her wealth of belly and
her exuberant somersaults in the maze of quivering ropes; we admire
the faultless geometry of the net as it gradually takes shape. All
agleam in the lantern-light, the work becomes a fairy orb, which
seems woven of moonbeams.

Should I linger, in my anxiety to clear up certain details, the
household, which by this time is in bed, waits for my return before
going to sleep:

'What has she been doing this evening?' I am asked. 'Has she
finished her web? Has she caught a Moth?'

I describe what has happened. To-morrow, they will be in a less
hurry to go to bed: they will want to see everything, to the very
end. What delightful, simple evenings we have spent looking into
the Spider's workshop!

The journal of the Angular Epeira, written up day by day, teaches
us, first of all, how she obtains the ropes that form the frame-
work of the building. All day invisible, crouching amid the
cypress-leaves, the Spider, at about eight o'clock in the evening,
solemnly emerges from her retreat and makes for the top of a
branch. In this exalted position, she sits for some time laying
her plans with due regard to the locality; she consults the
weather, ascertains if the night will be fine. Then, suddenly,
with her eight legs wide-spread, she lets herself drop straight
down, hanging to the line that issues from her spinnerets. Just as
the rope-maker obtains the even output of his hemp by walking
backwards, so does the Epeira obtain the discharge of hers by
falling. It is extracted by the weight of her body.

The descent, however, has not the brute speed which the force of
gravity would give it, if uncontrolled. It is governed by the
action of the spinnerets, which contract or expand their pores, or
close them entirely, at the faller's pleasure. And so, with gentle
moderation she pays out this living plumb-line, of which my lantern
clearly shows me the plumb, but not always the line. The great
squab seems at such times to be sprawling in space, without the
least support.

She comes to an abrupt stop two inches from the ground; the silk-
reel ceases working. The Spider turns round, clutches the line
which she has just obtained and climbs up by this road, still
spinning. But, this time, as she is no longer assisted by the
force of gravity, the thread is extracted in another manner. The
two hind-legs, with a quick alternate action, draw it from the
wallet and let it go.

On returning to her starting-point, at a height of six feet or
more, the Spider is now in possession of a double line, bent into a
loop and floating loosely in a current of air. She fixes her end
where it suits her and waits until the other end, wafted by the
wind, has fastened its loop to the adjacent twigs.

The desired result may be very slow in coming. It does not tire
the unfailing patience of the Epeira, but it soon wears out mine.
And it has happened to me sometimes to collaborate with the Spider.
I pick up the floating loop with a straw and lay it on a branch, at
a convenient height. The foot-bridge erected with my assistance is
considered satisfactory, just as though the wind had placed it. I
count this collaboration among the good actions standing to my

Feeling her thread fixed, the Epeira runs along it repeatedly, from
end to end, adding a fibre to it on each journey. Whether I help
or not, this forms the 'suspension-cable,' the main piece of the
frame-work. I call it a cable, in spite of its extreme thinness,
because of its structure. It looks as though it were single, but,
at the two ends, it is seen to divide and spread, tuft-wise, into
numerous constituent parts, which are the product of as many
crossings. These diverging fibres, with their several contact-
points, increase the steadiness of the two extremities.

The suspension-cable is incomparably stronger than the rest of the
work and lasts for an indefinite time. The web is generally
shattered after the night's hunting and is nearly always rewoven on
the following evening. After the removal of the wreckage, it is
made all over again, on the same site, cleared of everything except
the cable from which the new network is to hang.

The laying of this cable is a somewhat difficult matter, because
the success of the enterprise does not depend upon the animal's
industry alone. It has to wait until a breeze carries the line to
the pier-head in the bushes. Sometimes, a calm prevails;
sometimes, the thread catches at an unsuitable point. This
involves great expenditure of time, with no certainty of success.
And so, when once the suspension-cable is in being, well and
solidly placed, the Epeira does not change it, except on critical
occasions. Every evening, she passes and repasses over it,
strengthening it with fresh threads.

When the Epeira cannot manage a fall of sufficient depth to give
her the double line with its loop to be fixed at a distance, she
employs another method. She lets herself down and then climbs up
again, as we have already seen; but, this time, the thread ends
suddenly in a filmy hair-pencil, a tuft, whose parts remain
disjoined, just as they come from the spinneret's rose. Then this
sort of bushy fox's brush is cut short, as though with a pair of
scissors, and the whole thread, when unfurled, doubles its length,
which is now enough for the purpose. It is fastened by the end
joined to the Spider; the other floats in the air, with its
spreading tuft, which easily tangles in the bushes. Even so must
the Banded Epeira go to work when she throws her daring suspension-
bridge across a stream.

Once the cable is laid, in this way or in that, the Spider is in
possession of a base that allows her to approach or withdraw from
the leafy piers at will. From the height of the cable, the upper
boundary of the projected works, she lets herself slip to a slight
depth, varying the points of her fall. She climbs up again by the
line produced by her descent. The result of the operation is a
double thread which is unwound while the Spider walks along her big
foot-bridge to the contact-branch, where she fixes the free end of
her thread more or less low down. In this way, she obtains, to
right and left, a few slanting cross-bars, connecting the cable
with the branches.

These cross-bars, in their turn, support others in ever-changing
directions. When there are enough of them, the Epeira need no
longer resort to falls in order to extract her threads; she goes
from one cord to the next, always wire-drawing with her hind-legs
and placing her produce in position as she goes. This results in a
combination of straight lines owning no order, save that they are
kept in one, nearly perpendicular plane. They mark a very
irregular polygonal area, wherein the web, itself a work of
magnificent regularity, shall presently be woven.

It is unnecessary to go over the construction of the masterpiece
again; the younger Spiders have taught us enough in this respect.
In both cases, we see the same equidistant radii laid, with a
central landmark for a guide; the same auxiliary spiral, the
scaffolding of temporary rungs, soon doomed to disappear; the same
snaring-spiral, with its maze of closely-woven coils. Let us pass
on: other details call for our attention.

The laying of the snaring-spiral is an exceedingly delicate
operation, because of the regularity of the work. I was bent upon
knowing whether, if subjected to the din of unaccustomed sounds,
the Spider would hesitate and blunder. Does she work
imperturbably? Or does she need undisturbed quiet? As it is, I
know that my presence and that of my light hardly trouble her at
all. The sudden flashes emitted by my lantern have no power to
distract her from her task. She continues to turn in the light
even as she turned in the dark, neither faster nor slower. This is
a good omen for the experiment which I have in view.

The first Sunday in August is the feast of the patron saint of the
village, commemorating the Finding of St. Stephen. This is
Tuesday, the third day of the rejoicings. There will be fireworks
to-night, at nine o'clock, to conclude the merry-makings. They
will take place on the high-road outside my door, at a few steps
from the spot where my Spider is working. The spinstress is busy
upon her great spiral at the very moment when the village big-wigs
arrive with trumpet and drum and small boys carrying torches.

More interested in animal psychology than in pyrotechnical
displays, I watch the Epeira's doings, lantern in hand. The
hullabaloo of the crowd, the reports of the mortars, the crackle of
Roman candles bursting in the sky, the hiss of the rockets, the
rain of sparks, the sudden flashes of white, red or blue light:
none of this disturbs the worker, who methodically turns and turns
again, just as she does in the peace of ordinary evenings.

Once before, the gun which I fired under the plane-trees failed to
trouble the concert of the Cicadae; to-day, the dazzling light of
the fire-wheels and the splutter of the crackers do not avail to
distract the Spider from her weaving. And, after all, what
difference would it make to my neighbour if the world fell in! The
village could be blown up with dynamite, without her losing her
head for such a trifle. She would calmly go on with her web.

Let us return to the Spider manufacturing her net under the usual
tranquil conditions. The great spiral has been finished, abruptly,
on the confines of the resting-floor. The central cushion, a mat
of ends of saved thread, is next pulled up and eaten. But, before
indulging in this mouthful, which closes the proceedings, two
Spiders, the only two of the order, the Banded and the Silky
Epeira, have still to sign their work. A broad, white ribbon is
laid, in a thick zigzag, from the centre to the lower edge of the
orb. Sometimes, but not always, a second band of the same shape
and of lesser length occupies the upper portion, opposite the

I like to look upon these odd flourishes as consolidating-gear. To
begin with, the young Epeirae never use them. For the moment,
heedless of the future and lavish of their silk, they remake their
web nightly, even though it be none too much dilapidated and might
well serve again. A brand-new snare at sunset is the rule with
them. And there is little need for increased solidity when the
work has to be done again on the morrow.

On the other hand, in the late autumn, the full-grown Spiders,
feeling laying-time at hand, are driven to practise economy, in
view of the great expenditure of silk required for the egg-bag.
Owing to its large size, the net now becomes a costly work which it
were well to use as long as possible, for fear of finding one's
reserves exhausted when the time comes for the expensive
construction of the nest. For this reason, or for others which
escape me, the Banded and the Silky Epeirae think it wise to
produce durable work and to strengthen their toils with a cross-
ribbon. The other Epeirae, who are put to less expense in the
fabrication of their maternal wallet--a mere pill--are unacquainted
with the zigzag binder and, like the younger Spiders, reconstruct
their web almost nightly.

My fat neighbour, the Angular Epeira, consulted by the light of a
lantern, shall tell us how the renewal of the net proceeds. As the
twilight fades, she comes down cautiously from her day-dwelling;
she leaves the foliage of the cypresses for the suspension-cable of
her snare. Here she stands for some time; then, descending to her
web, she collects the wreckage in great armfuls. Everything--
spiral, spokes and frame--is raked up with her legs. One thing
alone is spared and that is the suspension-cable, the sturdy piece
of work that has served as a foundation for the previous buildings
and will serve for the new after receiving a few strengthening

The collected ruins form a pill which the Spider consumes with the
same greed that she would show in swallowing her prey. Nothing
remains. This is the second instance of the Spiders' supreme
economy of their silk. We have seen them, after the manufacture of
the net, eating the central guide-post, a modest mouthful; we now
see them gobbling up the whole web, a meal. Refined and turned
into fluid by the stomach, the materials of the old net will serve
for other purposes.

As goon as the site is thoroughly cleared, the work of the frame
and the net begins on the support of the suspension-cable which was
respected. Would it not be simpler to restore the old web, which
might serve many times yet, if a few rents were just repaired? One
would say so; but does the Spider know how to patch her work, as a
thrifty housewife darns her linen? That is the question.

To mend severed meshes, to replace broken threads, to adjust the
new to the old, in short, to restore the original order by
assembling the wreckage would be a far-reaching feat of prowess, a
very fine proof of gleams of intelligence, capable of performing
rational calculations. Our menders excel in this class of work.
They have as their guide their sense, which measures the holes,
cuts the new piece to size and fits it into its proper place. Does
the Spider possess the counterpart of this habit of clear thinking?

People declare as much, without, apparently, looking into the
matter very closely. They seem able to dispense with the
conscientious observer's scruples, when inflating their bladder of
theory. They go straight ahead; and that is enough. As for
ourselves, less greatly daring, we will first enquire; we will see
by experiment if the Spider really knows how to repair her work.

The Angular Epeira, that near neighbour who has already supplied me
with so many documents, has just finished her web, at nine o'clock
in the evening. It is a splendid night, calm and warm, favourable
to the rounds of the Moths. All promises good hunting. At the
moment when, after completing the great spiral, the Epeira is about
to eat the central cushion and settle down upon her resting-floor,
I cut the web in two, diagonally, with a pair of sharp scissors.
The sagging of the spokes, deprived of their counter-agents,
produces an empty space, wide enough for three fingers to pass

The Spider retreats to her cable and looks on without being greatly
frightened. When I have done, she quietly returns. She takes her
stand on one of the halves, at the spot which was the centre of the
original orb; but, as her legs find no footing on one side, she
soon realizes that the snare is defective. Thereupon, two threads
are stretched across the breach, two threads, no more; the legs
that lacked a foothold spread across them; and henceforth the
Epeira moves no more, devoting her attention to the incidents of
the chase.

When I saw those two threads laid, joining the edges of the rent, I
began to hope that I was to witness a mending-process:

'The Spider,' said I to myself, 'will increase the number of those
cross-threads from end to end of the breach; and, though the added
piece may not match the rest of the work, at least it will fill the
gap and the continuous sheet will be of the same use practically as
the regular web.'

The reality did not answer to my expectation. The spinstress made
no further endeavour all night. She hunted with her riven net, for
what it was worth; for I found the web next morning in the same
condition wherein I had left it on the night before. There had
been no mending of any kind.

The two threads stretched across the breach even must not be taken
for an attempt at repairing. Finding no foothold for her legs on
one side, the Spider went to look into the state of things and, in
so doing, crossed the rent. In going and returning, she left a
thread, as is the custom with all the Epeirae when walking. It was
not a deliberate mending, but the mere result of an uneasy change
of place.

Perhaps the subject of my experiment thought it unnecessary to go
to fresh trouble and expense, for the web can serve quite well as
it is, after my scissor-cut: the two halves together represent the
original snaring-surface. All that the Spider, seated in a central
position, need do is to find the requisite support for her spread
legs. The two threads stretched from side to side of the cleft
supply her with this, or nearly. My mischief did not go far
enough. Let us devise something better.

Next day, the web is renewed, after the old one has been swallowed.
When the work is done and the Epeira seated motionless at her
central post, I take a straw and, wielding it dexterously, so as to
respect the resting-floor and the spokes, I pull and root up the
spiral, which dangles in tatters. With its snaring-threads ruined,
the net is useless; no passing Moth would allow herself to be
caught. Now what does the Epeira do in the face of this disaster?
Nothing at all. Motionless on her resting-floor, which I have left
intact, she awaits the capture of the game; she awaits it all night
in vain on her impotent web. In the morning, I find the snare as I
left it. Necessity, the mother of invention, has not prompted the
Spider to make a slight repair in her ruined toils.

Possibly this is asking too much of her resources. The silk-glands
may be exhausted after the laying of the great spiral; and to
repeat the same expenditure immediately is out of the question. I
want a case wherein there could be no appeal to any such
exhaustion. I obtain it, thanks to my assiduity.

While I am watching the rolling of the spiral, a head of game
rushes fun tilt into the unfinished snare. The Epeira interrupts
her work, hurries to the giddy-pate, swathes him and takes her fill
of him where he lies. During the struggle, a section of the web
has torn under the weaver's very eyes. A great gap endangers the
satisfactory working of the net. What will the spider do in the
presence of this grievous rent?

Now or never is the time to repair the broken threads: the
accident has happened this very moment, between the animal's legs;
it is certainly known and, moreover, the rope-works are in full
swing. This time there is no question of the exhaustion of the

Well, under these conditions, so favourable to darning, the Epeira
does no mending at all. She flings aside her prey, after taking a
few sips at it, and resumes her spiral at the point where she
interrupted it to attack the Moth. The torn part remains as it is.
The machine-shuttle in our looms does not revert to the spoiled
fabric; even so with the Spider working at her web.

And this is no case of distraction, of individual carelessness; all
the large spinstresses suffer from a similar incapacity for
patching. The Banded Epeira and the Silky Epeira are noteworthy in
this respect. The Angular Epeira remakes her web nearly every
evening; the other two reconstruct theirs only very seldom and use
them even when extremely dilapidated. They go on hunting with
shapeless rags. Before they bring themselves to weave a new web,
the old one has to be ruined beyond recognition. Well, I have
often noted the state of one of these ruins and, the next morning,
I have found it as it was, or even more dilapidated. Never any
repairs; never; never. I am sorry, because of the reputation which
our hard-pressed theorists have given her, but the Spider is
absolutely unable to mend her work. In spite of her thoughtful
appearance, the Epeira is incapable of the modicum of reflexion
required to insert a piece into an accidental gap.

Other Spiders are unacquainted with wide-meshed nets and weave
satins wherein the threads, crossing at random, form a continuous
substance. Among this number is the House Spider (Tegenaria
domestica, LIN.). In the corners of our rooms, she stretches wide
webs fixed by angular extensions. The best-protected nook at one
side contains the owner's secret apartment. It is a silk tube, a
gallery with a conical opening, whence the Spider, sheltered from
the eye, watches events. The rest of the fabric, which exceeds our
finest muslins in delicacy, is not, properly speaking, a hunting-
implement: it is a platform whereon the Spider, attending to the
affairs of her estate, goes her rounds, especially at night. The
real trap consists of a confusion of lines stretched above the web.

The snare, constructed according to other rules than in the case of
the Epeirae, also works differently. Here are no viscous threads,
but plain toils, rendered invisible by the very number. If a Gnat
rush into the perfidious entanglement, he is caught at once; and
the more he struggles the more firmly is he bound. The snareling
falls on the sheet-web. Tegenaria hastens up and bites him in the

Having said this, let us experiment a little. In the web of the
House Spider, I make a round hole, two fingers wide. The hole
remains yawning all day long; but next morning it is invariably
closed. An extremely thin gauze covers the breach, the dark
appearance of which contrasts with the dense whiteness of the
surrounding fabric. The gauze is so delicate that, to make sure of
its presence, I use a straw rather than my eyes. The movement of
the web, when this part is touched, proves the presence of an

Here, the matter would appear obvious. The House Spider has mended
her work during the night; she has put a patch in the torn stuff, a
talent unknown to the Garden Spiders. It would be greatly to her
credit, if a mere attentive study did not lead to another

The web of the House Spider is, as we were saying, a platform for
watching and exploring; it is also a sheet into which the insects
caught in the overhead rigging fall. This surface, a domain
subject to unlimited shocks, is never strong enough, especially as
it is exposed to the additional burden of little bits of plaster
loosened from the wall. The owner is constantly working at it; she
adds a new layer nightly.

Every time that she issues from her tubular retreat or returns to
it, she fixes the thread that hangs behind her upon the road
covered. As evidence of this work, we have the direction of the
surface-lines, all of which, whether straight or winding, according
to the fancies that guide the Spider's path, converge upon the
entrance of the tube. Each step taken, beyond a doubt, adds a
filament to the web.

We have here the story of the Processionary of the Pine, {30} whose
habits I have related elsewhere. When the caterpillars leave the
silk pouch, to go and browse at night, and also when they enter it
again, they never fail to spin a little on the surface of their
nest. Each expedition adds to the thickness of the wall.

When moving this way or that upon the purse which I have split from
top to bottom with my scissors, the Processionaries upholster the
breach even as they upholster the untouched part, without paying
more attention to it than to the rest of the wall. Caring nothing
about the accident, they behave in the same way as on a non-gutted
dwelling. The crevice is closed, in course of time, not
intentionally, but solely by the action of the usual spinning.

We arrive at the same conclusion on the subject of the House
Spider. Walking about her platform every night, she lays fresh
courses without drawing a distinction between the solid and the
hollow. She has not deliberately put a patch in the torn texture;
she has simply gone on with her ordinary business. If it happen
that the hole is eventually closed, this fortunate result is the
outcome not of a special purpose, but of an unvarying method of

Besides, it is evident that, if the Spider really wished to mend
her web, all her endeavours would be concentrated upon the rent.
She would devote to it all the silk at her disposal and obtain in
one sitting a piece very like the rest of the web. Instead of
that, what do we find? Almost nothing: a hardly visible gauze.

The thing is obvious: the Spider did on that rent what she did
every elsewhere, neither more nor less. Far from squandering silk
upon it, she saved her silk so as to have enough for the whole web.
The gap will be better mended, little by little, afterwards, as the
sheet is strengthened all over with new layers. And this will take
long. Two months later, the window--my work--still shows through
and makes a dark stain against the dead-white of the fabric.

Neither weavers nor spinners, therefore, know how to repair their
work. Those wonderful manufacturers of silk-stuffs lack the least
glimmer of that sacred lamp, reason, which enables the stupidest of
darning-women to mend the heel of an old stocking. The office of
inspector of Spiders' webs would have its uses, even if it merely
succeeded in ridding us of a mistaken and mischievous idea.


The spiral network of the Epeirae possesses contrivances of
fearsome cunning. Let us give our attention by preference to that
of the Banded Epeira or that of the Silky Epeira, both of which can
be observed at early morning in all their freshness.

The thread that forms them is seen with the naked eye to differ
from that of the framework and the spokes. It glitters in the sun,
looks as though it were knotted and gives the impression of a
chaplet of atoms. To examine it through the lens on the web itself
is scarcely feasible, because of the shaking of the fabric, which
trembles at the least breath. By passing a sheet of glass under
the web and lifting it, I take away a few pieces of thread to
study, pieces that remain fixed to the glass in parallel lines.
Lens and microscope can now play their part.

The sight is perfectly astounding. Those threads, on the
borderland between the visible and the invisible, are very closely
twisted twine, similar to the gold cord of our officers' sword-
knots. Moreover, they are hollow. The infinitely slender is a
tube, a channel full of a viscous moisture resembling a strong
solution of gum arabic. I can see a diaphanous trail of this
moisture trickling through the broken ends. Under the pressure of
the thin glass slide that covers them on the stage of the
microscope, the twists lengthen out, become crinkled ribbons,
traversed from end to end, through the middle, by a dark streak,
which is the empty container.

The fluid contents must ooze slowly through the side of those
tubular threads, rolled into twisted strings, and thus render the
network sticky. It is sticky, in fact, and in such a way as to
provoke surprise. I bring a fine straw flat down upon three or
four rungs of a sector. However gentle the contact, adhesion is at
once established. When I lift the straw, the threads come with it
and stretch to twice or three times their length, like a thread of
India-rubber. At last, when over-taut, they loosen without
breaking and resume their original form. They lengthen by
unrolling their twist, they shorten by rolling it again; lastly,
they become adhesive by taking the glaze of the gummy moisture
wherewith they are filled.

In short, the spiral thread is a capillary tube finer than any that
our physics will ever know. It is rolled into a twist so as to
possess an elasticity that allows it, without breaking, to yield to
the tugs of the captured prey; it holds a supply of sticky matter
in reserve in its tube, so as to renew the adhesive properties of
the surface by incessant exudation, as they become impaired by
exposure to the air. It is simply marvellous.

The Epeira hunts not with springs, but with lime-snares. And such
lime-snares! Everything is caught in them, down to the dandelion-
plume that barely brushes against them. Nevertheless, the Epeira,
who is in constant touch with her web, is not caught in them. Why?

Let us first of all remember that the Spider has contrived for
herself, in the middle of her trap, a floor in whose construction
the sticky spiral thread plays no part. We saw how this thread
stops suddenly at some distance from the centre. There is here,
covering a space which, in the larger webs, is about equal to the
palm of one's hand, a fabric formed of spokes and of the
commencement of the auxiliary spiral, a neutral fabric in which the
exploring straw finds no adhesiveness anywhere.

Here, on this central resting-floor, and here only, the Epeira
takes her stand, waiting whole days for the arrival of the game.
However close, however prolonged her contact with this portion of
the web, she runs no risk of sticking to it, because the gummy
coating is lacking, as is the twisted and tubular structure,
throughout the length of the spokes and throughout the extent of
the auxiliary spiral. These pieces, together with the rest of the
framework, are made of plain, straight, solid thread.

But, when a victim is caught, sometimes right at the edge of the
web, the Spider has to rush up quickly, to bind it and overcome its
attempts to free itself. She is walking then upon her network; and
I do not find that she suffers the least inconvenience. The lime-
threads are not even lifted by the movements of her legs.

In my boyhood, when a troop of us would go, on Thursdays, {31} to
try and catch a Goldfinch in the hemp-fields, we used, before
covering the twigs with glue, to grease our fingers with a few
drops of oil, lest we should get them caught in the sticky matter.
Does the Epeira know the secret of fatty substances? Let us try.

I rub my exploring straw with slightly oiled paper. When applied
to the spiral thread of the web, it now no longer sticks to it.
The principle is discovered. I pull out the leg of a live Epeira.
Brought just as it is into contact with the lime-threads, it does
not stick to them any more than to the neutral cords, whether
spokes or parts of the framework. We were entitled to expect this,
judging by the Spider's general immunity.

But here is something that wholly alters the result. I put the leg
to soak for a quarter of an hour in disulphide of carbon, the best
solvent of fatty matters. I wash it carefully with a brush dipped
in the same fluid. When this washing is finished, the leg sticks
to the snaring-thread quite easily and adheres to it just as well
as anything else would, the unoiled straw, for instance.

Did I guess aright when I judged that it was a fatty substance that
preserved the Epeira from the snares of her sticky Catherine-wheel?
The action of the carbon disulphide seems to say yes. Besides,
there is no reason why a substance of this kind, which plays so
frequent a part in animal economy, should not coat the Spider very
slightly by the mere act of perspiration. We used to rub our
fingers with a little oil before handling the twigs in which the
Goldfinch was to be caught; even so the Epeira varnishes herself
with a special sweat, to operate on any part of her web without
fear of the lime-threads.

However, an unduly protracted stay on the sticky threads would have
its drawbacks. In the long run, continual contact with those
threads might produce a certain adhesion and inconvenience the
Spider, who must preserve all her agility in order to rush upon the
prey before it can release itself. For this reason, gummy threads
are never used in building the post of interminable waiting.

It is only on her resting-floor that the Epeira sits, motionless
and with her eight legs outspread, ready to mark the least quiver
in the net. It is here, again, that she takes her meals, often
long-drawn-out, when the joint is a substantial one; it is hither
that, after trussing and nibbling it, she drags her prey at the end
of a thread, to consume it at her ease on a non-viscous mat. As a
hunting-post and refectory, the Epeira has contrived a central
space, free from glue.

As for the glue itself, it is hardly possible to study its chemical
properties, because the quantity is so slight. The microscope
shows it trickling from the broken threads in the form of a
transparent and more or less granular streak. The following
experiment will tell us more about it.

With a sheet of glass passed across the web, I gather a series of
lime-threads which remain fixed in parallel lines. I cover this
sheet with a bell-jar standing in a depth of water. Soon, in this
atmosphere saturated with humidity, the threads become enveloped in
a watery sheath, which gradually increases and begins to flow. The
twisted shape has by this time disappeared; and the channel of the
thread reveals a chaplet of translucent orbs, that is to say, a
series of extremely fine drops.

In twenty-four hours, the threads have lost their contents and are
reduced to almost invisible streaks. If I then lay a drop of water
on the glass, I get a sticky solution, similar to that which a
particle of gum arabic might yield. The conclusion is evident:
the Epeira's glue is a substance that absorbs moisture freely. In
an atmosphere with a high degree of humidity, it becomes saturated
and percolates by sweating through the side of the tubular threads.

These data explain certain facts relating to the work of the net.
The full-grown Banded and Silky Epeirae weave at very early hours,
long before dawn. Should the air turn misty, they sometimes leave
that part of the task unfinished: they build the general
framework, they lay the spokes, they even draw the auxiliary
spiral, for all these parts are unaffected by excess of moisture;
but they are very careful not to work at the lime-threads, which,
if soaked by the fog, would dissolve into sticky shreds and lose
their efficacy by being wetted. The net that was started will be
finished to-morrow, if the atmosphere be favourable.

While the highly-absorbent character of the snaring-thread has its
drawbacks, it also has compensating advantages. Both Epeirae, when
hunting by day, affect those hot places, exposed to the fierce rays
of the sun, wherein the Crickets delight. In the torrid heats of
the dog-days, therefore, the lime-threads, but for special
provisions, would be liable to dry up, to shrivel into stiff and
lifeless filaments. But the very opposite happens. At the most
scorching times of the day, they continue supple, elastic and more
and more adhesive.

How is this brought about? By their very powers of absorption.
The moisture of which the air is never deprived penetrates them
slowly; it dilutes the thick contents of their tubes to the
requisite degree and causes it to ooze through, as and when the
earlier stickiness decreases. What bird-catcher could vie with the
Garden Spider in the art of laying lime-snares? And all this
industry and cunning for the capture of a Moth!

Then, too, what a passion for production! Knowing the diameter of
the orb and the number of coils, we can easily calculate the total
length of the sticky spiral. We find that, in one sitting, each
time that she remakes her web, the Angular Epeira produces some
twenty yards of gummy thread. The more skilful Silky Epeira
produces thirty. Well, during two months, the Angular Epeira, my
neighbour, renewed her snare nearly every evening. During that
period, she manufactured something like three-quarters of a mile of
this tubular thread, rolled into a tight twist and bulging with

I should like an anatomist endowed with better implements than mine
and with less tired eyesight to explain to us the work of the
marvellous rope-yard. How is the silky matter moulded into a
capillary tube? How is this tube filled with glue and tightly
twisted? And how does this same wire-mill also turn out plain
threads, wrought first into a framework and then into muslin and
satin; next, a russet foam, such as fills the wallet of the Banded
Epeira; next, the black stripes stretched in meridian curves on
that same wallet? What a number of products to come from that
curious factory, a Spider's belly! I behold the results, but fail
to understand the working of the machine. I leave the problem to
the masters of the microtome and the scalpel.


Of the six Garden Spiders that form the object of my observations,
two only, the Banded and the silky Epeira, remain constantly in
their webs, even under the blinding rays of a fierce sun. The
others, as a rule, do not show themselves until nightfall. At some
distance from the net, they have a rough and ready retreat in the
brambles, an ambush made of a few leaves held together by stretched
threads. It is here that, for the most part, they remain in the
daytime, motionless and sunk in meditation.

But the shrill light that vexes them is the joy of the fields. At
such times, the Locust hops more nimbly than ever, more gaily skims
the Dragon-fly. Besides, the limy web, despite the rents suffered
during the night, is still in serviceable condition. If some
giddy-pate allow himself to be caught, will the Spider, at the
distance whereto she has retired, be unable to take advantage of
the windfall? Never fear. She arrives in a flash. How is she
apprised? Let us explain the matter.

The alarm is given by the vibration of the web, much more than by
the sight of the captured object. A very simple experiment will
prove this. I lay upon a Banded Epeira's lime-threads a Locust
that second asphyxiated with carbon disulphide. The carcass is
placed in front, or behind, or at either side of the Spider, who
sits moveless in the centre of the net. If the test is to be
applied to a species with a daytime hiding-place amid the foliage,
the dead Locust is laid on the web, more or less near the centre,
no matter how.

In both cases, nothing happens at first. The Epeira remains in her
motionless attitude, even when the morsel is at a short distance in
front of her. She is indifferent to the presence of the game, does
not seem to perceive it, so much so that she ends by wearing out my
patience. Then, with a long straw, which enables me to conceal
myself slightly, I set the dead insect trembling.

That is quite enough. The Banded Epeira and the Silky Epeira
hasten to the central floor; the others come down from the branch;
all go to the Locust, swathe him with tape, treat him, in short, as
they would treat a live prey captured under normal conditions. It
took the shaking of the web to decide them to attack.

Perhaps the grey colour of the Locust is not sufficiently
conspicuous to attract attention by itself. Then let us try red,
the brightest colour to our retina and probably also to the
Spiders'. None of the game hunted by the Epeirae being clad in
scarlet, I make a small bundle out of red wool, a bait of the size
of a Locust. I glue it to the web.

My stratagem succeeds. As long as the parcel is stationary, the
Spider is not roused; but, the moment it trembles, stirred by my
straw, she runs up eagerly.

There are silly ones who just touch the thing with their legs and,
without further enquiries, swathe it in silk after the manner of
the usual game. They even go so far as to dig their fangs into the
bait, following the rule of the preliminary poisoning. Then and
then only the mistake is recognized and the tricked Spider retires
and does not come back, unless it be long afterwards, when she
flings the cumbersome object out of the web.

There are also clever ones. Like the others, these hasten to the
red-woollen lure, which my straw insidiously keeps moving; they
come from their tent among the leaves as readily as from the centre
of the web; they explore it with their palpi and their legs; but,
soon perceiving that the thing is valueless, they are careful not
to spend their silk on useless bonds. My quivering bait does not
deceive them. It is flung out after a brief inspection.

Still, the clever ones, like the silly ones, run even from a
distance, from their leafy ambush. How do they know? Certainly
not by sight. Before recognizing their mistake, they have to hold
the object between their legs and even to nibble at it a little.
They are extremely short-sighted. At a hand's-breadth's distance,
the lifeless prey, unable to shake the web, remains unperceived.
Besides, in many cases, the hunting takes place in the dense
darkness of the night, when sight, even if it were good, would not

If the eyes are insufficient guides, even close at hand, how will
it be when the prey has to be spied from afar! In that case, an
intelligence-apparatus for long-distance work becomes
indispensable. We have no difficulty in detecting the apparatus.

Let us look attentively behind the web of any Epeira with a daytime
hiding-place: we shall see a thread that starts from the centre of
the network, ascends in a slanting line outside the plane of the
web and ends at the ambush where the Spider lurks all day. Except
at the central point, there is no connection between this thread
and the rest of the work, no interweaving with the scaffolding-
threads. Free of impediment, the line runs straight from the
centre of the net to the ambush-tent. Its length averages twenty-
two inches. The Angular Epeira, settled high up in the trees, has
shown me some as long as eight or nine feet.

There is no doubt that this slanting line is a foot-bridge which
allows the Spider to repair hurriedly to the web, when summoned by
urgent business, and then, when her round is finished, to return to
her hut. In fact, it is the road which I see her follow, in going
and coming. But is that all? No; for, if the Epeira had no aim in
view but a means of rapid transit between her tent and the net, the
foot-bridge would be fastened to the upper edge of the web. The
journey would be shorter and the slope less steep.

Why, moreover, does this line always start in the centre of the
sticky network and nowhere else? Because that is the point where
the spokes meet and, therefore, the common centre of vibration.
Anything that moves upon the web sets it shaking. All then that is
needed is a thread issuing from this central point to convey to a
distance the news of a prey struggling in some part or other of the
net. The slanting cord, extending outside the plane of the web, is
more than a foot-bridge: it is, above all, a signalling-apparatus,
a telegraph-wire.

Let us try experiment. I place a Locust on the network. Caught in
the sticky toils, he plunges about. Forthwith, the Spider issues
impetuously from her hut, comes down the foot-bridge, makes a rush
for the Locust, wraps him up and operates on him according to rule.
Soon after, she hoists him, fastened by a line to her spinneret,
and drags him to her hiding-place, where a long banquet will be
held. So far, nothing new: things happen as usual.

I leave the Spider to mind her own affairs for some days, before I
interfere with her. I again propose to give her a Locust; but,
this time, I first cut the signalling-thread with a touch of the
scissors, without shaking any part of the edifice. The game is
then laid on the web. Complete success: the entangled insect
struggles, sets the net quivering; the Spider, on her side, does
not stir, as though heedless of events.

The idea might occur to one that, in this business, the Epeira
stays motionless in her cabin since she is prevented from hurrying
down, because the foot-bridge is broken. Let us undeceive
ourselves: for one road open to her there are a hundred, all ready
to bring her to the place where her presence is now required. The
network is fastened to the branches by a host of lines, all of them
very easy to cross. Well, the Epeira embarks upon none of them,
but remains moveless and self-absorbed.

Why? Because her telegraph, being out of order, no longer tells
her of the shaking of the web. The captured prey is too far off
for her to see it; she is all unwitting. A good hour passes, with
the Locust still kicking, the Spider impassive, myself watching.
Nevertheless, in the end, the Epeira wakes up: no longer feeling
the signalling-thread, broken by my scissors, as taut as usual
under her legs, she comes to look into the state of things. The
web is reached, without the least difficulty, by one of the lines
of the framework, the first that offers. The Locust is then
perceived and forthwith enswathed, after which the signalling-
thread is remade, taking the place of the one which I have broken.
Along this road the Spider goes home, dragging her prey behind her.

My neighbour, the mighty Angular Epeira, with her telegraph-wire
nine feet long, has even better things in store for me. One
morning, I find her web, which is now deserted, almost intact, a
proof that the night's hunting has not been good. The animal must
be hungry. With a piece of game for a bait, I hope to bring her
down from her lofty retreat.

I entangle in the web a rare morsel, a Dragon-fly, who struggles
desperately and sets the whole net a-shaking. The other, up above,
leaves her lurking-place amid the cypress-foliage, strides swiftly
down along her telegraph-wire, comes to the Dragon-fly, trusses her
and at once climbs home again by the same road, with her prize
dangling at her heels by a thread. The final sacrifice will take
place in the quiet of the leafy sanctuary.

A few days later, I renew my experiment under the same conditions,
but, this time, I first cut the signalling-thread. In vain I
select a large Dragon-fly, a very restless prisoner; in vain I
exert my patience: the Spider does not come down all day. Her
telegraph being broken, she receives no notice of what is happening
nine feet below. The entangled morsel remains where it lies, not
despised, but unknown. At nightfall, the Epeira leaves her cabin,
passes over the ruins of her web, finds the Dragon-fly and eats her
on the spot, after which the net is renewed.

One of the Epeirae whom I have had the opportunity of examining
simplifies the system, while retaining the essential mechanism of a
transmission-thread. This is the Crater Epeira (Epeira cratera,
WALCK.), a species seen in spring, at which time she indulges
especially in the chase of the Domestic Bee, upon the flowering
rosemaries. At the leafy end of a branch, she builds a sort of
silken shell, the shape and size of an acorn-cup. This is where
she sits, with her paunch contained in the round cavity and her
fore-legs resting on the ledge, ready to leap. The lazy creature
loves this position and rarely stations herself head downwards on
the web, as do the others. Cosily ensconced in the hollow of her
cup, she awaits the approaching game.

Her web, which is vertical, as is the rule among the Epeirae, is of
a fair size and always very near the bowl wherein the Spider takes
her ease. Moreover, it touches the bowl by means of an angular
extension; and the angle always contains one spoke which the
Epeira, seated, so to speak, in her crater, has constantly under
her legs. This spoke, springing from the common focus of the
vibrations from all parts of the network, is eminently fitted to
keep the Spider informed of whatsoever happens. It has a double
office: it forms part of the Catherine-wheel supporting the lime-
threads and it warns the Epeira by its vibrations. A special
thread is here superfluous.

The other snarers, on the contrary, who occupy a distant retreat by
day, cannot do without a private wire that keeps them in permanent
communication with the deserted web. All of them have one, in
point of fact, but only when age comes, age prone to rest and to
long slumbers. In their youth, the Epeirae, who are then very
wide-awake, know nothing of the art of telegraphy. Besides, their
web, a short-lived work whereof hardly a trace remains on the
morrow, does not allow of this kind of industry. It is no use
going to the expense of a signalling-apparatus for a ruined snare
wherein nothing can now be caught. Only the old Spiders,
meditating or dozing in their green tent, are warned from afar, by
telegraph, of what takes place on the web.

To save herself from keeping a close watch that would degenerate
into drudgery and to remain alive to events even when resting, with
her back turned on the net, the ambushed Spider always has her foot
upon the telegraph-wire. Of my observations on this subject, let
me relate the following, which will be sufficient for our purpose.

An Angular Epeira, with a remarkably fine belly, has spun her web
between two laurestine-shrubs, covering a width of nearly a yard.
The sun beats upon the snare, which is abandoned long before dawn.
The Spider is in her day manor, a resort easily discovered by
following the telegraph-wire. It is a vaulted chamber of dead
leaves, joined together with a few bits of silk. The refuge is
deep: the Spider disappears in it entirely, all but her rounded
hind-quarters, which bar the entrance to the donjon.

With her front half plunged into the back of her hut, the Epeira
certainly cannot see her web. Even if she had good sight, instead
of being purblind, her position could not possibly allow her to
keep the prey in view. Does she give up hunting during this
period, of bright sunlight? Not at all. Look again.

Wonderful! One of her hind-legs is stretched outside the leafy
cabin; and the signalling-thread ends just at the tip of that leg.
Whoso has not seen the Epeira in this attitude, with her hand, so
to speak, on the telegraph-receiver, knows nothing of one of the
most curious instances of animal cleverness. Let any game appear
upon the scene; and the slumberer, forthwith aroused by means of
the leg receiving the vibrations, hastens up. A Locust whom I
myself lay on the web procures her this agreeable shock and what
follows. If she is satisfied with her bag, I am still more
satisfied with what I have learnt.

The occasion is too good not to find out, under better conditions
as regards approach, what the inhabitant of the cypress-trees has
already shown me. The next morning, I cut the telegraph-wire, this
time as long as one's arm and held, like yesterday, by one of the
hind-legs stretched outside the cabin. I then place on the web a
double prey, a Dragon-fly and a Locust. The latter kicks out with
his long, spurred shanks; the other flutters her wings. The web is
tossed about to such an extent that a number of leaves, just beside
the Epeira's nest, move, shaken by the threads of the framework
affixed to them.

And this vibration, though so close at hand, does not rouse the
Spider in the least, does not make her even turn round to enquire
what is going on. The moment that her signalling-thread ceases to
work, she knows nothing of passing events. All day long, she
remains without stirring. In the evening, at eight o'clock, she
sallies forth to weave the new web and at last finds the rich
windfall whereof she was hitherto unaware.

One word more. The web is often shaken by the wind. The different
parts of the framework, tossed and teased by the eddying air-
currents, cannot fail to transmit their vibration to the
signalling-thread. Nevertheless, the Spider does not quit her hut
and remains indifferent to the commotion prevailing in the net.
Her line, therefore, is something better than a bell-rope that
pulls and communicates the impulse given: it is a telephone
capable, like our own, of transmitting infinitesimal waves of
sound. Clutching her telephone-wire with a toe, the Spider listens
with her leg; she perceives the innermost vibrations; she
distinguishes between the vibration proceeding from a prisoner and
the mere shaking caused by the wind.


Notwithstanding the importance of the subject, I shall not enlarge
upon the nuptials of the Epeirae, grim natures whose loves easily
turn to tragedy in the mystery of the night. I have but once been
present at the pairing and for this curious experience I must thank
my lucky star and my fat neighbour, the Angular Epeira, whom I
visit so often by lantern-light. Here you have it.

It is the first week of August, at about nine o'clock in the
evening, under a perfect sky, in calm, hot weather. The Spider has
not yet constructed her web and is sitting motionless on her
suspension-cable. The fact that she should be slacking like this,
at a time when her building-operations ought to be in full swing,
naturally astonishes me. Can something unusual be afoot?

Even so. I see hastening up from the neighbouring bushes and
embarking on the cable a male, a dwarf, who is coming, the whipper-
snapper, to pay his respects to the portly giantess. How has he,
in his distant corner, heard of the presence of the nymph ripe for
marriage? Among the Spiders, these things are learnt in the
silence of the night, without a summons, without a signal, none
knows how.

Once, the Great Peacock, {32} apprised by the magic effluvia, used
to come from miles around to visit the recluse in her bell-jar in
my study. The dwarf of this evening, that other nocturnal pilgrim,
crosses the intricate tangle of the branches without a mistake and
makes straight for the rope-walker. He has as his guide the
infallible compass that brings every Jack and his Jill together.

He climbs the slope of the suspension-cord; he advances
circumspectly, step by step. He stops some distance away,
irresolute. Shall he go closer? Is this the right moment? No.
The other lifts a limb and the scared visitor hurries down again.
Recovering from his fright, he climbs up once more, draws a little
nearer. More sudden flights, followed by fresh approaches, each
time nigher than before. This restless running to and fro is the
declaration of the enamoured swain.

Perseverance spells success. The pair are now face to face, she
motionless and grave, he all excitement. With the tip of his leg,
he ventures to touch the plump wench. He has gone too far, daring
youth that he is! Panic-stricken, he takes a header, hanging by
his safety-line. It is only for a moment, however. Up he comes
again. He has learnt, from certain symptoms, that we are at last
yielding to his blandishments.

With his legs and especially with his palpi, or feelers, he teases
the buxom gossip, who answers with curious skips and bounds.
Gripping a thread with her front tarsi, or fingers, she turns, one
after the other, a number of back somersaults, like those of an
acrobat on the trapeze. Having done this, she presents the under-
part of her paunch to the dwarf and allows him to fumble at it a
little with his feelers. Nothing more: it is done.

The object of the expedition is attained. The whipper-snapper
makes off at full speed, as though he had the Furies at his heels.
If he remained, he would presumably be eaten. These exercises on
the tight-rope are not repeated. I kept watch in vain on the
following evenings: I never saw the fellow again.

When he is gone, the bride descends from the cable, spins her web
and assumes the hunting-attitude. We must eat to have silk, we
must have silk to eat and especially to weave the expensive cocoon
of the family. There is therefore no rest, not even after the
excitement of being married.

The Epeirae are monuments of patience in their lime-snare. With
her head down and her eight legs wide-spread, the Spider occupies
the centre of the web, the receiving-point of the information sent
along the spokes. If anywhere, behind or before, a vibration
occur, the sign of a capture, the Epeira knows about it, even
without the aid of sight. She hastens up at once.

Until then, not a movement: one would think that the animal was
hypnotized by her watching. At most, on the appearance of anything
suspicious, she begins shaking her nest. This is her way of
inspiring the intruder with awe. If I myself wish to provoke the
singular alarm, I have but to tease the Epeira with a bit of straw.
You cannot have a swing without an impulse of some sort. The
terror-stricken Spider, who wishes to strike terror into others,
has hit upon something much better. With nothing to push her, she
swings with her floor of ropes. There is no effort, no visible
exertion. Not a single part of the animal moves; and yet
everything trembles. Violent shaking proceeds from apparent
inertia. Rest causes commotion.

When calm is restored, she resumes her attitude, ceaselessly
pondering the harsh problem of life:

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

Certain privileged beings, exempt from those anxieties, have food
in abundance and need not struggle to obtain it. Such is the
Gentle, who swims blissfully in the broth of the putrefying adder.
Others--and, by a strange irony of fate, these are generally the
most gifted--only manage to eat by dint of craft and patience.

You are of their company, O my industrious Epeirae! So that you
may dine, you spend your treasures of patience nightly; and often
without result. I sympathize with your woes, for I, who am as
concerned as you about my daily bread, I also doggedly spread my
net, the net for catching ideas, a more elusive and less
substantial prize than the Moth. Let us not lose heart. The best
part of life is not in the present, still less in the past; it lies
in the future, the domain of hope. Let us wait.

All day long, the sky, of a uniform grey, has appeared to be
brewing a storm. In spite of the threatened downpour, my
neighbour, who is a shrewd weather-prophet, has come out of the
cypress-tree and begun to renew her web at the regular hour. Her
forecast is correct: it will be a fine night. See, the steaming-
pan of the clouds splits open; and, through the apertures, the moon
peeps, inquisitively. I too, lantern in hand, am peeping. A gust
of wind from the north clears the realms on high; the sky becomes
magnificent; perfect calm reigns below. The Moths begin their
nightly rounds. Good! One is caught, a mighty fine one. The
Spider will dine to-day.

What happens next, in an uncertain light, does not lend itself to
accurate observation. It is better to turn to those Garden Spiders
who never leave their web and who hunt mainly in the daytime. The
Banded and the Silky Epeira, both of whom live on the rosemaries in
the enclosure, shall show us in broad day-light the innermost
details of the tragedy.

I myself place on the lime-snare a victim of my selecting. Its six
legs are caught without more ado. If the insect raises one of its
tarsi and pulls towards itself, the treacherous thread follows,
unwinds slightly and, without letting go or breaking, yields to the
captive's desperate jerks. Any limb released only tangles the
others still more and is speedily recaptured by the sticky matter.
There is no means of escape, except by smashing the trap with a
sudden effort whereof even powerful insects are not always capable.

Warned by the shaking of the net, the Epeira hastens up; she turns
round about the quarry; she inspects it at a distance, so as to
ascertain the extent of the danger before attacking. The strength
of the snareling will decide the plan of campaign. Let us first
suppose the usual case, that of an average head of game, a Moth or
Fly of some sort. Facing her prisoner, the Spider contracts her
abdomen slightly and touches the insect for a moment with the end
of her spinnerets; then, with her front tarsi, she sets her victim
spinning. The Squirrel, in the moving cylinder of his cage, does
not display a more graceful or nimbler dexterity. A cross-bar of
the sticky spiral serves as an axis for the tiny machine, which
turns, turns swiftly, like a spit. It is a treat to the eyes to
see it revolve.

What is the object of this circular motion? See, the brief contact
of the spinnerets has given a starting-point for a thread, which
the Spider must now draw from her silk-warehouse and gradually roll
around the captive, so as to swathe him in a winding-sheet which
will overpower any effort made. It is the exact process employed
in our wire-mills: a motor-driven spool revolves and, by its
action, draws the wire through the narrow eyelet of a steel plate,
making it of the fineness required, and, with the same movement,
winds it round and round its collar.

Even so with the Epeira's work. The Spider's front tarsi are the
motor; the revolving spool is the captured insect; the steel eyelet
is the aperture of the spinnerets. To bind the subject with
precision and dispatch nothing could be better than this
inexpensive and highly-effective method.

Less frequently, a second process is employed. With a quick
movement, the Spider herself turns round about the motionless
insect, crossing the web first at the top and then at the bottom
and gradually placing the fastenings of her line. The great
elasticity of the lime-threads allows the Epeira to fling herself
time after time right into the web and to pass through it without
damaging the net.

Let us now suppose the case of some dangerous game: a Praying
Mantis, for instance, brandishing her lethal limbs, each hooked and
fitted with a double saw; an angry Hornet, darting her awful sting;
a sturdy Beetle, invincible under his horny armour. These are
exceptional morsels, hardly ever known to the Epeirae. Will they
be accepted, if supplied by my stratagems?

They are, but not without caution. The game is seen to be perilous
of approach and the Spider turns her back upon it, instead of
facing it; she trains her rope-cannon upon it. Quickly, the hind-
legs draw from the spinnerets something much better than single
cords. The whole silk-battery works at one and the same time,
firing a regular volley of ribbons and sheets, which a wide
movement of the legs spreads fan-wise and flings over the entangled
prisoner. Guarding against sudden starts, the Epeira casts her
armfuls of bands on the front-and hind-parts, over the legs and
over the wings, here, there and everywhere, extravagantly. The
most fiery prey is promptly mastered under this avalanche. In
vain, the Mantis tries to open her saw-toothed arm-guards; in vain,
the Hornet makes play with her dagger; in vain, the Beetle stiffens
his legs and arches his back: a fresh wave of threads swoops down
and paralyses every effort.

These lavished, far-flung ribbons threaten to exhaust the factory;
it would be much more economical to resort to the method of the
spool; but, to turn the machine, the Spider would have to go up to
it and work it with her leg. This is too risky; and hence the
continuous spray of silk, at a safe distance. When all is used up,
there is more to come.

Still, the Epeira seems concerned at this excessive outlay. When
circumstances permit, she gladly returns to the mechanism of the
revolving spool. I saw her practise this abrupt change of tactics
on a big Beetle, with a smooth, plump body, which lent itself
admirably to the rotary process. After depriving the beast of all
power of movement, she went up to it and turned her corpulent
victim as she would have done with a medium-sized Moth.

But with the Praying Mantis, sticking out her long legs and her
spreading wings, rotation is no longer feasible. Then, until the
quarry is thoroughly subdued, the spray of bandages goes on
continuously, even to the point of drying up the silk-glands. A
capture of this kind is ruinous. It is true that, except when I
interfered, I have never seen the Spider tackle that formidable

Be it feeble or strong, the game is now neatly trussed, by one of
the two methods. The next move never varies. The bound insect is
bitten, without persistency and without any wound that shows. The
Spider next retires and allows the bite to act, which it soon does.
She then returns.

If the victim be small, a Clothes-moth, for instance, it is
consumed on the spot, at the place where it was captured. But, for
a prize of some importance, on which she hopes to feast for many an
hour, sometimes for many a day, the Spider needs a sequestered
dining-room, where there is naught to fear from the stickiness of
the network. Before going to it, she first makes her prey turn in
the converse direction to that of the original rotation. Her
object is to free the nearest spokes, which supplied pivots for the
machinery. They are essential factors which it behoves her to keep
intact, if need be by sacrificing a few crossbars.

It is done; the twisted ends are put back into position. The well-
trussed game is at last removed from the web and fastened on behind
with a thread. The Spider then marches in front and the load is
trundled across the web and hoisted to the resting-floor, which is
both an inspection-post and a dining-hall. When the Spider is of a
species that shuns the light and possesses a telegraph-line, she
mounts to her daytime hiding-place along this line, with the game
bumping against her heels.

While she is refreshing herself, let us enquire into the effects of
the little bite previously administered to the silk-swathed
captive. Does the Spider kill the patient with a view to avoiding
unseasonable jerks, protests so disagreeable at dinner-time?
Several reasons make me doubt it. In the first place, the attack
is so much veiled as to have all the appearance of a mere kiss.
Besides, it is made anywhere, at the first spot that offers. The
expert slayers {33} employ methods of the highest precision: they
give a stab in the neck, or under the throat; they wound the
cervical nerve-centres, the seat of energy. The paralyzers, those
accomplished anatomists, poison the motor nerve-centres, of which
they know the number and position. The Epeira possesses none of
this fearsome knowledge. She inserts her fangs at random, as the
Bee does her sting. She does not select one spot rather than
another; she bites indifferently at whatever comes within reach.
This being so, her poison would have to possess unparalleled
virulence to produce a corpse-like inertia no matter which the
point attacked. I can scarcely believe in instantaneous death
resulting from the bite, especially in the case of insects, with
their highly-resistant organisms.

Besides, is it really a corpse that the Epeira wants, she who feeds
on blood much more than on flesh? It were to her advantage to suck
a live body, wherein the flow of the liquids, set in movement by
the pulsation of the dorsal vessel, that rudimentary heart of
insects, must act more freely than in a lifeless body, with its
stagnant fluids. The game which the Spider means to suck dry might
very well not be dead. This is easily ascertained.

I place some Locusts of different species on the webs in my
menagerie, one on this, another on that. The Spider comes rushing
up, binds the prey, nibbles at it gently and withdraws, waiting for
the bite to take effect. I then take the insect and carefully
strip it of its silken shroud. The Locust is not dead, far from
it; one would even think that he had suffered no harm. I examine
the released prisoner through the lens in vain; I can see no trace
of a wound.

Can he be unscathed, in spite of the sort of kiss which I saw given
to him just now? You would be ready to say so, judging by the
furious way in which he kicks in my fingers. Nevertheless, when
put on the ground, he walks awkwardly, he seems reluctant to hop.
Perhaps it is a temporary trouble, caused by his terrible
excitement in the web. It looks as though it would soon pass.

I lodge my Locusts in cages, with a lettuce-leaf to console them
for their trials; but they will not be comforted. A day elapses,
followed by a second. Not one of them touches the leaf of salad;
their appetite has disappeared. Their movements become more
uncertain, as though hampered by irresistible torpor. On the
second day, they are dead, every one irrecoverably dead.

The Epeira, therefore, does not incontinently kill her prey with
her delicate bite; she poisons it so as to produce a gradual
weakness, which gives the blood-sucker ample time to drain her
victim, without the least risk, before the rigor mortis stops the
flow of moisture.

The meal lasts quite twenty-four hours, if the joint be large; and
to the very end the butchered insect retains a remnant of life, a
favourable condition for the exhausting of the juices. Once again,
we see a skilful method of slaughter, very different from the
tactics in use among the expert paralyzers or slayers. Here there
is no display of anatomical science. Unacquainted with the
patient's structure, the Spider stabs at random. The virulence of
the poison does the rest.

There are, however, some very few cases in which the bite is
speedily mortal. My notes speak of an Angular Epeira grappling
with the largest Dragon-fly in my district (AEshna grandis, LIN.).
I myself had entangled in the web this head of big game, which is
not often captured by the Epeirae. The net shakes violently, seems
bound to break its moorings.

The Spider rushes from her leafy villa, runs boldly up to the
giantess, flings a single bundle of ropes at her and, without
further precautions, grips her with her legs, tries to subdue her
and then digs her fangs into the Dragon-fly's back. The bite is
prolonged in such a way as to astonish me. This is not the
perfunctory kiss with which I am already familiar; it is a deep,
determined wound. After striking her blow, the Spider retires to a
certain distance and waits for her poison to take effect.

I at once remove the Dragon-fly. She is dead, really and truly
dead. Laid upon my table and left alone for twenty-four hours, she
makes not the slightest movement. A prick of which my lens cannot
see the marks, so sharp-pointed are the Epeira's weapons, was
enough, with a little insistence, to kill the powerful animal.
Proportionately, the Rattlesnake, the Horned Viper, the
Trigonocephalus and other ill-famed serpents produce less
paralysing effects upon their victims.

And these Epeirae, so terrible to insects, I am able to handle
without any fear. My skin does not suit them. If I persuaded them
to bite me, what would happen to me? Hardly anything. We have
more cause to dread the sting of a nettle than the dagger which is
fatal to Dragon-flies. The same virus acts differently upon this
organism and that, is formidable here and quite mild there. What
kills the insect may easily be harmless to us. Let us not,
however, generalize too far. The Narbonne Lycosa, that other
enthusiastic insect-huntress, would make us pay clearly if we
attempted to take liberties with her.

It is not uninteresting to watch the Epeira at dinner. I light
upon one, the Banded Epeira, at the moment, about three o'clock in
the afternoon, when she has captured a Locust. Planted in the
centre of the web, on her resting-floor, she attacks the venison at
the joint of a haunch. There is no movement, not even of the
mouth-parts, as far as I am able to discover. The mouth lingers,
close-applied, at the point originally bitten. There are no
intermittent mouthfuls, with the mandibles moving backwards and
forwards. It is a sort of continuous kiss.

I visit my Epeira at intervals. The mouth does not change its
place. I visit her for the last time at nine o'clock in the
evening. Matters stand exactly as they did: after six hours'
consumption, the mouth is still sucking at the lower end of the
right haunch. The fluid contents of the victim are transferred to
the ogress' belly, I know not how.

Next morning, the Spider is still at table. I take away her dish.
Naught remains of the Locust but his skin, hardly altered in shape,
but utterly drained and perforated in several places. The method,
therefore, was changed during the night. To extract the non-fluent
residue, the viscera and muscles, the stiff cuticle had to be
tapped here, there and elsewhere, after which the tattered husk,
placed bodily in the press of the mandibles, would have been
chewed, rechewed and finally reduced to a pill, which the sated
Spider throws up. This would have been the end of the victim, had
I not taken it away before the time.

Whether she wound or kill, the Epeira bites her captive somewhere
or other, no matter where. This is an excellent method on her
part, because of the variety of the game that comes her way. I see
her accepting with equal readiness whatever chance may send her:
Butterflies and Dragon-flies, Flies and Wasps, small Dung-beetles
and Locusts. If I offer her a Mantis, a Bumble-bee, an Anoxia--the
equivalent of the common Cockchafer--and other dishes probably
unknown to her race, she accepts all and any, large and small,
thin-skinned and horny-skinned, that which goes afoot and that
which takes winged flight. She is omnivorous, she preys on
everything, down to her own kind, should the occasion offer.

Had she to operate according to individual structure, she would
need an anatomical dictionary; and instinct is essentially
unfamiliar with generalities: its knowledge is always confined to
limited points. The Cerceres know their Weevils and their
Buprestis-beetles absolutely; the Sphex their Grasshoppers, their
Crickets and their Locusts; the Scoliae {34} their Cetonia- and
Oryctes-grubs. Even so the other paralyzers. Each has her own
victim and knows nothing of any of the others.

The same exclusive tastes prevail among the slayers. Let us
remember, in this connection, Philanthus apivorus {35} and,
especially, the Thomisus, the comely Spider who cuts Bees' throats.
They understand the fatal blow, either in the neck or under the
chin, a thing which the Epeira does not understand; but, just
because of this talent, they are specialists. Their province is
the Domestic Bee.

Animals are a little like ourselves: they excel in an art only on
condition of specializing in it. The Epeira, who, being
omnivorous, is obliged to generalize, abandons scientific methods
and makes up for this by distilling a poison capable of producing
torpor and even death, no matter what the point attacked.

Recognizing the large variety of game, we wonder how the Epeira
manages not to hesitate amid those many diverse forms, how, for
instance, she passes from the Locust to the Butterfly, so different
in appearance. To attribute to her as a guide an extensive
zoological knowledge were wildly in excess of what we may
reasonably expect of her poor intelligence. The thing moves,
therefore it is worth catching: this formula seems to sum up the
Spider's wisdom.


A dog has found a bone. He lies in the shade, holding it between
his paws, and studies it fondly. It is his sacred property, his
chattel. An Epeira has woven her web. Here again is property; and
owning a better title than the other. Favoured by chance and
assisted by his scent, the Dog has merely had a find; he has
neither worked nor paid for it. The Spider is more than a casual
owner, she has created what is hers. Its substance issued from her
body, its structure from her brain. If ever property was
sacrosanct, hers is.

Far higher stands the work of the weaver of ideas, who tissues a
book, that other Spider's web, and out of his thought makes
something that shall instruct or thrill us. To protect our 'bone,'
we have the police, invented for the express purpose. To protect
the book, we have none but farcical means. Place a few bricks one
atop the other; join them with mortar; and the law will defend your
wall. Build up in writing an edifice of your thoughts; and it will
be open to any one, without serious impediment, to abstract stones
from it, even to take the whole, if it suit him. A rabbit-hutch is
property; the work of the mind is not. If the animal has eccentric
views as regards the possessions of others, we have ours as well.

'Might always has the best of the argument,' said La Fontaine, to
the great scandal of the peace-lovers. The exigencies of verse,
rhyme and rhythm, carried the worthy fabulist further than he
intended: he meant to say that, in a fight between mastiffs and in
other brute conflicts, the stronger is left master of the bone. He
well knew that, as things go, success is no certificate of
excellence. Others came, the notorious evil-doers of humanity, who
made a law of the savage maxim that might is right.

We are the larvae with the changing skins, the ugly caterpillars of
a society that is slowly, very slowly, wending its way to the
triumph of right over might. When will this sublime metamorphosis
be accomplished? To free ourselves from those wild-beast
brutalities, must we wait for the ocean-plains of the southern
hemisphere to flow to our side, changing the face of continents and
renewing the glacial period of the Reindeer and the Mammoth?
Perhaps, so slow is moral progress.

True, we have the bicycle, the motor-car, the dirigible airship and
other marvellous means of breaking our bones; but our morality is
not one rung the higher for it all. One would even say that, the
farther we proceed in our conquest of matter, the more our morality
recedes. The most advanced of our inventions consists in bringing
men down with grapeshot and explosives with the swiftness of the
reaper mowing the corn.

Would we see this might triumphant in all its beauty? Let us spend
a few weeks in the Epeira's company. She is the owner of a web,
her work, her most lawful property. The question at once presents
itself: Does the Spider possibly recognize her fabric by certain
trademarks and distinguish it from that of her fellows?

I bring about a change of webs between two neighbouring Banded
Epeirae. No sooner is either placed upon the strange net than she
makes for the central floor, settles herself head downwards and
does not stir from it, satisfied with her neighbour's web as with
her own. Neither by day nor by night does she try to shift her
quarters and restore matters to their pristine state. Both Spiders
think themselves in their own domain. The two pieces of work are
so much alike that I almost expected this.

I then decide to effect an exchange of webs between two different
species. I move the Banded Epeira to the net of the Silky Epeira
and vice versa. The two webs are now dissimilar; the Silky
Epeira's has a limy spiral consisting of closer and more numerous
circles. What will the Spiders do, when thus put to the test of
the unknown? One would think that, when one of them found meshes
too wide for her under her feet, the other meshes too narrow, they
would be frightened by this sudden change and decamp in terror.
Not at all. Without a sign of perturbation, they remain, plant
themselves in the centre and await the coming of the game, as
though nothing extraordinary had happened. They do more than this.
Days pass and, as long as the unfamiliar web is not wrecked to the
extent of being unserviceable, they make no attempt to weave
another in their own style. The Spider, therefore, is incapable of
recognizing her web. She takes another's work for hers, even when
it is produced by a stranger to her race.

We now come to the tragic side of this confusion. Wishing to have
subjects for study within my daily reach and to save myself the
trouble of casual excursions, I collect different Epeirae whom I
find in the course of my walks and establish them on the shrubs in
my enclosure. In this way, a rosemary-hedge, sheltered from the
wind and facing the sun, is turned into a well-stocked menagerie.
I take the Spiders from the paper bags wherein I had put them
separately, to carry them, and place them on the leaves, with no
further precaution. It is for them to make themselves at home. As
a rule, they do not budge all day from the place where I put them:
they wait for nightfall before seeking a suitable site whereon to
weave a net.

Some among them show less patience. A little while ago, they
possessed a web, between the reeds of a brook or in the holm-oak
copses; and now they have none. They go off in search, to recover
their property or seize on some one else's: it is all the same to
them. I come upon a Banded Epeira, newly imported, making for the
web of a Silky Epeira who has been my guest for some days now. The
owner is at her post, in the centre of the net. She awaits the
stranger with seeming impassiveness. Then suddenly they grip each
other; and a desperate fight begins. The Silky Epeira is worsted.
The other swathes her in bonds, drags her to the non-limy central
floor and, in the calmest fashion, eats her. The dead Spider is
munched for twenty-four hours and drained to the last drop, when
the corpse, a wretched, crumpled ball, is at last flung aside. The
web so foully conquered becomes the property of the stranger, who
uses it, if it have not suffered too much in the contest.

There is here a shadow of an excuse. The two Spiders were of
different species; and the struggle for life often leads to these
exterminations among such as are not akin. What would happen if
the two belonged to the same species? It is easily seen. I cannot
rely upon spontaneous invasions, which may be rare under normal
conditions, and I myself place a Banded Epeira on her kinswoman's
web. A furious attack is made forthwith. Victory, after hanging
for a moment in the balance, is once again decided in the
stranger's favour. The vanquished party, this time a sister, is
eaten without the slightest scruple. Her web becomes the property
of the victor.

There it is, in all its horror, the right of might: to eat one's
like and take away their goods. Man did the same in days of old:
he stripped and ate his fellows. We continue to rob one another,
both as nations and as individuals; but we no longer eat one
another: the custom has grown obsolete since we discovered an
acceptable substitute in the mutton-chop.

Let us not, however, blacken the Spider beyond her deserts. She
does not live by warring on her kith and kin; she does not of her
own accord attempt the conquest of another's property. It needs
extraordinary circumstances to rouse her to these villainies. I
take her from her web and place her on another's. From that
moment, she knows no distinction between meum and tuum: the thing
which the leg touches at once becomes real estate. And the
intruder, if she be the stronger, ends by eating the occupier, a
radical means of cutting short disputes.

Apart from disturbances similar to those provoked by myself,
disturbances that are possible in the everlasting conflict of
events, the Spider, jealous of her own web, seems to respect the
webs of others. She never indulges in brigandage against her
fellows except when dispossessed of her net, especially in the
daytime, for weaving is never done by day: this work is reserved
for the night. When, however, she is deprived of her livelihood
and feels herself the stronger, then she attacks her neighbour,
rips her open, feeds on her and takes possession of her goods. Let
us make allowances and proceed.

We will now examine Spiders of more alien habits. The Banded and
the Silky Epeira differ greatly in form and colouring. The first
has a plump, olive-shaped belly, richly belted with white, bright-
yellow and black; the second's abdomen is flat, of a silky white
and pinked into festoons. Judging only by dress and figure, we
should not think of closely connecting the two Spiders.

But high above shapes tower tendencies, those main characteristics
which our methods of classification, so particular about minute
details of form, ought to consult more widely than they do. The
two dissimilar Spiders have exactly similar ways of living. Both
of them prefer to hunt by day and never leave their webs; both sign
their work with a zigzag flourish. Their nets are almost
identical, so much so that the Banded Epeira uses the Silky
Epeira's web after eating its owner. The Silky Epeira, on her
side, when she is the stronger, dispossesses her belted cousin and
devours her. Each is at home on the other's web, when the argument
of might triumphant has ended the discussion.

Let us next take the case of the Cross Spider, a hairy beast of
varying shades of reddish-brown. She has three large white spots
upon her back, forming a triple-barred cross. She hunts mostly at
night, shuns the sun and lives by day on the adjacent shrubs, in a
shady retreat which communicates with the lime-snare by means of a
telegraph-wire. Her web is very similar in structure and
appearance to those of the two others. What will happen if I
procure her the visit of a Banded Epeira?

The lady of the triple cross is invaded by day, in the full light
of the sun, thanks to my mischievous intermediary. The web is
deserted; the proprietress is in her leafy hut. The telegraph-wire
performs its office; the Cross Spider hastens down, strides all
round her property, beholds the danger and hurriedly returns to her
hiding-place, without taking any measures against the intruder.

The latter, on her side, does not seem to be enjoying herself.
Were she placed on the web of one of her sisters, or even on that
of the Silky Epeira, she would have posted herself in the centre,
as soon as the struggle had ended in the other's death. This time
there is no struggle, for the web is deserted; nothing prevents her
from taking her position in the centre, the chief strategic point;
and yet she does not move from the place where I put her.

I tickle her gently with the tip of a long straw. When at home, if
teased in this way, the Banded Epeira--like the others, for that
matter--violently shakes the web to intimidate the aggressor. This
time, nothing happens: despite my repeated enticements, the Spider
does not stir a limb. It is as though she were numbed with terror.
And she has reason to be: the other is watching her from her lofty

This is probably not the only cause of her fright. When my straw
does induce her to take a few steps, I see her lift her legs with
some difficulty. She tugs a bit, drags her tarsi till she almost
breaks the supporting threads. It is not the progress of an agile
rope-walker; it is the hesitating gait of entangled feet. Perhaps
the lime-threads are stickier than in her own web. The glue is of
a different quality; and her sandals are not greased to the extent
which the new degree of adhesiveness would demand.

Anyhow, things remain as they are for long hours on end: the
Banded Epeira motionless on the edge of the web; the other lurking
in her hut; both apparently most uneasy. At sunset, the lover of
darkness plucks up courage. She descends from her green tent and,
without troubling about the stranger, goes straight to the centre
of the web, where the telegraph-wire brings her. Panic-stricken at
this apparition, the Banded Epeira releases herself with a jerk and
disappears in the rosemary-thicket.

The experiment, though repeatedly renewed with different subjects,
gave me no other results. Distrustful of a web dissimilar to her
own, if not in structure, at least in stickiness, the bold Banded
Epeira shows the white feather and refuses to attack the Cross
Spider. The latter, on her side, either does not budge from her
day shelter in the foliage, or else rushes back to it, after taking
a hurried glance at the stranger. She here awaits the coming of
the night. Under favour of the darkness, which gives her fresh
courage and activity, she re-appears upon the scene and puts the
intruder to flight by her mere presence, aided, if need be, by a
cuff or two. Injured right is the victor.

Morality is satisfied; but let us not congratulate the Spider
therefore. If the invader respects the invaded, it is because very
serious reasons impel her. First, she would have to contend with
an adversary ensconced in a stronghold whose ambushes are unknown
to the assailant. Secondly, the web, if conquered, would be
inconvenient to use, because of the lime-threads, possessing a
different degree of stickiness from those which she knows so well.
To risk one's skin for a thing of doubtful value were twice
foolish. The Spider knows this and forbears.

But let the Banded Epeira, deprived of her web, come upon that of
one of her kind or of the Silky Epeira, who works her gummy twine
in the same manner: then discretion is thrown to the winds; the
owner is fiercely ripped open and possession taken of the property.

Might is right, says the beast; or, rather, it knows no right. The
animal world is a rout of appetites, acknowledging no other rein
than impotence. Mankind, alone capable of emerging from the slough
of the instincts, is bringing equity into being, is creating it
slowly as its conception grows clearer. Out of the sacred
rushlight, so flickering as yet, but gaining strength from age to
age, man will make a flaming torch that will put an end, among us,
to the principles of the brutes and, one day, utterly change the
face of society.


While the Epeirae, with their gorgeous net-tapestries, are
incomparable weavers, many other Spiders excel in ingenious devices
for filling their stomachs and leaving a lineage behind them: the
two primary laws of living things. Some of them are celebrities of
long-standing renown, who are mentioned in all the books.

Certain Mygales {36} inhabit a burrow, like the Narbonne Lycosa,
but of a perfection unknown to the brutal Spider of the waste-
lands. The Lycosa surrounds the mouth of her shaft with a simple
parapet, a mere collection of tiny pebbles, sticks and silk; the
others fix a movable door to theirs, a round shutter with a hinge,
a groove and a set of bolts. When the Mygale comes home, the lid
drops into the groove and fits so exactly that there is no
possibility of distinguishing the join. If the aggressor persist
and seek to raise the trap-door, the recluse pushes the bolt, that
is to say, plants her claws into certain holes on the opposite side
to the hinge, props herself against the wall and holds the door

Another, the Argyroneta, or Water Spider, builds herself an elegant
silken diving-bell, in which she stores air. Thus supplied with
the wherewithal to breathe, she awaits the coming of the game and
keeps herself cool meanwhile. At times of scorching heat, hers
must be a regular sybaritic abode, such as eccentric man has
sometimes ventured to build under water, with mighty blocks of
stone and marble. The submarine palaces of Tiberius are no more
than an odious memory; the Water Spider's dainty cupola still

If I possessed documents derived from personal observation, I
should like to speak of these ingenious workers; I would gladly add
a few unpublished facts to their life-history. But I must abandon
the idea. The Water Spider is not found in my district. The
Mygale, the expert in hinged doors, is found there, but very
seldom. I saw one once, on the edge of a path skirting a copse.
Opportunity, as we know, is fleeting. The observer, more than any
other, is obliged to take it by the forelock. Preoccupied as I was
with other researches, I but gave a glance at the magnificent
subject which good fortune offered. The opportunity fled and has
never returned.

Let us make up for it with trivial things of frequent encounter, a
condition favourable to consecutive study. What is common is not
necessarily unimportant. Give it our sustained attention and we
shall discover in it merits which our former ignorance prevented us
from seeing. When patiently entreated, the least of creatures adds
its note to the harmonies of life.

In the fields around, traversed, in these days, with a tired step,
but still vigilantly explored, I find nothing so often as the
Labyrinth Spider (Agelena labyrinthica, CLERCK.). Not a hedge but
shelters a few at its foot, amidst grass, in quiet, sunny nooks.
In the open country and especially in hilly places laid bare by the
wood-man's axe, the favourite sites are tufts of bracken, rock-
rose, lavender, everlasting and rosemary cropped close by the teeth
of the flocks. This is where I resort, as the isolation and
kindliness of the supports lend themselves to proceedings which
might not be tolerated by the unfriendly hedge.

Several times a week, in July, I go to study my Spiders on the
spot, at an early hour, before the sun beats fiercely on one's
neck. The children accompany me, each provided with an orange
wherewith to slake the thirst that will not be slow in coming.
They lend me their good eyes and supple limbs. The expedition
promises to be fruitful.

We soon discover high silk buildings, betrayed at a distance by the
glittering threads which the dawn has converted into dewy rosaries.
The children are wonderstruck at those glorious chandeliers, so
much so that they forget their oranges for a moment. Nor am I, on
my part, indifferent. A splendid spectacle indeed is that of our
Spider's labyrinth, heavy with the tears of the night and lit up by
the first rays of the sun. Accompanied as it is by the Thrushes'
symphony, this alone is worth getting up for.


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