Dear readers, I don’t have a television, so like a Victorian matriarch I have to make my own entertainment. For the past few weeks, courtesy of the very bright orange streetlight installed by Barnet Council, I have been watching a spider who had made her home on the outside of my living room sash window. As soon as it gets dark, she ventures out, for she has many things to do.
For a start, she has to tidy up her web. It stretches from the catch in the middle to the frame at the side, and then down to the bottom of the window. The silk is thick where it supports the structure, but in between there are horizontal layers of frayed, slightly furry looking material, which the spider combs into a velcro-like texture with her back legs. She spends an hour doing this, before turning her attention to a dandelion seed which has got tangled in the corner.
At first, she tries to cut it out. I can see the whole web shaking as she tries to bite around the fluffy seed, but everytime she has part of it freed up, another part gets entangled. In the end, she trusses it up and retreats to her silk-lined home in the corner of the window, waiting for an unsuspecting moth to arrive.
Laceweaver, or Lace-Webbed Spiders, are handsome creatures – they have a shiny head and legs, and a white-edged marking on their abdomens, which can lead the nervous to believe that they are some kind of Black Widow. In fact, they can bite humans, but are generally placid and unassuming creatures, happy to get on with their lives under cover of darkness.
On Thursday, however, I was laying on the sofa watching the spider when I noticed that she was not alone. A much smaller spider was approaching hesitantly from the area of the window catch. The little spider was delicately plucking the web with a front leg, as if sounding one note on a guitar.
I had seen this behaviour before. In a flurry of blankets and keys, I grabbed my camera and headed out of my front door, to see if I could get a photo of whatever happened next.
The little spider was a male, come a-courting. What would happen next?
The female spider started running across the web like a racehorse out of a gate. If the male doesn’t get his musical serenade quite right, the female spider will eat him, though whether this is because of his poor musical ability or because she thinks he’s a moth is not known. The male spider retreated and froze, and the female slowed down, stopped and headed back to the comfort of the window frame. What a relief.
I didn’t see the male again, but I checked the web and there were no signs of any trussed up prey, so either he has been successful, or he has wandered off to try his luck elsewhere. Who knows if we will soon hear the patter of tiny spider feet?
A Laceweaver spider will lay up to forty eggs, and will protect them, and later the spiderlings, from anything that threatens them. However, once the baby spiders have eaten their egg sacs, they will eat their mother, who by this time is several years old and close to death. The protein from their mothers body will support the little spiders until they are big enough to catch their own prey. If such a happy/tragic event were to happen, I will certainly let you know, although part of me hopes that this spider will remain a spinster (in every sense of the word), living a peaceful life in my sash window cord-return, unmated but uneaten.
As I stand outside my window, flashing away with my camera, I notice a few lights going on in the houses across the street. What can someone be doing at this hour of the night, I can hear them thinking. Has Bugwoman attracted the attention of the paparazzi? I sheepishly retreat back into the house. The real reason that I am standing in the rain, in my fluffy slippers, taking a flash photo of my own front room window would, I suspect, be even more difficult to explain.