Dear Readers, some people have mentioned that they have a degree of cognitive dissonance on realising that Bugwoman writes so little about invertebrates, and I can see what they mean. I can only recall one post on true bugs (the one that I did ages ago about Cuckoospit and froghoppers).Other small creatures, such as bees and woodlice and butterflies and slugs, make occasional appearances, but I am not really living up to my name. So when this magnificent house spider (Tegenaria gigantea) appeared on the glass medicine cabinet in the upstairs bathroom, I decided that she had to feature in a post.
I have no idea what she is up to. As you can see, she has built a web right across the opening between the two glass doors. How she even managed it amazes me: she was slipping and sliding as soon as she stepped off of the silk. Normally, a house spider makes a sheet behind some furniture, or, in the case of my parents, inside their Tiffany uplighter, and then sits underneath with a foot poised on the web, waiting for the slightest vibration of some unfortunate ant or beetle. The web is not sticky, so the spider relies on speed to capture its prey, subdue it with a venomous bite and truss it up for later. My spider was therefore most unfortunate in her choice of site. I would like to say that the pristine state of the upstairs bathroom made it her only option, but in fact there were dozens of spots where she could have prepared her trap and not been noticed for years.
Sadly, I had to move her on: for one thing, my husband needed to get his shaving soap out of the cabinet. I was amazed at how strong the spider silk is, giving a palpable resistance as I separated the doors. And the spider was undaunted as well, hanging on and caressing the glass with one hopeful leg.
She looks absolutely enormous in these pictures, I realise, but at full stretch she was only about the length of my index finger. I know that, for some of you, that will be quite big enough. But there was a kind of elegance about her, svelt creature that she was. I suspect that the way that house spiders move is a major cause of fear: they have a kind of silent, inexorable, mechanical advance that invites a shudder if you are that way inclined. Of course, it’s the male house spiders advancing across the carpet in search of mates in autumn that cause most trouble. I well remember my grandmother dropping a hot water bottle on one when I was a child, surely the most unusual demise of any spider. As house spiders hold the speed record for true spiders (1.83 mph) she must have had most excellent hot water bottle depositing skills.
For anyone interested in the various creatures that share our homes, I can heartily recommend Richard Jones’s wonderful book ‘House Guests and House Pests – A Natural History of Animals in the Home’. He points out that house spiders were cave and forest dwellers long before there were houses, and that their predatory instincts are just as beneficial in maintaining the ecological balance in our homes as they are in ‘the wild’. If we made sanctuaries for spiders deliberately, who knows how the ant/fly problem might be ameliorated? I could create little houses that fitted into the spaces by the skirting board – Twentieth Century Modern ones would have tiny concrete cantilevered overhangs, and the Victorian ones could have bay windows and stained glass. I can just imagine how happy the house spiders would be as they moved in. I’m sure that there’s a whole new business opportunity here, but sadly not for me, as no one in my family is as tolerant of our eight-legged friends as I am. In the end, I picked up this fine lady in my hand, and deposited her gently out of the window, where I watched her run under the eaves to set up another, hopefully more sensible, web. And at last my husband can get back to shaving. That stubbly look is so unflattering in anyone who isn’t George Clooney.
And for those of you with a few minutes to spare, can I recommend this story by David Sedaris, about his encounter with a house spider? It made me laugh until I cried.