Dear Readers, I have just received my copy of ‘Nature’s Calendar’ by Kiera Chapman, Lulah Ellender, Rowan Jaines and Rebecca Warren. I was intrigued because instead of the usual monthly or weekly format, the book divides the year into 72 seasons, based on a traditional Japanese calendar. What the authors did was to ask people to post on social media about their observations of the natural world every four or five days. A list of four would then be presented, and people would vote on which one resonated most for them. The authors recognised that there would be differences in when things happened, both according to where you live and what the year is like, especially in a time of such climate turmoil, but sometimes it’s as interesting to see what isn’t happening as what is.
Each section of four or five days has a name – for the period 8th to 12th September it’s ‘Arachnids Assemble’. I am thinking that I might use the book for inspiration to see what’s happening around me, and to share anything that I’ve observed. Let’s see how we go!
‘Arachnids Assemble’ is absolutely right for my garden at the moment. Every time I go through the back garden I am limbo dancing under spider’s webs, and the cellar spiders are looking lean and hungry in the shed.
If you’ve ever disturbed a cellar spider, you might be surprised to see it suddenly vibrating up and down at high speed. There is a very interesting film showing a variety of cellar spider behaviours, including vibrating, here (though note that it is very spooky trip down into some very dank places). There are various theories about why they vibrate: most likely the movement confuses predators, especially in the caves where the spiders originally lived. In the film you can see how the spider basically becomes a blur, so it must be very difficult for a cave-dwelling bird or another invertebrate predator to ‘lock on’ to the target.
Interestingly, although I already knew that these wispy, ghost-like spiders are able to kill other kinds of spiders that are much beefier than they are, I had no idea how until I read the chapter in the book. It appears that the cellar spiders find their prey (usually another ‘indoor’ spider like a house spider) and then do their vibration-dance next to the spider’s web in a way that imitates a trapped fly. The house spider rushes out and the cellar spider immobilises it by ‘throwing’ silk at it, until it is so entangled that it is no longer a threat to the cellar spider. Then, the cellar spider is safe to inject its venom into its much larger prey, and to consume it at leisure.
Incidentally, in North America you might know this gangly creature as a ‘daddy long legs’. In the UK this would mean a cranefly. Clearly we are two nations divided by a common language, but fortunately we have Latin names to help us out. If the cellar spider (Pholcus phalangoides) could fly I think we’d all have problems.
Even more incidentally, I wonder why nature didn’t evolve a flying spider? Flight has evolved several times in the insect kingdom, but I’m not sure if any of the other invertebrate groups ever took to the wing. Any theories, please share!
And in the meantime, I do highly recommend ‘Nature’s Calendar‘. It’s taught me lots of new things, and I’ve only read 1/72th of it.