Science & Nature

Say hello to my little friend

In the corner of a dirty window in my laundry room, a spider thrives. I take my smoke breaks near this window, so I’ve had regular opportunities to watch this amazing creature from its first arrival. When I first noticed it (six weeks ago?), it was perhaps 2 millimeters in body length, with legs extending its overall length to about 4 millimeters. It is now about a centimeter long in the body, with legs that draw it out to an inch.

I have no idea what kind of spider it is, but it has clearly evolved to excel in non-windy spots that receive lots of sun, the sort of area where gnats, mosquitoes, small flies, and small moths are wont to gather, trying unsuccessfully to pass through the glass.

While I’ve witnessed many wonderful behaviors of this little spider, none is so revealing as its methods for the subjugation of bugs who snare themselves in its web. Yesterday, I watched while a fly about 2 millimeters long got caught. Swiftly, the spider skated across its web, bouncing gently to cause the fly to wriggle harder and therefore trap itself more fully. Within 3 seconds, the spider had wrapped the tips of its legs around the fly. Using the two rear legs, the spider immediately spun new webbing, which, with fore legs, it wove in some imperceptible pattern around the fly’s body. Most interesting about all of this was that the spider saved the wings for last. It allowed them to flap, the fly’s last struggle for freedom, before it then trapped them with filaments.

The spider then held very still and let the fly exhaust itself to death. After less than a minute, I could see the spider’s maxillae as they, like pistons in a tiny machine, moved up and down against the fly’s body. I wished then for superior vision, but the meal took place at a level of magnification beyond me.

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