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A Cape Cod Notebook can be heard every Tuesday morning at 8:45am and afternoon at 5:45pm.It's commentary on the unique people, wildlife, and environment of our coastal region.A Cape Cod Notebook commentators include:Robert Finch, a nature writer living in Wellfleet who created, 'A Cape Cod Notebook.' It won the 2006 New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.

An Appreciation of Spiders

creative commons / wikimedia

Wildlife is where you find it, and, even though it has been a mild winter, and even though the days are lengthening as spring approaches, I have been somewhat of an indoor naturalist these past few months.  And the wildlife in my house consists of one dog, often written about, two cats…and a couple handfuls of spiders (not that I handle them). 

Yes, there are spiders in my house.  But these are not creepy crawly jumpy scary spiders; these are graceful, delicate, well-behaved spiders, called “Daddy Longlegs”.  Daddy Longlegs have much to recommend them as house guests: they usually do not frequent your counters or (God-forbid) beds, but prefer to hang out where the wall meets the ceiling; they do not build annoying webs into which you blunder; they do not wrap up their mummified victims for you to observe; and—most importantly—they do not bite.

I know next to nothing about these creatures, but have been increasingly contemplating them.  One particular individual shares my bathroom and dangles near me every morning as I shave.  She (is it a female?  Is it the same individual?) lowers herself elegantly from the ceiling to dangle a foot or two above my head.  Imagine: spooling out a silken thread from your abdomen with which you can maneuver about.  She watches me intently with her eight eyes (I think), then slowly recoils back to her corner above. 

Our immediate response to a spider is repulsion and fear.  It is, I believe, because of their “otherness”: they do not have big brown eyes, but at least eight beady ones; they have eight legs instead of the more relatable two or four; and they creep around in an unlovely manner.  And there is probably a genetic component to our reaction, because some spiders have been over evolutionary time, and still can be in our time, dangerous.  But I do know that “Daddy Longlegs” are harmless—while they have a very toxic bite, their jaws are too small to harm us. 

Still…I would not pick one up.  But I have been over time willing myself to appreciate them, and I am succeeding.  While they are creepy there is definitely an elegance to their design: the body is small in comparison to the eight long legs.  The legs seem to be bent and thickened at the knee, which is a bit darker.  When they do spool out there is a balletic quality to their movements.  They are slow-moving acrobats, and slo-mo adds to their elegance.  It is hard to imagine them running anything down.  I think they are more nocturnal, when maybe they speed up a bit: perhaps they are night-time hunters.  In my bathroom, including the shower, each corner near the ceiling is occupied by a single spider.  I take from this observation that spiders are territorial.  Are they ever lonely?  I have seen two together- that is sixteen legs- perhaps spider sex.  Does the male give his life in this embrace, as happens with some species?  I have seen a female (I suppose) surrounded by batches of tiny spiderlings.  Also, let’s not forget, they are not vegetarians: they are eating something, and it must be bugs of some sort, and that’s a good thing.

It is funny how we draw the line on what we tolerate in our houses. Mosquitoes and ticks do not have a chance.  I have been known to happily squash a cockroach (even the native ones that come in from outdoors).  I do the same with the little cereal moths that flutter about my kitchen because I don’t like thinking about eating their eggs or pupae in my cereal or rice.  I kill ants reluctantly, because I know too much about them and what marvels of creation they are.  Centipedes- these really creep me out- and most spiders are captured and released outside, if possible.  But “Daddy Longlegs” make the cut- they can stay. 

Early in his two-million-word journal, Thoreau says “I seek a garret.  The spiders must not be disturbed, nor the floor swept…”. 

You should see my floor, but that is a topic for another time.