Autumn is the time when we develop a heightened awareness of spiders! Partly because the low sun, heavy dews and early frosts transform their sticky webs into jewelled artefacts and partly because it’s when spiders, particularly large house spiders, are on the move.
I had a particularly public encounter during the Ilkley Literature Festival last month. We were early for a talk in All Saints’ newly refurbished hall so took our seats on the front row. As we chatted and waited I became aware of unexpected movement: a large house spider emerged from a dark corner to my left and began a diagonal, and very determined, march across the carpet. Its route would bring it straight under the feet of my neighbour across the aisle and in danger of being trampled by newly arriving audience. Something must be done. I rose and, with a rather crumpled tissue, began trying to edge the creature back into its corner. Spider-herding is not easy. Under the fascinated gaze of forty onlookers I eventually succeeded and walled the adventurer in its lair with a rampart of paper handkerchief.
Some quiet moments passed – then – like a scene from a horror movie – first one leg, then another, then all eight – brought the spider back on track for wherever it was going. Rather half-hearted shepherding began again, to little avail, he was in search of a mate and obviously knew just where to find one. Fortunately, at this embarrassing juncture, a steward with glass and card took over and the intruder was ejected or, if you prefer, removed to safety.
Autumn brings spiders to our attention as they move around looking for a mate or for a suitable spot to spend the winter. This leads to those sudden interruptions of evening television viewing or to the unfortunate spider in the bath. We like spiders in our house – they are harmless to humans and useful in controlling flies and other insect pests.
The fossil record reveals they have been on Earth much longer than we have – about 400 million years. They are clearly intelligent. Several small spiders have hung their silk fishing lines just outside our sitting-room window – perfect for trapping small insects attracted by the light and warmth. The webs of the orb-web spiders are extraordinary as well as beautiful: on average 30 – 40 yards of this self-generated super-strong silk is used to build the complex web-form in under an hour! Artistry and industry combined.
Be an arachnaphile and follow the old adage: “If you wish to live and thrive/ Let a spider run alive.”