Growing up in South Texas, I had a respect for spiders instilled into me by my uncle, Mitchell Baird. He was a story-teller who could spin yarns about finding scorpions and spiders in his boots, and narrowly escaping death by shaking those boots before pulling then on.
I grew up and learned better about spiders. Those big Texas hairy tarantulas can be scary but they’re entirely harmless. When teaching laboratories at Texas Tech, we’d delight in taking a tarantula into class. Conceal it in your hand while writing on the board, then turn around with it crawling up your collar. Oh, those screams! Remember that, Larry C. and Clyde S.?
It seems that the golden garden spiders grew bigger in South Texas. They hung their webs everyplace. We kids called them “writing spiders.” Sometimes we tormented them. Cautiously. And there were some enormous Wolf Spiders in my yard. My little playmate next door introduced me into pouring water into their holes. Then stand back!
So I didn’t expect Georgia to show me anything new about spiders. But up at the Cabin on Freeman Ridge, one scurried along the porch that made me sit up. It had an ugly body about the size of a Jefferson nickel – and looked like a bird dropping with long skinny legs. It sat down under the porch light and waited. A moth walked right up to the spider and it pulled the moth in.
What I was seeing was a bolas spider. It doesn’t spin a web. It waves a single strand with a droplet at its tip and uses that to catch prey. And, it specializes in male moths. The spider exudes a chemical similar to the pheromone of female moths. So the male moths come visiting. I read that bolas spiders do occur in Texas, but not commonly. Maybe this weekend at the cabin, I can get a picture. I hope it comes back.
About those scorpions Mitchell talked about. They’re common here in Georgia, too. They come in my house here in Athens. Small ones; I’ve never been stung by one. But – at the Cabin on Freeman Ridge I’ve captured two unusually large scorpions.
I don’t know. Maybe, like Uncle Mitchell, I’ll start shaking out my shoes in the mornings.
September 19, 2014.
“One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.” – Iris Murdoch