By Jill Severn
A friend complained yesterday that the days are going by faster and faster and soon his life will be over. It’s a feeling that comes in September when each day is shorter than the previous one.
At this time of year, it’s surprising how quickly daylight dwindles. Every evening we close the curtains a little earlier. And every morning we can sleep a little later and still see the sunrise.
But I’m happy to report that shorter days don’t mean our lives – or the world – are ending anytime soon. In fact, this month is full of life.
While we sleep, orb-weaving spiders decorate every outdoor space with their spectacular technical prowess. (Orb weavers are the species that build more or less circular webs.) They connect every garden path and adorn the exterior of many dining room windows.
Almost all orb-weavers are female, as anyone reading Charlotte’s Web would have guessed. Spiders of several species have multiple variations in lifestyle and orb-weaving skills.
It is unknown what the males do to occupy themselves while waiting for the mating season to come, at the end of which some of them will be eaten by their mates.
Reading about spiders is both fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating tracks:
- They have six and sometimes even eight pairs of eyes.
- Some species consume their webs each night, rest for a while, then build new ones for the next day.
- They can extrude more than one type of silk thread – one to frame the web, another finer and more sticky to catch insects. Some have even more kinds of silk threads.
- As you probably know, their eight legs distinguish them from six-legged insects.
- Although spiders and insects both belong to the same animal phylum – arthropods – two different varieties of scientists study them: entomologists for insects and arachnologists for spiders.
- Spider sex is so weird that I don’t even provide any links on the subject. You don’t want to know.
The frustrating part is that accurately identifying spiders usually requires a microscope. And I’ve never met a spider that would last long enough for this kind of examination.
For those who fear spiders, here’s a word of comfort: There are only two spiders in our state that are of medical concern, and neither live in Thurston County. According to the state health department, one only lives in eastern Washington; the other hangs out only in Seattle and eastern Washington. (So what’s he doing in Seattle? And how did he get there?)
Yet the fear of spiders is endemic. Arachnologists have found that even some of their fellow entomologists, who should know better, are afraid of them. Horror movies and Halloween decorations don’t help.
There was also a famous hoax that spread across the internet in 1999 claiming that a poisonous spider hid under toilet seats and killed several women. Not a single word was true, but of course the story spread far and wide. Its author wanted to argue that people are gullible, and perhaps also that the Internet was going to make this problem worse. Point taken.
But spiders in the garden are friends and allies, eating insects that would otherwise damage our plants. And the spiders outside the window are wonderful entertainment, even if they come with shorter days and ever longer darkness. They mark the start of the season for fresh apple pies, larger meals and the return of indoor nighttime activities.
These are the days when the pumpkins ripen. This is the time when the seeds for next year’s flowers and food crops are fully formed, holding the promise of another spring.
Until then, we are heading for a bountiful harvest season, a refreshing and colorful fall, and a restful winter for gardeners.
If we sometimes walk face down in a spider’s web, it’s a small price to pay and a useful reminder that sometimes it’s best to keep your mouth shut.