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Traplines in the air

It’s going to be a good summer for watching spiders. The rhododendrons and cedars on the sunny side of our lawn are festooned already with big webs. The spiders, female Araneus diadematus, aka cross spiders, are still tiny, barely an orange speck in the centre of each web. They’ll grow; by the end of the summer some will be up to an inch across, fat bellies showing their success as trappers.

“It is common for a web to be about 20 times the size of the spider building it.” Wikipedia

These are seriously smart critters. Building a web isn’t just a rote operation; every site has its special requirements, and the webs are more elaborate than the simple spiral and ray arrangement shown in children’s books.

The spider launches a thread from the top of her chosen location, waits until it makes contact with another branch, then runs down it to glue it down well and reinforce it. She picks a centre and builds another ray out from there, then more until she’s filled her space. Then she makes a small spiral in the centre, using non-adhesive silk, glued together where they cross the radials. This is her resting place and launch pad.

Then there’s a gap, about twice the diameter of the inner spiral. What is function is, I don’t know. Maybe it keeps the struggles of her prey out of her private space. Only she really knows.

Then comes the business part of the web. She fills most of the available space with more spirals, built first with non-adhesive silk, then replaced with the sticky stuff. (She eats the first lines; spiders recycle!) She leaves more dots of glue here, spaced randomly, not usually on the nodes.

And here’s where her web differs from the standard drawing; every so often, along those regularly-spaced spirals, she breaks the pattern to make an X, sometimes a Y, sometimes a knot of angled threads. The spider at the top here has a large area like this near the inner edge of her trap; the second spider is a bit more restrained, sticking to a few simple Xs and offset sections.

I was inclined to think of these, at first, as mistakes, the spider losing her way briefly, getting confused. But every cross spider does this; it probably has some function. Maybe it’s like the trusses in bridges and roofs, using the triangular shape to add more strength.

What went on in the spider’s head? (Or belly, or legs, since her brain is too big to fit in that little cephalothorax, and she’s outsourced it to several parts of her body, including the legs. Up to 80% of that little body is brain.) How does she decide it’s time to change direction? Does she do the math? Or just sense some instability in the web and X it out?

Questions, questions.

As I sit here typing, a pinhead spider has been busy building a web on a sparrow feather beside my desk. She came down the wall, jumped the gap, and made a beeline for that feather, climbed it and dropped her anchor. How did she know the feather was there? How does she figure that’s a good hunting spot?

And what will she be catching. She’s so small I barely see her; does she see my desk crawling with little beasties that I can’t see? Now I’m itchy!

anonymous asked:

Did you use to hunt? (RE: Chris McCandless question)

I used to hunt in Alaska where my uncle has a guide service. I hunted Caribou to feed the sled dogs. Not as horrible as it seems since everything had to be flown in from Fairbanks. Those dogs ate a LOT of meat. I also ran a trapline for a season. 

I do have some understanding of the people who make bombs, not because there is any connection between the shattering mirrors and escaping one’s fate, but because it is so tempting to think that there is. That moment of destruction when the bomb goes off and somehow we are still intact, alive, and part of the future–that’s a moment of pure being, and moment when the self glows with its own light, when it isn’t reflecting anything.
—  Traplines by John Rember
That person would have been much more difficult to escape, and when I think of all the other adolescents who have constructed people of their own, so much better than the one I made, I don’t think that there are many people in this world who escape their creations.
—  Traplines by John Rember
I’ve lived long enough to know that you can not only sit on the threshold to the past, you can stand up and walk into it, sun yourself in its distant light, make a pallet on the floor of its empty, evanescent houses, and sleep there through its warm nights.
—  Traplines by John Rember
‘You can’t keep doing this, you know’ he says. 'You can’t just bring me back here any time you want to.’
'Sure I can,’ I say, and I close his toolbox and turn toward the door and step out into the sun.
—  Traplines by John Rember
The thing that lived there smiled and easy smile back. I smiled again. Its smile grew broader.
It was real. and it had achieved an existence independent from me, and in some ways a better existence. It didn’t have to pay rent or pump gas or scrub toilets for a living. It lived quite happily in the mirror, having learned some great trick of self-sustenance.
—  Traplines by John Rember