The spider walked across the top of my computer with complete confidence. He didn’t hesitate–he was on a mission. I was busy writing. We almost managed to ignore each other. But before I knew it he was dangling from the top of the screen, descending towards my desk like a seasoned mountain climber. Maybe he was trying to entomb my screen? Did he think there was some chance of catching a quarry attracted by the light of my Mac? I have to say I didn’t want to find out. I coaxed him onto a discarded manuscript page and gently put him down–outside. My home has always been a ‘no kill’ zone. Yes, that has raised a few eyebrows. My response has been, and still is, how do you know you won’t reincarnate as spider or a fly? (That’s another blog post!)
This summer I observed an over-achiever spider attempt to create a web that was over fourteen feet long! Apparently male spiders do this sort of thing when they are trying to impress the ladies. I kept going back over two days to see what was becoming of this massive web. I watched as the spider trudged back and forth laying web lines. It all begins with luck.
When spiders start to build a web they release a single thread into the wind, hoping it will find anchor. When it does find a resting place this first thread becomes the bridge that allows them to weave their web. As they walk along this first bridge thread they drop a second thread that hangs below the first one. This second thread is attached at both ends of the bridge. They then repeat this step by walking on the second thread, dropping a third thread, and so on. Once they’ve laid all of their horizontal lines they begin to weave radius lines, connecting all of the horizontal lines together. As if that’s not amazing enough, now it gets really interesting.
Once the horizontal frame threads and radius threads are completed the spider moves back to the centre of the web and weaves a spiral that expands until it meets the outer edge of the frame. As insects approach the web they set off a static charge that attracts the silk of the web which then captures them! But even more amazing is the electrically conducive glue that spiders spread across the surface of the spiral. This glue distorts the electrical field within a few millimetres of the web, confusing their prey. Wow. I’m sure glad spiders are as small as they are!
I remember finding a hummingbird nest last year, as I looked at it I realized that the nest was held together by spider silk! Spider web silk, by weight, is greater in strength than steel and it’s elastic. If a spider web was made of silk the same thickness as pencils, it would be strong enough to stop a flying Boeing 747 jumbo jet–in flight! In the 1990s researchers incorporated spider’s silk-spinning genes into goats. They then harvested the silk protein from the milk of these genetically altered spider goats. This silk protein was called BioSteel and was ten times stronger than steel by weight and it stretched! Okay, seriously, spider goats? I’m amazed and appalled at the same time.
Spider webs have been used for healing…humans! Spider silk contains Vitamin K which helps to reduce bleeding and helps heal wounds. Ancient Greeks and Romans used spider webs to treat wounded soldiers. Spider webs also have anti-fungal and antiseptic properties that keep bacteria away….webicillin. I wonder how many spider webs it would take to make a spider web bandage?
It is estimated that one million spiders live in one acre of land, and most spiders spin a new web everyday. Hmmm… we have ten acres…does that mean we might have ten million spiders living at Alchemy Farm?! (In autumn the fields at, Alchemy Farm, look like the one in the photo above…covered in hundreds, thousands, of spider webs.) Maybe we should rethink our farm plans? Salt Spring Island Webicillin Bandages. But then again, maybe we have the kind of spiders who eat their webs and recycle them?
PS: The giant spider web disappeared by the third morning–perhaps a victim to the scores of bats that swoop through our deck and yard? (Yet another blog post story!)