The golden orb weaver spiders mated in a web a few inches outside our dining room window. The male was only about a tenth her size. She was about as large as they get, located in a prime spot for a web–an area where lights at night attract many insects.
For days, he hung around the edges of her web plotting a stealthy and cautious courtship. Then one day he moved in. The giant female hung perfectly still in the center of the web, head down, her large, full abdomen pointing up. He spent hours making the approach. Every time a breeze blew the web, he scurried away. But, little by little, he reached her.
He approached her belly to belly and touched her abdomen with his long legs in a delicate, rhythmic stroking. Every few minutes, he broke off and scurried out of her reach. Then he approached again, slowly, cautiously, till he made a first tentative touch, then another, then again began the gentle stroking with his long forelegs.
After half an hour of this, the mating took place. He edged closer till his legs touched her. His whole reach hardly spanned beyond the area of her body, and her long, thick, hairy legs spread out many times his span. Small, close, overshadowed by her fierceness and her bulk, he locked himself against her completely motionless body. The antennae of the male spider swell to hold the sperm before mating, and his bulbous pedipalpae pulsated in prolonged throbs on the secret spot of her belly–and, after weeks of waiting, the act was done.
A breeze, a movement of her huge body, and, all at once it was over. She sprang to full and dangerous life. He dropped like a stone beyond her reach and sought out the far edges of the web. Now he was no longer mate or wooer. He was just potential prey, slipping away on the long strings of the web, hoping, perhaps, to live a while on the edges of her reproductive glory, as she lays the great brown egg-sacs of fall.
Or with his one moment done, his whole mission in life fulfilled, perhaps he would rather be eaten by her now, as some males are, and know nothing beyond the moment of completion.
Last year, we had three like her, and two of another species– though none nearly this large. This year we have four huge ones. Last year, as fall came on, I went out each day to see them. One day, for no reason I could discover, they were all gone. I felt outraged. I was sure some neighborhood child had systematically killed my spiders — after I had told everyone to leave the spiders alone.
But now I don’t think a child killed them. It was just the continuing mystery of life and death. This splendid, fierce, frightening, beautiful, primitive, exquisite creature that lived two feet from our breakfast table–just on the other side of the glass–she, too, was going to vanish.
The web would vanish with her. Nothing of her would remain behind. Nothing but the scruffy, leathery lump of a little brown, hairy bag, hanging against the sheltered wall of the house.
A tough little bag of eggs.
Photo by the author
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