A Newfound Respect for Spiders

I just read a fascinating article entitled “Spider silk ‘library’ could hold secrets for new materials”. It was quite an education. I had no idea how complex spider silk was.

Did you know that some spiders can produce multiple kinds of silk? Think about that for a minute. Can you push something out of your body that’s specific to one task, and then switch over to another end product that does something entirely different? I can’t. What amazingly complex creatures! And we think we’re so superior.

According to this article, “Some silk types can be stretchy, others stiff. Some dissolve in water, others repel it.”

It goes on to say that Orb-weaving spiders produce seven types of silk including one that “has a sticky glue to catch prey. Another is tough but stretchy to absorb the impact of flying insects. The spider dangles from a third type that’s as tough as steel.”

And that’s just one spider out of 48,000 species. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what spiders are capable of producing. And properly imitating those products could help us produce bulletproof vests, pesticides, space gear, biodegradable fishing lines, and fashionable dresses. (See my post on Ghost Fishing to understand how valuable those biodegradable fishing lines would be!)

Scientist Cheryl Hayashi, of the Museum of Natural History in New York, is hard at work sequencing the DNA of the infinite variety of spider glands that produce these unique types of silk. It sounds like an exacting, time consuming job, but I can see why she finds it so absorbing. I mean, here are flexible building blocks, produced by bodies, that we’ve mostly been sweeping away with dusters, or shuddering at when we’ve accidentally walked through them.

It really makes me wish, once again, that I had majored in science.

Spider Silk

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Spider! Kill It! Kill It!

The house my fiancé lives in abuts a city park of well over 100 acres. Much of it is allowed to grow wild. So we see a lot more nature than the average homeowner. Rabbits. Mice. Eagles. Hawks. Falcons. Woodpeckers. Moles. We are often serenaded by Coyotes at night.

And then there are the spiders. Fortunately, this is the Seattle area, and therefore we are not visited by the huge, poisonous, aggressive hissing spiders that I experienced in Florida. (I often chuckle when I see a Seattelite freak out over a little tiny thing the size of a pinky fingernail. I mean, seriously?)

But I have to admit, this little lady got my attention.


She was about ¾ inch in length, with really interesting markings on her back. I tend to equate interesting markings with poison. She has chosen to lay her eggs on the back fence gate, so… shudder.

But I’m lucky in that I have a friend who is my go-to person for all things spider. I sent her this picture and asked her what it was. She said not to worry. It’s a jumping spider, phidippus audax, and while they can bite, they generally don’t bother humans if the humans don’t bother them. (That’s been my experience so far. She could have jumped 10 to 50 times her body length, but instead she sat there patiently while I took this photo. I think I may have even heard a long-suffering sigh.)

So, in this instance, I’m all about live and let live. That’s extremely adult of me, because spiders freak me out. It’s hard to anthropomorphize a creature that has 8 legs and more eyes than any creature has a right to have. They’re not cuddly. But I’m going to do my best to give this little mama the benefit of the doubt.

(Incidentally, if you see a spider inside and think you’re taking the high road by catching it and putting it outside, think again. An entomologist once told me that that’s the equivalent of throwing a land mammal in the center of the ocean. Indoor spiders are meant to be indoors. But hey, at least your heart is in the right place. Surely that counts in terms of karma.)

And there is good news for all phidippus audaxes (Audices? Audi?) everywhere. There is a cartoon series on Youtube called Lucas the Spider, and it’s based on this type of spider. It’s making a lot of people look at them with fresh eyes. Lucas is a cutie. Maybe fewer of us will freak out and squash these little guys because of him. I hope so.


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Killer Instinct

I have a confession to make. I’m a killer. And I don’t feel the least bit of shame. I’ll do it again, I guarantee you. If a cockroach or a brown recluse spider stupidly breeches my line of chemical defense and enters my house, there to potentially bite me and rot my flesh or ruin my food or spread disease, that sucker is going down.

Upon first sighting, my mind goes all primal. The only thought I have is, “Kill it, kill it, kill it!” I used to then scream for my boyfriend, but the last two I’ve had have been absolutely worthless in this bloodthirsty realm, so now I just try to get above my panic and then go into heartless hunter mode until the deed is done.

And woe be unto the flea who makes the mistake of trying to feed off one of my dogs. There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing a flea’s little body snap between my finger nails. Take that, you blood sucker!

I don’t get people like my boyfriend who find it morally wrong to kill cockroaches. I think nature trumps morality every single time. If you encountered a hungry mountain lion in the wild, do you think he’d feel the least bit guilty about feasting upon your entrails? Most assuredly not. And then the vultures would come and nibble on the less desirable bits, and the worms would devour what’s left.

Rats will even eat their own, leaving hantavirus in their wake, so I have no problem with deadly rat traps. I also don’t mind those who humanely trap and relocate higher mammals, even though many of them spread disease, too. This is partly because I know deep down that this territory I inhabit used to be theirs, and partly because I know if I were locked in mortal combat with a raccoon, I’d most likely lose.

I’m not all bad, though. I have been known to pull my car over on the side of the road to let a lizard hop off my windshield, and I’ve helped more than one turtle cross a highway. I’ll put out birdseed in the winter, and I get heartily annoyed with people who let their cats outside, thus depleting the songbird population. I also let ladybugs fly away home.

And I think people who abuse animals should be locked away forever, in conditions identical to the ones they imposed upon their innocent victims.

So where is the line that I draw? If you will intentionally kill me or make me sick, then you are fair game. I’ll kill you every day of the week and twice on Sunday. If, on the other hand, you are simply trying to live your furry or scaly or slithery little life, and we’ve crossed paths merely by chance, I’ll do my best to help you on your way.

So yes, I’ll kill, and feel no remorse. I think those who refuse to do so would be much better served feeling guilty about doing the things that animals do not do themselves, such as polluting or embezzling or pedophilia.



Who Was the First Person to Think Lobster Would be Good to Eat?

Don’t get me wrong. I love lobster. I’d slap my mama for some lobster right now. But I’m trying to imagine the first lobster/human encounter. Here’s this ugly, spider-like thing with these big claws. How crazy would you have to be to say, “Let’s eat this bug-like creature!” I have similar thoughts about clams and oysters, artichoke, liver, haggis, peppers, and anything that requires fermentation.

I’d also like to meet the first guy who thought rappelling off a cliff was a good idea. Actually, anything that involves rope is kind of a sketchy proposition. Tightrope walking, window washing, rock climbing…someone had to be the first person to do all these things.

And imagine this conversation: “Mr. Smith, your heart is kaput. But I have this idea that I’ve been dying to try. Let’s replace it with the heart of a pig and see what happens.” And there is actually still a trepanation advocacy group, because lord knows we’d all be better off with holes drilled in our heads. And I’m convinced that mammograms had to have been invented by men. And what kind of a sick individual came up with electroshock therapy?

How would you like to have been the first person to get a tattoo or a piercing? And that Chinese foot binding thing? Please!

Humans. You gotta love ‘em.