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February 21, 2019

Ingenuity of spiders is truly incredible

BREATHTAKING! Spider web showing telegraph line. Photo/STEVE KINUTHIA
BREATHTAKING! Spider web showing telegraph line. Photo/STEVE KINUTHIA

Wake up one early morning when the dew is still on, and look around a place with short shrubs or tall elephant grass. If you can’t find that, and you are maybe in the countryside where food is growing in the family garden, look between the maize stalks and you will not miss the amazing engineering miracle by an arachnid – the cobweb. If you are lucky to have the morning mist and the sun at the correct angle, you might see the spectacle of numerous rainbows within the cobweb – like every drop hanging on the strands of the cobweb having a different colour of the rainbow.

Spider’s web is built primarily as a hunting ground. The web is meant to capture insects like flies, dragonflies, mosquitoes and some can even capture bigger insects like grasshoppers. It is also on record that some birds have been captured by some very strong webs. The webs are made of sticky silk strands that grab anything that comes into contact with them. But how does the spider itself avoid being trapped by its own web? That is where the miracle is extended. The whole web is not all sticky staff. Some strands are carefully constructed within the webs that are not sticky. Just like the first strong pillars that make the bridge, these non sticky strands are made like a railroad leading to the centre of the web. It is only the owner of the web who knows which strands are not sticky.

As the spider does not spend his time inside the web, he rolls a leaf and spins a silken nest inside where he will be staying. He then builds a ‘telegraph line’ from the centre of the web to the nest. When something is caught by the web, the telegraph kind of shakes the nest, and he knows dinner is served. He comes out and runs to the centre of the web, using the non sticky strands and investigates the quality and size of the dinner. If it is something small, he eats it on the spot or dashes with it to the nest. When the prey is much larger than the spider, the approach is more cautious.

Having poor eyesight, the spider may tap the struggling prey to find out what it is. If it turns out to be a formidable foe, he may need to bite the bullet and set it free by cutting out the strands holding it.

But if it is a manageable prey, the spider may need to squirt some more sticky silk from a distance to avoid direct contact. Then he approaches and quickly wraps the prey with more silk to, like mummify it. If the insect still manages to resist, a little poison may be administered. When the time comes to dine, the spider bathes the prey with digestive juices, for he has to eat his food in liquid form.

In addition to their hunting prowess, many spiders are masters of disguise-camouflage, making themselves resemble nuts, buds, or seeds. For theatrical ability, the ant-mimics outranks all other spiders. The spiders move in a zigzag motion of ants, holding their forelegs up like the antennas of the ants. Because many of the spider’s natural enemies shun some ants, the mimic perfectly protects the spiders.

For most male spiders, courtship is a perilous and complicated procedure. After mating, most female spiders kill the males. Some crafty males spin bridal veils for the ladies of their choice.

With this thin web, a female is strapped down and is unable to kill her mate. In fact, one species is known to gift-wrap an insect and presents it to a prospective mating partner. As the female eats the cake, the male quickly does his thing and makes that disappearing act. With her hunger satisfied, she has no interest in pursuing the male. It is good riddance for her.

During one mating season, some spiders lay just few eggs while some species may lay as much as 3,000 eggs. With few spiders’ eggs eaters, when even half of the eggs hatch, that is why you may find unending presence of spiders in your compound. Good news though – almost all the species of spiders are harmless to man. Those that are poisonous are reluctant to bite unless under serious threat.

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