Friday, September 5, 2008

Exquisite Lady

This entry is not about plants. Nope. That's right. It's not about plants. It's about the lovely lady that you see pictured here.

"Lovely lady?" you ask. Yes, the lovely lady in the picture--the eight-legged one.

How do I know she's a lady? Well--no offense to the ladies--but in this particular case it is specifically because of her, uh, full-figured appearance. Now don't start getting all hot under the collar girls. She has the right to be plump. You see, she's carrying next years offspring and is living out the last few weeks of her life in absolutely divine style in the display garden at Moore & Moore West. I've been watching her for several weeks.

My fascination with the black-and-yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia), also called the "writing spider", started as a child. They used to string their amazing webs between my mother's peony bushes in the summertime--sometimes several of them within the 10-foot by 20-foot bed. Rather than being afraid of them, mom showed me how to catch small grasshoppers and flick them into the spiders' webs so that I could watch the spiders race down and bind them tightly in a silk cocoon, only to come back later and feast. So rather than being terrified of spiders as a child, I was fascinated by them--and I am to this day.

As I photographed this beautiful little lady today, she was repairing her web from a morning rainstorm. She carefully--methodically--checked each and every silken line that was still attached to the nearby plants. Any that were weak or broken she carefully detached, balled up and discarded. Then, immediately, she ran a new line from the center of the web back to the same plant and continued doing this until she had all of the "spokes" of her wheel replaced. Once that was finished she carefully worked her way from the center of the web in outward spirals, replacing the old tattered web with one that was sparkling and new.

The entire process took about 20 minutes and I sat watching, completely enthralled by a process I've watched hundreds of times, but so entranced and so excited that I couldn't move. It was a childhood moment all over again and tomorrow morning, as she rebuilds her web, I'll be watching if I can. She's growing larger everyday and she probably has only a few weeks left, at most. You see, once she spins her egg sack in a hidden, out-of-the-way place (probably the nearby juniper) and deposits the eggs that will hatch into next year's brood, she'll die. Her job for this summer will be complete and on a warm, quiet spring day next May the next generation will hatch to take their mother's place in the world.

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