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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

There was a spider in my pantry yesterday. When I opened the door he was just sitting there on the wall. Not too big, but not too small either. It wouldn’t have been my first choice for a spider’s home, so I went to get a glass to catch him and bring him outside. But by the time I returned he was gone.

It didn’t concern me. Ever since the Great Moth Infestation of 2016 I have keep all edible items in airtight containers. The spider wasn’t going to end up in my rice.

Later, I saw him on a wall in the hallway. It was a more agreeable spot for a spider so I left him to his own devices.

Finally, just before bed, I walked into the bedroom and there he was by the light switch. Same round black body, same delicate, spindly legs. At that point I figured he was following me and decided that he was my Good Luck Spider, because when you keep finding the same spider all over the place, you need a story to go with it.

Perhaps my Good Luck Spider was the reason that there were no further mishaps after the evil cabinet handle tried to dismember me.

As you know I am obsessively curious about these things, so I looked up good luck spiders. Guess what? Spiders are, in fact, symbols of good luck. Who knew!

I suppose I can thank E.B. White for my soft spot for spiders. That, and the fact that they consume some of the other ugly and annoying crawling-flying things. They tend not to want to bother you, either, which is quite nice. It is rare that a spider will purposefully crawl on you. I know this from all the billion times I have tried to catch one only to have it skitter off out of reach.

Sometimes if you’re just sitting there and in the way, they might mistake you for a fence post and attempt to build a web from your head to the wall, but that is easily remedied by blowing them off so they swing away to the next solid item in the room.

Spider-stition has it that if you walk into a spiderweb you will meet a friend that day. Can’t say I have ever noticed. Usually when that happens I’m too busy squealing and brushing frantically at my arms and face.

Did you know that spiderwebs are stronger by weight than steel? If you created a steel fiber and a strand of spider silk of the same size, spider silk would be five times stronger. It has been theorized that a spider strand the width of a pencil could stop a 747 in flight. Nobody has tested that theory.

Somebody is, however, working on turning spider silk into body armor. It is more effective than Kevlar at stopping a bullet. Other researchers are experimenting with using it to regenerate bone and nerve tissue.

To this day people of some Pacific islands go out and collect spider silk to use as fishing line.

Not bad for a spindly little thing that hangs out in pantries. No wonder they’re good luck.

One of the most interesting things is that nobody really knows how spiders spin the silk – not enough to replicate it, anyway.

And spiders aren’t known for their capitalistic tendencies, so it is not commercially viable to have them weave on command.

Nonetheless, people have been weaving with spider silk for centuries, a process that requires an outrageous number of these little buggers and many years of patience.

About a decade ago some very determined folks in the UK wove clothing from the silk of golden orb weaver spiders, which was displayed at The Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It took 80 people eight years and two million spiders collected from Madagascar to do it.

They would go out in the morning, collect these artists of nature, hook them up to little spinning machines, then let them go at night. No spiders were harmed in the making of the clothes.

The clothing was bright gold in color because that is exactly the color of the spider silk. It’s quite impressive. You know you want to look it up. I dare you.

See you next month.

Spiderwebs all by themselves are beautiful. I always stop to admire them whenever I see one outside.

Sometimes you’ll find an orb web, those classically round and brilliantly engineered spirals. Sometimes you’ll find cobwebs, which, I learned, are actually a thing and not just a fancy word for a Halloween decoration. Some spiders actually weave these messy gloms of fuzz on purpose.

Other spiders weave “sheets” that blanket the grass and collect dew that sparkles in the sunrise. Some enterprising arachnids build their own diving bells and wait underwater for their prey.

Spider silk is also waterproof.

Back in the 16th century people thought if a spider crawled on you, gold would rain down on you. Spiders aren’t the only creatures associated with good luck, but if I had to pick, I’d rather have a spider crawl on my arm than, say, a bird poop on my head.

I’m not saying I want one crawling on me, nor am I suggesting that if one did appear suddenly on my leg, I wouldn’t squeal like the girl I am and leap off the chair swatting frantically. But spiders just hanging out are pretty cool. And watching them spin webs is pretty fascinating.

If you really look at them up close, they’re kind of cute, with all those eyeballs looking rather cross-eyed. And some are surprisingly beautiful, like the peacock spider. It’s only as big as a grain of rice but looks exactly as you’d imagine it would.

Of course some spiders are poisonous but so are mushrooms, and we don’t run squealing from them. I know, I know, mushrooms are magnitudes less likely to crawl up on you and bite, but there’s a lot in the world that can kill you, so it’s not fair to single out spiders. They are, on the whole, harmless, entertaining creatures who also do me the favor of keeping the gnats out of my mouth.

In the end I did manage to catch my Good Luck Spider and bring him outside, where I hope he is eating a bucket full of stink bugs.

And it was rather good fortune that I stumbled across all of these interesting spider facts today. Seems like he did his job after all.

Photo: a spiderweb I managed to catch on a lamp post here one evening. They are notoriously hard to photograph!