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The Life of the Spider by J. Henri Fabre - translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos

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This etext was prepared by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk
from the 1912 Hodder and Stoughton edition.



The Spider has a bad name: to most of us, she represents an
odious, noxious animal, which every one hastens to crush under
foot. Against this summary verdict the observer sets the beast's
industry, its talent as a weaver, its wiliness in the chase, its
tragic nuptials and other characteristics of great interest. Yes,
the Spider is well worth studying, apart from any scientific
reasons; but she is said to be poisonous and that is her crime and
the primary cause of the repugnance wherewith she inspires us.
Poisonous, I agree, if by that we understand that the animal is
armed with two fangs which cause the immediate death of the little
victims which it catches; but there is a wide difference between
killing a Midge and harming a man. However immediate in its
effects upon the insect entangled in the fatal web, the Spider's
poison is not serious for us and causes less inconvenience than a
Gnat-bite. That, at least, is what we can safely say as regards
the great majority of the Spiders of our regions.

Nevertheless, a few are to be feared; and foremost among these is
the Malmignatte, the terror of the Corsican peasantry. I have seen
her settle in the furrows, lay out her web and rush boldly at
insects larger than herself; I have admired her garb of black
velvet speckled with carmine-red; above all, I have heard most
disquieting stories told about her. Around Ajaccio and Bonifacio,
her bite is reputed very dangerous, sometimes mortal. The
countryman declares this for a fact and the doctor does not always
dare deny it. In the neighbourhood of Pujaud, not far from
Avignon, the harvesters speak with dread of Theridion lugubre, {1}
first observed by Leon Dufour in the Catalonian mountains;
according to them, her bite would lead to serious accidents. The
Italians have bestowed a bad reputation on the Tarantula, who
produces convulsions and frenzied dances in the person stung by
her. To cope with 'tarantism,' the name given to the disease that
follows on the bite of the Italian Spider, you must have recourse
to music, the only efficacious remedy, so they tell us. Special
tunes have been noted, those quickest to afford relief. There is
medical choreography, medical music. And have we not the
tarentella, a lively and nimble dance, bequeathed to us perhaps by
the healing art of the Calabrian peasant?

Must we take these queer things seriously or laugh at them? From
the little that I have seen, I hesitate to pronounce an opinion.
Nothing tells us that the bite of the Tarantula may not provoke, in
weak and very impressionable people, a nervous disorder which music
will relieve; nothing tells us that a profuse perspiration,
resulting from a very energetic dance, is not likely to diminish
the discomfort by diminishing the cause of the ailment. So far
from laughing, I reflect and enquire, when the Calabrian peasant
talks to me of his Tarantula, the Pujaud reaper of his Theridion
lugubre, the Corsican husbandman of his Malmignatte. Those Spiders
might easily deserve, at least partly, their terrible reputation.

The most powerful Spider in my district, the Black-bellied
Tarantula, will presently give us something to think about, in this
connection. It is not my business to discuss a medical point, I
interest myself especially in matters of instinct; but, as the
poison-fangs play a leading part in the huntress' manoeuvres of
war, I shall speak of their effects by the way. The habits of the
Tarantula, her ambushes, her artifices, her methods of killing her
prey: these constitute my subject. I will preface it with an
account by Leon Dufour, {2} one of those accounts in which I used
to delight and which did much to bring me into closer touch with
the insect. The Wizard of the Landes tells us of the ordinary
Tarantula, that of the Calabrias, observed by him in Spain:

'Lycosa tarantula by preference inhabits open places, dry, arid,
uncultivated places, exposed to the sun. She lives generally--at
least when full-grown--in underground passages, regular burrows,
which she digs for herself. These burrows are cylindrical; they
are often an inch in diameter and run into the ground to a depth of
more than a foot; but they are not perpendicular. The inhabitant
of this gut proves that she is at the same time a skilful hunter
and an able engineer. It was a question for her not only of
constructing a deep retreat that could hide her from the pursuit of
her foes: she also had to set up her observatory whence to watch
for her prey and dart out upon it. The Tarantula provides for
every contingency: the underground passage, in fact, begins by
being vertical, but, at four or five inches from the surface, it
bends at an obtuse angle, forms a horizontal turning and then
becomes perpendicular once more. It is at the elbow of this tunnel
that the Tarantula posts herself as a vigilant sentry and does not
for a moment lose sight of the door of her dwelling; it was there
that, at the period when I was hunting her, I used to see those
eyes gleaming like diamonds, bright as a cat's eyes in the dark.

'The outer orifice of the Tarantula's burrow is usually surmounted
by a shaft constructed throughout by herself. It is a genuine work
of architecture, standing as much as an inch above the ground and
sometimes two inches in diameter, so that it is wider than the
burrow itself. This last circumstance, which seems to have been
calculated by the industrious Spider, lends itself admirably to the
necessary extension of the legs at the moment when the prey is to
be seized. The shaft is composed mainly of bits of dry wood joined
by a little clay and so artistically laid, one above the other,
that they form the scaffolding of a straight column, the inside of
which is a hollow cylinder. The solidity of this tubular building,
of this outwork, is ensured above all by the fact that it is lined,
upholstered within, with a texture woven by the Lycosa's {3}
spinnerets and continued throughout the interior of the burrow. It
is easy to imagine how useful this cleverly-manufactured lining
must be for preventing landslip or warping, for maintaining
cleanliness and for helping her claws to scale the fortress.

'I hinted that this outwork of the burrow was not there invariably;
as a matter of fact, I have often come across Tarantulas' holes
without a trace of it, perhaps because it had been accidentally
destroyed by the weather, or because the Lycosa may not always
light upon the proper building-materials, or, lastly, because
architectural talent is possibly declared only in individuals that
have reached the final stage, the period of perfection of their
physical and intellectual development.

'One thing is certain, that I have had numerous opportunities of
seeing these shafts, these out-works of the Tarantula's abode; they
remind me, on a larger scale, of the tubes of certain Caddis-worms.
The Arachnid had more than one object in view in constructing them:
she shelters her retreat from the floods; she protects it from the
fall of foreign bodies which, swept by the wind, might end by
obstructing it; lastly, she uses it as a snare by offering the
Flies and other insects whereon she feeds a projecting point to
settle on. Who shall tell us all the wiles employed by this clever
and daring huntress?

'Let us now say something about my rather diverting Tarantula-
hunts. The best season for them is the months of May and June.
The first time that I lighted on this Spider's burrows and
discovered that they were inhabited by seeing her come to a point
on the first floor of her dwelling--the elbow which I have
mentioned--I thought that I must attack her by main force and
pursue her relentlessly in order to capture her; I spent whole
hours in opening up the trench with a knife a foot long by two
inches wide, without meeting the Tarantula. I renewed the
operation in other burrows, always with the same want of success; I
really wanted a pickaxe to achieve my object, but I was too far
from any kind of house. I was obliged to change my plan of attack
and I resorted to craft. Necessity, they say, is the mother of

'It occurred to me to take a stalk, topped with its spikelet, by
way of a bait, and to rub and move it gently at the orifice of the
burrow. I soon saw that the Lycosa's attention and desires were
roused. Attracted by the bait, she came with measured steps
towards the spikelet. I withdrew it in good time a little outside
the hole, so as not to leave the animal time for reflexion; and the
Spider suddenly, with a rush, darted out of her dwelling, of which
I hastened to close the entrance. The Tarantula, bewildered by her
unaccustomed liberty, was very awkward in evading my attempts at
capture; and I compelled her to enter a paper bag, which I closed
without delay.

'Sometimes, suspecting the trap, or perhaps less pressed by hunger,
she would remain coy and motionless, at a slight distance from the
threshold, which she did not think it opportune to cross. Her
patience outlasted mine. In that case, I employed the following
tactics: after making sure of the Lycosa's position and the
direction of the tunnel, I drove a knife into it on the slant, so
as to take the animal in the rear and cut off its retreat by
stopping up the burrow. I seldom failed in my attempt, especially
in soil that was not stony. In these critical circumstances,
either the Tarantula took fright and deserted her lair for the
open, or else she stubbornly remained with her back to the blade.
I would then give a sudden jerk to the knife, which flung both the
earth and the Lycosa to a distance, enabling me to capture her. By
employing this hunting-method, I sometimes caught as many as
fifteen Tarantulae within the space of an hour.

'In a few cases, in which the Tarantula was under no
misapprehension as to the trap which I was setting for her, I was
not a little surprised, when I pushed the stalk far enough down to
twist it round her hiding-place, to see her play with the spikelet
more or less contemptuously and push it away with her legs, without
troubling to retreat to the back of her lair.

'The Apulian peasants, according to Baglivi's {4} account, also
hunt the Tarantula by imitating the humming of an insect with an
oat-stalk at the entrance to her burrow. I quote the passage:

'"Ruricolae nostri quando eas captare volunt, ad illorum latibula
accedunt, tenuisque avenacae fistulae sonum, apum murmuri non
absimilem, modulantur. Quo audito, ferox exit Tarentula ut muscas
vel alia hujus modi insecta, quorum murmur esse putat, captat;
captatur tamen ista a rustico insidiatore." {5}

"The Tarantula, so dreadful at first sight, especially when we are
filled with the idea that her bite is dangerous, so fierce in
appearance, is nevertheless quite easy to tame, as I have often
found by experiment.

'On the 7th of May 1812, while at Valencia, in Spain, I caught a
fair-sized male Tarantula, without hurting him, and imprisoned him
in a glass jar, with a paper cover in which I cut a trap-door. At
the bottom of the jar I put a paper bag, to serve as his habitual
residence. I placed the jar on a table in my bedroom, so as to
have him under frequent observation. He soon grew accustomed to
captivity and ended by becoming so familiar that he would come and
take from my fingers the live Fly which I gave him. After killing
his victim with the fangs of his mandibles, he was not satisfied,
like most Spiders, to suck her head: he chewed her whole body,
shoving it piecemeal into his mouth with his palpi, after which he
threw up the masticated teguments and swept them away from his

'Having finished his meal, he nearly always made his toilet, which
consisted in brushing his palpi and mandibles, both inside and out,
with his front tarsi. After that, he resumed his air of motionless
gravity. The evening and the night were his time for taking his
walks abroad. I often heard him scratching the paper of the bag.
These habits confirm the opinion, which I have already expressed
elsewhere, that most Spiders have the faculty of seeing by day and
night, like cats.

'On the 28th of June, my Tarantula cast his skin. It was his last
moult and did not perceptibly alter either the colour of his attire
or the dimensions of his body. On the 14th of July, I had to leave
Valencia; and I stayed away until the 23rd. During this time, the
Tarantula fasted; I found him looking quite well on my return. On
the 20th of August, I again left for a nine days' absence, which my
prisoner bore without food and without detriment to his health. On
the 1st of October, I once more deserted the Tarantula, leaving him
without provisions. On the 21st, I was fifty miles from Valencia
and, as I intended to remain there, I sent a servant to fetch him.
I was sorry to learn that he was not found in the jar, and I never
heard what became of him.

'I will end my observations on the Tarantulae with a short
description of a curious fight between those animals. One day,
when I had had a successful hunt after these Lycosae, I picked out
two full-grown and very powerful males and brought them together in
a wide jar, in order to enjoy the sight of a combat to the death.
After walking round the arena several times, to try and avoid each
other, they were not slow in placing themselves in a warlike
attitude, as though at a given signal. I saw them, to my surprise,
take their distances and sit up solemnly on their hind-legs, so as
mutually to present the shield of their chests to each other.
After watching them face to face like that for two minutes, during
which they had doubtless provoked each other by glances that
escaped my own, I saw them fling themselves upon each other at the
same time, twisting their legs round each other and obstinately
struggling to bite each other with the fangs of the mandibles.
Whether from fatigue or from convention, the combat was suspended;
there was a few seconds' truce; and each athlete moved away and
resumed his threatening posture. This circumstance reminded me
that, in the strange fights between cats, there are also
suspensions of hostilities. But the contest was soon renewed
between my two Tarantulae with increased fierceness. One of them,
after holding victory in the balance for a while, was at last
thrown and received a mortal wound in the head. He became the prey
of the conqueror, who tore open his skull and devoured it. After
this curious duel, I kept the victorious Tarantula alive for
several weeks.'

My district does not boast the ordinary Tarantula, the Spider whose
habits have been described above by the Wizard of the Landes; but
it possesses an equivalent in the shape of the Black-bellied
Tarantula, or Narbonne Lycosa, half the size of the other, clad in
black velvet on the lower surface, especially under the belly, with
brown chevrons on the abdomen and grey and white rings around the
legs. Her favourite home is the dry, pebbly ground, covered with
sun-scorched thyme. In my harmas {6} laboratory there are quite
twenty of this Spider's burrows. Rarely do I pass by one of these
haunts without giving a glance down the pit where gleam, like
diamonds, the four great eyes, the four telescopes, of the hermit.
The four others, which are much smaller, are not visible at that

Would I have greater riches, I have but to walk a hundred yards
from my house, on the neighbouring plateau, once a shady forest,
today a dreary solitude where the Cricket browses and the Wheat-ear
flits from stone to stone. The love of lucre has laid waste the
land. Because wine paid handsomely, they pulled up the forest to
plant the vine. Then came the Phylloxera, the vine-stocks perished
and the once green table-land is now no more than a desolate
stretch where a few tufts of hardy grasses sprout among the
pebbles. This wasteland is the Lycosa's paradise: in an hour's
time, if need were, I should discover a hundred burrows within a
limited range.

These dwellings are pits about a foot deep, perpendicular at first
and then bent elbow-wise. The average diameter is an inch. On the
edge of the hole stands a kerb, formed of straw, bits and scraps of
all sorts and even small pebbles, the size of a hazel-nut. The
whole is kept in place and cemented with silk. Often, the Spider
confines herself to drawing together the dry blades of the nearest
grass, which she ties down with the straps from her spinnerets,
without removing the blades from the stems; often, also, she
rejects this scaffolding in favour of a masonry constructed of
small stones. The nature of the kerb is decided by the nature of
the materials within the Lycosa's reach, in the close neighbourhood
of the building-yard. There is no selection: everything meets
with approval, provided that it be near at hand.

Economy of time, therefore, causes the defensive wall to vary
greatly as regards its constituent elements. The height varies
also. One enclosure is a turret an inch high; another amounts to a
mere rim. All have their parts bound firmly together with silk;
and all have the same width as the subterranean channel, of which
they are the extension. There is here no difference in diameter
between the underground manor and its outwork, nor do we behold, at
the opening, the platform which the turret leaves to give free play
to the Italian Tarantula's legs. The Black-bellied Tarantula's
work takes the form of a well surmounted by its kerb.

When the soil is earthy and homogeneous, the architectural type is
free from obstructions and the Spider's dwelling is a cylindrical
tube; but, when the site is pebbly, the shape is modified according
to the exigencies of the digging. In the second case, the lair is
often a rough, winding cave, at intervals along whose inner wall
stick blocks of stone avoided in the process of excavation.
Whether regular or irregular, the house is plastered to a certain
depth with a coat of silk, which prevents earth-slips and
facilitates scaling when a prompt exit is required.

Baglivi, in his unsophisticated Latin, teaches us how to catch the
Tarantula. I became his rusticus insidiator; I waved a spikelet
at the entrance of the burrow to imitate the humming of a Bee and
attract the attention of the Lycosa, who rushes out, thinking that
she is capturing a prey. This method did not succeed with me. The
Spider, it is true, leaves her remote apartments and comes a little
way up the vertical tube to enquire into the sounds at her door;
but the wily animal soon scents a trap; it remains motionless at
mid-height and, at the least alarm, goes down again to the branch
gallery, where it is invisible.

Leon Dufour's appears to me a better method if it were only
practicable in the conditions wherein I find myself. To drive a
knife quickly into the ground, across the burrow, so as to cut off
the Tarantula's retreat when she is attracted by the spikelet and
standing on the upper floor, would be a manoeuvre certain of
success, if the soil were favourable. Unfortunately, this is not
so in my case: you might as well try to dig a knife into a block
of tufa.

Other stratagems become necessary. Here are two which were
successful: I recommend them to future Tarantula-hunters. I
insert into the burrow, as far down as I can, a stalk with a fleshy
spikelet, which the Spider can bite into. I move and turn and
twist my bait. The Tarantula, when touched by the intruding body,
contemplates self-defence and bites the spikelet. A slight
resistance informs my fingers that the animal has fallen into the
trap and seized the tip of the stalk in its fangs. I draw it to
me, slowly, carefully; the Spider hauls from below, planting her
legs against the wall. It comes, it rises. I hide as best I may,
when the Spider enters the perpendicular tunnel: if she saw me,
she would let go the bait and slip down again. I thus bring her,
by degrees, to the orifice. This is the difficult moment. If I
continue the gentle movement, the Spider, feeling herself dragged
out of her home, would at once run back indoors. It is impossible
to get the suspicious animal out by this means. Therefore, when it
appears at the level of the ground, I give a sudden pull.
Surprised by this foul play, the Tarantula has no time to release
her hold; gripping the spikelet, she is thrown some inches away
from the burrow. Her capture now becomes an easy matter. Outside
her own house, the Lycosa is timid, as though scared, and hardly
capable of running away. To push her with a straw into a paper bag
is the affair of a second.

It requires some patience to bring the Tarantula who has bitten
into the insidious spikelet to the entrance of the burrow. The
following method is quicker: I procure a supply of live Bumble-
bees. I put one into a little bottle with a mouth just wide enough
to cover the opening of the burrow; and I turn the apparatus thus
baited over the said opening. The powerful Bee at first flutters
and hums about her glass prison; then, perceiving a burrow similar
to that of her family, she enters it without much hesitation. She
is extremely ill-advised: while she goes down, the Spider comes
up; and the meeting takes place in the perpendicular passage. For
a few moments, the ear perceives a sort of death-song: it is the
humming of the Bumble-bee, protesting against the reception given
her. This is followed by a long silence. Then I remove the bottle
and dip a long-jawed forceps into the pit. I withdraw the Bumble-
bee, motionless, dead, with hanging proboscis. A terrible tragedy
must have happened. The Spider follows, refusing to let go so rich
a booty. Game and huntress are brought to the orifice. Sometimes,
mistrustful, the Lycosa goes in again; but we have only to leave
the Bumble-bee on the threshold of the door, or even a few inches
away, to see her reappear, issue from her fortress and daringly
recapture her prey. This is the moment: the house is closed with
the finger, or a pebble and, as Baglivi says, 'captatur tamen ista
a rustico insidiatore,' to which I will add, 'adjuvante Bombo.' {7}

The object of these hunting methods was not exactly to obtain
Tarantulae; I had not the least wish to rear the Spider in a
bottle. I was interested in a different matter. Here, thought I,
is an ardent huntress, living solely by her trade. She does not
prepare preserved foodstuffs for her offspring; {8} she herself
feeds on the prey which she catches. She is not a 'paralyzer,' {9}
who cleverly spares her quarry so as to leave it a glimmer of life
and keep it fresh for weeks at a time; she is a killer, who makes a
meal off her capture on the spot. With her, there is no methodical
vivisection, which destroys movement without entirely destroying
life, but absolute death, as sudden as possible, which protects the
assailant from the counter-attacks of the assailed.

Her game, moreover, is essentially bulky and not always of the most
peaceful character. This Diana, ambushed in her tower, needs a
prey worthy of her prowess. The big Grass-hopper, with the
powerful jaws; the irascible Wasp; the Bee, the Bumble-bee and
other wearers of poisoned daggers must fall into the ambuscade from
time to time. The duel is nearly equal in point of weapons. To
the venomous fangs of the Lycosa the Wasp opposes her venomous
stiletto. Which of the two bandits shall have the best of it? The
struggle is a hand-to-hand one. The Tarantula has no secondary
means of defence, no cord to bind her victim, no trap to subdue
her. When the Epeira, or Garden Spider, sees an insect entangled
in her great upright web, she hastens up and covers the captive
with corded meshes and silk ribbons by the armful, making all
resistance impossible. When the prey is solidly bound, a prick is
carefully administered with the poison-fangs; then the Spider
retires, waiting for the death-throes to calm down, after which the
huntress comes back to the game. In these conditions, there is no
serious danger.

In the case of the Lycosa, the job is riskier. She has naught to
serve her but her courage and her fangs and is obliged to leap upon
the formidable prey, to master it by her dexterity, to annihilate
it, in a measure, by her swift-slaying talent.

Annihilate is the word: the Bumble-bees whom I draw from the fatal
hole are a sufficient proof. As soon as that shrill buzzing, which
I called the death-song, ceases, in vain I hasten to insert my
forceps: I always bring out the insect dead, with slack proboscis
and limp legs. Scarce a few quivers of those legs tell me that it
is a quite recent corpse. The Bumble-bee's death is instantaneous.
Each time that I take a fresh victim from the terrible slaughter-
house, my surprise is renewed at the sight of its sudden

Nevertheless, both animals have very nearly the same strength; for
I choose my Bumble-bees from among the largest (Bombus hortorum and
B. terrestris). Their weapons are almost equal: the Bee's dart
can bear comparison with the Spider's fangs; the sting of the first
seems to me as formidable as the bite of the second. How comes it
that the Tarantula always has the upper hand and this moreover in a
very short conflict, whence she emerges unscathed? There must
certainly be some cunning strategy on her part. Subtle though her
poison may be, I cannot believe that its mere injection, at any
point whatever of the victim, is enough to produce so prompt a
catastrophe. The ill-famed rattle-snake does not kill so quickly,
takes hours to achieve that for which the Tarantula does not
require a second. We must, therefore, look for an explanation of
this sudden death to the vital importance of the point attacked by
the Spider, rather than to the virulence of the poison.

What is this point? It is impossible to recognize it on the
Bumble-bees. They enter the burrow; and the murder is committed
far from sight. Nor does the lens discover any wound upon the
corpse, so delicate are the weapons that produce it. One would
have to see the two adversaries engage in a direct contest. I have
often tried to place a Tarantula and a Bumble-bee face to face in
the same bottle. The two animals mutually flee each other, each
being as much upset as the other at its captivity. I have kept
them together for twenty-four hours, without aggressive display on
either side. Thinking more of their prison than of attacking each
other, they temporize, as though indifferent. The experiment has
always been fruitless. I have succeeded with Bees and Wasps, but
the murder has been committed at night and has taught me nothing.
I would find both insects, next morning, reduced to a jelly under
the Spider's mandibles. A weak prey is a mouthful which the Spider
reserves for the calm of the night. A prey capable of resistance
is not attacked in captivity. The prisoner's anxiety cools the
hunter's ardour.

The arena of a large bottle enables each athlete to keep out of the
other's way, respected by her adversary, who is respected in her
turn. Let us reduce the lists, diminish the enclosure. I put
Bumble-bee and Tarantula into a test-tube that has only room for
one at the bottom. A lively brawl ensues, without serious results.
If the Bumble-bee be underneath, she lies down on her back and with
her legs wards off the other as much as she can. I do not see her
draw her sting. The Spider, meanwhile, embracing the whole
circumference of the enclosure with her long legs, hoists herself a
little upon the slippery surface and removes herself as far as
possible from her adversary. There, motionless, she awaits events,
which are soon disturbed by the fussy Bumble-bee. Should the
latter occupy the upper position, the Tarantula protects herself by
drawing up her legs, which keep the enemy at a distance. In short,
save for sharp scuffles when the two champions are in touch,
nothing happens that deserves attention. There is no duel to the
death in the narrow arena of the test-tube, any more than in the
wider lists afforded by the bottle. Utterly timid once she is away
from home, the Spider obstinately refuses the battle; nor will the
Bumble-bee, giddy though she be, think of striking the first blow.
I abandon experiments in my study.

We must go direct to the spot and force the duel upon the
Tarantula, who is full of pluck in her own stronghold. Only,
instead of the Bumble-bee, who enters the burrow and conceals her
death from our eyes, it is necessary to substitute another
adversary, less inclined to penetrate underground. There abounds
in the garden, at this moment, on the flowers of the common clary,
one of the largest and most powerful Bees that haunt my district,
the Carpenter-bee (Xylocopa violacea), clad in black velvet, with
wings of purple gauze. Her size, which is nearly an inch, exceeds
that of the Bumble-bee. Her sting is excruciating and produces a
swelling that long continues painful. I have very exact memories
on this subject, memories that have cost me dear. Here indeed is
an antagonist worthy of the Tarantula, if I succeed in inducing the
Spider to accept her. I place a certain number, one by one, in
bottles small in capacity, but having a wide neck capable of
surrounding the entrance to the burrow.

As the prey which I am about to offer is capable of overawing the
huntress, I select from among the Tarantulae the lustiest, the
boldest, those most stimulated by hunger. The spikeleted stalk is
pushed into the burrow. When the Spider hastens up at once, when
she is of a good size, when she climbs boldly to the aperture of
her dwelling, she is admitted to the tourney; otherwise, she is
refused. The bottle, baited with a Carpenter-bee, is placed upside
down over the door of one of the elect. The Bee buzzes gravely in
her glass bell; the huntress mounts from the recesses of the cave;
she is on the threshold, but inside; she looks; she waits. I also
wait. The quarters, the half-hours pass: nothing. The Spider
goes down again: she has probably judged the attempt too
dangerous. I move to a second, a third, a fourth burrow: still
nothing; the huntress refuses to leave her lair.

Fortune at last smiles upon my patience, which has been heavily
tried by all these prudent retreats and particularly by the fierce
heat of the dog-days. A Spider suddenly rushes from her hole: she
has been rendered warlike, doubtless, by prolonged abstinence. The
tragedy that happens under the cover of the bottle lasts for but
the twinkling of an eye. It is over: the sturdy Carpenter-bee is
dead. Where did the murderess strike her? That is easily
ascertained: the Tarantula has not let go; and her fangs are
planted in the nape of the neck. The assassin has the knowledge
which I suspected: she has made for the essentially vital centre,
she has stung the insect's cervical ganglia with her poison-fangs.
In short, she has bitten the only point a lesion in which produces
sudden death. I was delighted with this murderous skill, which
made amends for the blistering which my skin received in the sun.

Once is not custom: one swallow does not make a summer. Is what I
have just seen due to accident or to premeditation? I turn to
other Lycosae. Many, a deal too many for my patience, stubbornly
refuse to dart from their haunts in order to attack the Carpenter-
bee. The formidable quarry is too much for their daring. Shall
not hunger, which brings the wolf from the wood, also bring the
Tarantula out of her hole? Two, apparently more famished than the
rest, do at last pounce upon the Bee and repeat the scene of murder
before my eyes. The prey, again bitten in the neck, exclusively in
the neck, dies on the instant. Three murders, perpetrated in my
presence under identical conditions, represent the fruits of my
experiment pursued, on two occasions, from eight o'clock in the
morning until twelve midday.

I had seen enough. The quick insect-killer had taught me her trade
as had the paralyzer {10} before her: she had shown me that she is
thoroughly versed in the art of the butcher of the Pampas. {11}
The Tarantula is an accomplished desnucador. It remained to me to
confirm the open-air experiment with experiments in the privacy of
my study. I therefore got together a menagerie of these poisonous
Spiders, so as to judge of the virulence of their venom and its
effect according to the part of the body injured by the fangs. A
dozen bottles and test-tubes received the prisoners, whom I
captured by the methods known to the reader. To one inclined to
scream at the sight of a Spider, my study, filled with odious
Lycosae, would have presented a very uncanny appearance.

Though the Tarantula scorns or rather fears to attack an adversary
placed in her presence in a bottle, she scarcely hesitates to bite
what is thrust beneath her fangs. I take her by the thorax with my
forceps and present to her mouth the animal which I wish stung.
Forthwith, if the Spider be not already tired by experiments, the
fangs are raised and inserted. I first tried the effects of the
bite upon the Carpenter-bee. When struck in the neck, the Bee
succumbs at once. It was the lightning death which I witnessed on
the threshold of the burrows. When struck in the abdomen and then
placed in a large bottle that leaves its movements free, the insect
seems, at first, to have suffered no serious injury. It flutters
about and buzzes. But half an hour has not elapsed before death is
imminent. The insect lies motionless upon its back or side. At
most, a few movements of the legs, a slight pulsation of the belly,
continuing till the morrow, proclaim that life has not yet entirely
departed. Then everything ceases: the Carpenter-bee is a corpse.

The importance of this experiment compels our attention. When
stung in the neck, the powerful Bee dies on the spot; and the
Spider has not to fear the dangers of a desperate struggle. Stung
elsewhere, in the abdomen, the insect is capable, for nearly half
an hour, of making use of its dart, its mandibles, its legs; and
woe to the Lycosa whom the stiletto reaches. I have seen some who,
stabbed in the mouth while biting close to the sting, died of the
wound within the twenty-four hours. That dangerous prey,
therefore, requires instantaneous death, produced by the injury to
the nerve-centres of the neck; otherwise, the hunter's life would
often be in jeopardy.

The Grasshopper order supplied me with a second series of victims:
Green Grasshoppers as long as one's finger, large-headed Locusts,
Ephippigerae. {12} The same result follows when these are bitten
in the neck: lightning death. When injured elsewhere, notably in
the abdomen, the subject of the experiment resists for some time.
I have seen a Grasshopper, bitten in the belly, cling firmly for
fifteen hours to the smooth, upright wall of the glass bell that
constituted his prison. At last, he dropped off and died. Where
the Bee, that delicate organism, succumbs in less than half an
hour, the Grasshopper, coarse ruminant that he is, resists for a
whole day. Put aside these differences, caused by unequal degrees
of organic sensitiveness, and we sum up as follows: when bitten by
the Tarantula in the neck, an insect, chosen from among the
largest, dies on the spot; when bitten elsewhere, it perishes also,
but after a lapse of time which varies considerably in the
different entomological orders.

This explains the long hesitation of the Tarantula, so wearisome to
the experimenter when he presents to her, at the entrance to the
burrow, a rich, but dangerous prey. The majority refuse to fling
themselves upon the Carpenter-bee. The fact is that a quarry of
this kind cannot be seized recklessly: the huntress who missed her
stroke by biting at random would do so at the risk of her life.
The nape of the neck alone possesses the desired vulnerability.
The adversary must be nipped there and no elsewhere. Not to floor
her at once would mean to irritate her and make her more dangerous
than ever. The Spider is well aware of this. In the safe shelter
of her threshold, therefore, prepared to beat a quick retreat if
necessary, she watches for the favourable moment; she waits for the
big Bee to face her, when the neck is easily grabbed. If this
condition of success offer, she leaps out and acts; if not, weary
of the violent evolutions of the quarry, she retires indoors. And
that, no doubt, is why it took me two sittings of four hours apiece
to witness three assassinations.

Formerly, instructed by the paralysing Wasps, I had myself tried to
produce paralysis by injecting a drop of ammonia into the thorax of
those insects, such as Weevils, Buprestes, {13} and Dung-beetles,
whose compact nervous system assists this physiological operation.
I showed myself a ready pupil to my masters' teaching and used to
paralyze a Buprestis or a Weevil almost as well as a Cerceris {14}
could have done. Why should I not to-day imitate that expert
butcher, the Tarantula? With the point of a fine needle, I inject
a tiny drop of ammonia at the base of the skull of a Carpenter-bee
or a Grasshopper. The insect succumbs then and there, without any
other movement than wild convulsions. When attacked by the acrid
fluid, the cervical ganglia cease to do their work; and death
ensues. Nevertheless, this death is not immediate; the throes last
for some time. The experiment is not wholly satisfactory as
regards suddenness. Why? Because the liquid which I employ,
ammonia, cannot be compared, for deadly efficacy, with the Lycosa's
poison, a pretty formidable poison, as we shall see.

I make a Tarantula bite the leg of a young, well-fledged Sparrow,
ready to leave the nest. A drop of blood flows; the wounded spot
is surrounded by a reddish circle, changing to purple. The bird
almost immediately loses the use of its leg, which drags, with the
toes doubled in; it hops upon the other. Apart from this, the
patient does not seem to trouble much about his hurt; his appetite
is good. My daughters feed him on Flies, bread-crumb, apricot-
pulp. He is sure to get well, he will recover his strength; the
poor victim of the curiosity of science will be restored to
liberty. This is the wish, the intention of us all. Twelve hours
later, the hope of a cure increases; the invalid takes nourishment
readily; he clamours for it, if we keep him waiting. But the leg
still drags. I set this down to a temporary paralysis which will
soon disappear. Two days after, he refuses his food. Wrapping
himself in his stoicism and his rumpled feathers, the Sparrow
hunches into a ball, now motionless, now twitching. My girls take
him in the hollow of their hands and warm him with their breath.
The spasms become more frequent. A gasp proclaims that all is
over. The bird is dead.

There was a certain coolness among us at the evening-meal. I read
mute reproaches, because of my experiment, in the eyes of my home-
circle; I read an unspoken accusation of cruelty all around me.
The death of the unfortunate Sparrow had saddened the whole family.
I myself was not without some remorse of conscience: the poor
result achieved seemed to me too dearly bought. I am not made of
the stuff of those who, without turning a hair, rip up live Dogs to
find out nothing in particular.

Nevertheless, I had the courage to start afresh, this time on a
Mole caught ravaging a bed of lettuces. There was a danger lest my
captive, with his famished stomach, should leave things in doubt,
if we had to keep him for a few days. He might die not of his
wound, but of inanition, if I did not succeed in giving him
suitable food, fairly plentiful and dispensed at fairly frequent
intervals. In that case, I ran a risk of ascribing to the poison
what might well be the result of starvation. I must therefore
begin by finding out if it was possible for me to keep the Mole
alive in captivity. The animal was put into a large receptacle
from which it could not get out and fed on a varied diet of
insects--Beetles, Grasshoppers, especially Cicadae {15}--which it
crunched up with an excellent appetite. Twenty-four hours of this
regimen convinced me that the Mole was making the best of the bill
of fare and taking kindly to his captivity.

I make the Tarantula bite him at the tip of the snout. When
replaced in his cage, the Mole keeps on scratching his nose with
his broad paws. The thing seems to burn, to itch. Henceforth,
less and less of the provision of Cicadae is consumed; on the
evening of the following day, it is refused altogether. About
thirty-six hours after being bitten, the Mole dies during the night
and certainly not from inanition, for there are still half a dozen
live Cicadae in the receptacle, as well as a few Beetles.

The bite of the Black-bellied Tarantula is therefore dangerous to
other animals than insects: it is fatal to the Sparrow, it is
fatal to the Mole. Up to what point are we to generalize? I do
not know, because my enquiries extended no further. Nevertheless,
judging from the little that I saw, it appears to me that the bite
of this Spider is not an accident which man can afford to treat
lightly. This is all that I have to say to the doctors.

To the philosophical entomologists I have something else to say: I
have to call their attention to the consummate knowledge of the
insect-killers, which vies with that of the paralyzers. I speak of
insect-killers in the plural, for the Tarantula must share her
deadly art with a host of other Spiders, especially with those who
hunt without nets. These insect-killers, who live on their prey,
strike the game dead instantaneously by stinging the nerve-centres
of the neck; the paralyzers, on the other hand, who wish to keep
the food fresh for their larvae, destroy the power of movement by
stinging the game in the other nerve-centres. Both of them attack
the nervous chain, but they select the point according to the
object to be attained. If death be desired, sudden death, free
from danger to the huntress, the insect is attacked in the neck; if
mere paralysis be required, the neck is respected and the lower
segments--sometimes one alone, sometimes three, sometimes all or
nearly all, according to the special organization of the victim--
receive the dagger-thrust.

Even the paralyzers, at least some of them, are acquainted with the
immense vital importance of the nerve-centres of the neck. We have
seen the Hairy Ammophila munching the caterpillar's brain, the
Languedocian Sphex munching the brain of the Ephippigera, with the
object of inducing a passing torpor. But they simply squeeze the
brain and do even this with a wise discretion; they are careful not
to drive their sting into this fundamental centre of life; not one
of them ever thinks of doing so, for the result would be a corpse
which the larva would despise. The Spider, on the other hand,
inserts her double dirk there and there alone; any elsewhere it
would inflict a wound likely to increase resistance through
irritation. She wants a venison for consumption without delay and
brutally thrusts her fangs into the spot which the others so
conscientiously respect.

If the instinct of these scientific murderers is not, in both
cases, an inborn predisposition, inseparable from the animal, but
an acquired habit, then I rack my brain in vain to understand how
that habit can have been acquired. Shroud these facts in theoretic
mists as much as you will, you shall never succeed in veiling the
glaring evidence which they afford of a pre-established order of


In the inclement season of the year, when the insect has nothing to
do and retires to winter quarters, the observer profits by the
mildness of the sunny nooks and grubs in the sand, lifts the
stones, searches the brushwood; and often he is stirred with a
pleasurable excitement, when he lights upon some ingenious work of
art, discovered unawares. Happy are the simple of heart whose
ambition is satisfied with such treasure-trove! I wish them all
the joys which it has brought me and which it will continue to
bring me, despite the vexations of life, which grow ever more
bitter as the years follow their swift downward course.

Should the seekers rummage among the wild grasses in the osier-beds
and copses, I wish them the delight of finding the wonderful object
that, at this moment, lies before my eyes. It is the work of a
Spider, the nest of the Banded Epeira (Epeira fasciata, LATR.).

A Spider is not an insect, according to the rules of
classification; and as such the Epeira seems out of place here.
{16} A fig for systems! It is immaterial to the student of
instinct whether the animal have eight legs instead of six, or
pulmonary sacs instead of air-tubes. Besides, the Araneida belong
to the group of segmented animals, organized in sections placed end
to end, a structure to which the terms 'insect' and 'entomology'
both refer.

Formerly, to describe this group, people said 'articulate animals,'
an expression which possessed the drawback of not jarring on the
ear and of being understood by all. This is out of date.
Nowadays, they use the euphonious term 'Arthropoda.' And to think
that there are men who question the existence of progress!
Infidels! Say, 'articulate,' first; then roll out, 'Arthropoda;'
and you shall see whether zoological science is not progressing!

In bearing and colouring, Epeira fasciata is the handsomest of the
Spiders of the South. On her fat belly, a mighty silk-warehouse
nearly as large as a hazel-nut, are alternate yellow, black and
silver sashes, to which she owes her epithet of Banded. Around
that portly abdomen, the eight long legs, with their dark- and
pale-brown rings, radiate like spokes.

Any small prey suits her; and, as long as she can find supports for
her web, she settles wherever the Locust hops, wherever the Fly
hovers, wherever the Dragon-fly dances or the Butterfly flits. As
a rule, because of the greater abundance of game, she spreads her
toils across some brooklet, from bank to bank among the rushes.
She also stretches them, but not assiduously, in the thickets of
evergreen oak, on the slopes with the scrubby greenswards, dear to
the Grasshoppers.

Her hunting-weapon is a large upright web, whose outer boundary,
which varies according to the disposition of the ground, is
fastened to the neighbouring branches by a number of moorings. The
structure is that adopted by the other weaving Spiders. Straight
threads radiate at equal intervals from a central point. Over this
framework runs a continuous spiral thread, forming chords, or
crossbars, from the centre to the circumference. It is
magnificently large and magnificently symmetrical.

In the lower part of the web, starting from the centre, a wide
opaque ribbon descends zigzag-wise across the radii. This is the
Epeira's trade-mark, the flourish of an artist initialling his
creation. 'Fecit So-and-so,' she seems to say, when giving the
last throw of the shuttle to her handiwork.

That the Spider feels satisfied when, after passing and repassing
from spoke to spoke, she finishes her spiral, is beyond a doubt:
the work achieved ensures her food for a few days to come. But, in
this particular case, the vanity of the spinstress has naught to
say to the matter: the strong silk zigzag is added to impart
greater firmness to the web.

Increased resistance is not superfluous, for the net is sometimes
exposed to severe tests. The Epeira cannot pick and choose her
prizes. Seated motionless in the centre of her web, her eight legs
widespread to feel the shaking of the network in any direction, she
waits for what luck will bring her: now some giddy weakling unable
to control its flight, anon some powerful prey rushing headlong
with a reckless bound.

The Locust in particular, the fiery Locust, who releases the spring
of his long shanks at random, often falls into the trap. One
imagines that his strength ought to frighten the Spider; the kick
of his spurred levers should enable him to make a hole, then and
there, in the web and to get away. But not at all. If he does not
free himself at the first effort, the Locust is lost.

Turning her back on the game, the Epeira works all her spinnerets,
pierced like the rose of a watering-pot, at one and the same time.
The silky spray is gathered by the hind-legs, which are longer than
the others and open into a wide arc to allow the stream to spread.
Thanks to this artifice, the Epeira this time obtains not a thread,
but an iridescent sheet, a sort of clouded fan wherein the
component threads are kept almost separate. The two hind-legs
fling this shroud gradually, by rapid alternate armfuls, while, at
the same time, they turn the prey over and over, swathing it

The ancient retiarius, when pitted against a powerful wild beast,
appeared in the arena with a rope-net folded over his left
shoulder. The animal made its spring. The man, with a sudden
movement of his right arm, cast the net after the manner of the
fishermen; he covered the beast and tangled it in the meshes. A
thrust of the trident gave the quietus to the vanquished foe.

The Epeira acts in like fashion, with this advantage, that she is
able to renew her armful of fetters. Should the first not suffice,
a second instantly follows and another and yet another, until the
reserves of silk become exhausted.

When all movement ceases under the snowy winding-sheet, the Spider
goes up to her bound prisoner. She has a better weapon than the
bestiarius' trident: she has her poison-fangs. She gnaws at the
Locust, without undue persistence, and then withdraws, leaving the
torpid patient to pine away.

Soon she comes back to her motionless head of game: she sucks it,
drains it, repeatedly changing her point of attack. At last, the
clean-bled remains are flung out of the net and the Spider returns
to her ambush in the centre of the web.

What the Epeira sucks is not a corpse, but a numbed body. If I
remove the Locust immediately after he has been bitten and release
him from the silken sheath, the patient recovers his strength to
such an extent that he seems, at first, to have suffered no injury.
The Spider, therefore, does not kill her capture before sucking its
juices; she is content to deprive it of the power of motion by
producing a state of torpor. Perhaps this kindlier bite gives her
greater facility in working her pump. The humours, if stagnant, in
a corpse, would not respond so readily to the action of the sucker;
they are more easily extracted from a live body, in which they move

The Epeira, therefore, being a drinker of blood, moderates the
virulence of her sting, even with victims of appalling size, so
sure is she of her retiarian art. The long-legged Tryxalis, {17}
the corpulent Grey Locust, the largest of our Grasshoppers are
accepted without hesitation and sucked dry as soon as numbed.
Those giants, capable of making a hole in the net and passing
through it in their impetuous onrush, can be but rarely caught. I
myself place them on the web. The Spider does the rest. Lavishing
her silky spray, she swathes them and then sucks the body at her
ease. With an increased expenditure of the spinnerets, the very
biggest game is mastered as successfully as the everyday prey.

I have seen even better than that. This time, my subject is the
Silky Epeira (Epeira sericea, OLIV.), with a broad, festooned,
silvery abdomen. Like that of the other, her web is large, upright
and 'signed' with a zigzag ribbon. I place upon it a Praying
Mantis, {18} a well-developed specimen, quite capable of changing
roles, should circumstances permit, and herself making a meal off
her assailant. It is a question no longer of capturing a peaceful
Locust, but a fierce and powerful ogre, who would rip open the
Epeira's paunch with one blow of her harpoons.

Will the Spider dare? Not immediately. Motionless in the centre
of her net, she consults her strength before attacking the
formidable quarry; she waits until the struggling prey has its
claws more thickly entangled. At last, she approaches. The Mantis
curls her belly; lifts her wings like vertical sails; opens her
saw-toothed arm-pieces; in short, adopts the spectral attitude
which she employs when delivering battle.

The Spider disregards these menaces. Spreading wide her
spinnerets, she pumps out sheets of silk which the hind-legs draw
out, expand and fling without stint in alternate armfuls. Under
this shower of threads, the Mantis' terrible saws, the lethal legs,
quickly disappear from sight, as do the wings, still erected in the
spectral posture.

Meanwhile, the swathed one gives sudden jerks, which make the
Spider fall out of her web. The accident is provided for. A
safety-cord, emitted at the same instant by the spinnerets, keeps
the Epeira hanging, swinging in space. When calm is restored, she
packs her cord and climbs up again. The heavy paunch and the hind-
legs are now bound. The flow slackens, the silk comes only in thin
sheets. Fortunately, the business is done. The prey is invisible
under the thick shroud.

The Spider retires without giving a bite. To master the terrible
quarry, she has spent the whole reserves of her spinning-mill,
enough to weave many good-sized webs. With this heap of shackles,
further precautions are superfluous.

After a short rest in the centre of the net, she comes down to
dinner. Slight incisions are made in different parts of the prize,
now here, now there; and the Spider puts her mouth to each and
sucks the blood of her prey. The meal is long protracted, so rich
is the dish. For ten hours, I watch the insatiable glutton, who
changes her point of attack as each wound sucked dries up. Night
comes and robs me of the finish of the unbridled debauch. Next
morning, the drained Mantis lies upon the ground. The Ants are
eagerly devouring the remains.

The eminent talents of the Epeirae are displayed to even better
purpose in the industrial business of motherhood than in the art of
the chase. The silk bag, the nest, in which the Banded Epeira
houses her eggs, is a much greater marvel than the bird's nest. In
shape, it is an inverted balloon, nearly the size of a Pigeon's
egg. The top tapers like a pear and is cut short and crowned with
a scalloped rim, the corners of which are lengthened by means of
moorings that fasten the object to the adjoining twigs. The whole,
a graceful ovoid, hangs straight down, amid a few threads that
steady it.

The top is hollowed into a crater closed with a silky padding.
Every other part is contained in the general wrapper, formed of
thick, compact white satin, difficult to break and impervious to
moisture. Brown and even black silk, laid out in abroad ribbons,
in spindle-shaped patterns, in fanciful meridian waves, adorns the
upper portion of the exterior. The part played by this fabric is
self-evident: it is a waterproof cover which neither dew nor rain
can penetrate.

Exposed to all the inclemencies of the weather, among the dead
grasses, close to the ground, the Epeira's nest has also to protect
its contents from the winter cold. Let us cut the wrapper with our
scissors. Underneath, we find a thick layer of reddish-brown silk,
not worked into a fabric this time, but puffed into an extra-fine
wadding. It is a fleecy cloud, an incomparable quilt, softer than
any swan's-down. This is the screen set up against loss of heat.

And what does this cosy mass protect? See: in the middle of the
eiderdown hangs a cylindrical pocket, round at the bottom, cut
square at the top and closed with a padded lid. It is made of
extremely fine satin; it contains the Epeira's eggs, pretty little
orange-coloured beads, which, glued together, form a globule the
size of a pea. This is the treasure to be defended against the
asperities of the winter.

Now that we know the structure of the work, let us try to see in
what manner the spinstress sets about it. The observation is not
an easy one, for the Banded Epeira is a night-worker. She needs
nocturnal quiet in order not to go astray amid the complicated
rules that guide her industry. Now and again, at very early hours
in the morning, I have happened to catch her working, which enables
me to sum up the progress of the operations.

My subjects are busy in their bell-shaped cages, at about the
middle of August. A scaffolding is first run up, at the top of the
dome; it consists of a few stretched threads. The wire trellis
represents the twigs and the blades of grass which the Spider, if
at liberty, would have used as suspension-points. The loom works
on this shaky support. The Epeira does not see what she is doing;
she turns her back on her task. The machinery is so well put
together that the whole thing goes automatically.

The tip of the abdomen sways, a little to the right, a little to
the left, rises and falls, while the Spider moves slowly round and
round. The thread paid out is single. The hind-legs draw it out
and place it in position on that which is already done. Thus is
formed a satin receptacle the rim of which is gradually raised
until it becomes a bag about a centimetre deep. {39} The texture
is of the daintiest. Guy-ropes bind it to the nearest threads and
keep it stretched, especially at the mouth.

Then the spinnerets take a rest and the turn of the ovaries comes.
A continuous shower of eggs falls into the bag, which is filled to
the top. The capacity of the receptacle has been so nicely
calculated that there is room for all the eggs, without leaving any
space unoccupied. When the Spider has finished and retires, I
catch a momentary glimpse of the heap of orange-coloured eggs; but
the work of the spinnerets is at once resumed.

The next business is to close the bag. The machinery works a
little differently. The tip of the belly no longer sways from side
to side. It sinks and touches a point; it retreats, sinks again
and touches another point, first here, then there, describing
inextricable zigzags. At the same time, the hind-legs tread the
material emitted. The result is no longer a stuff, but a felt, a

Around the satin capsule, which contains the eggs, is the eiderdown
destined to keep out the cold. The youngsters will bide for some
time in this soft shelter, to strengthen their joints and prepare
for the final exodus. It does not take long to make. The
spinning-mill suddenly alters the raw material: it was turning out
white silk; it now furnishes reddish-brown silk, finer than the
other and issuing in clouds which the hind-legs, those dexterous
carders, beat into a sort of froth. The egg-pocket disappears,
drowned in this exquisite wadding.

The balloon-shape is already outlined; the top of the work tapers
to a neck. The Spider, moving up and down, tacking first to one
side and then to the other, from the very first spray marks out the
graceful form as accurately as though she carried a compass in her

Then, once again, with the same suddenness, the material changes.
The white silk reappears, wrought into thread. This is the moment
to weave the outer wrapper. Because of the thickness of the stuff
and the density of its texture, this operation is the longest of
the series.

First, a few threads are flung out, hither and thither, to keep the
layer of wadding in position. The Epeira takes special pains with
the edge of the neck, where she fashions an indented border, the
angles of which, prolonged with cords or lines, form the main
support of the building. The spinnerets never touch this part
without giving it, each time, until the end of the work, a certain
added solidity, necessary to secure the stability of the balloon.
The suspensory indentations soon outline a crater which needs
plugging. The Spider closes the bag with a padded stopper similar
to that with which she sealed the egg-pocket.

When these arrangements are made, the real manufacture of the
wrapper begins. The Spider goes backwards and forwards, turns and
turns again. The spinnerets do not touch the fabric. With a
rhythmical, alternate movement, the hind-legs, the sole implements
employed, draw the thread, seize it in their combs and apply it to
the work, while the tip of the abdomen sways methodically to and

In this way, the silken fibre is distributed in an even zigzag, of
almost geometrical precision and comparable with that of the cotton
thread which the machines in our factories roll so neatly into
balls. And this is repeated all over the surface of the work, for
the Spider shifts her position a little at every moment.

At fairly frequent intervals, the tip of the abdomen is lifted to
the mouth of the balloon; and then the spinnerets really touch the
fringed edge. The length of contact is even considerable. We
find, therefore, that the thread is stuck in this star-shaped
fringe, the foundation of the building and the crux of the whole,
while every elsewhere it is simply laid on, in a manner determined
by the movements of the hind-legs. If we wished to unwind the
work, the thread would break at the margin; at any other point, it
would unroll.

The Epeira ends her web with a dead-white, angular flourish; she
ends her nest with brown mouldings, which run down, irregularly,
from the marginal junction to the bulging middle. For this
purpose, she makes use, for the third time, of a different silk;
she now produces silk of a dark hue, varying from russet to black.
The spinnerets distribute the material with a wide longitudinal
swing, from pole to pole; and the hind-legs apply it in capricious
ribbons. When this is done, the work is finished. The Spider
moves away with slow strides, without giving a glance at the bag.
The rest does not interest her: time and the sun will see to it.

She felt her hour at hand and came down from her web. Near by, in
the rank grass, she wove the tabernacle of her offspring and, in so
doing, drained her resources. To resume her hunting-post, to
return to her web would be useless to her: she has not the
wherewithal to bind the prey. Besides, the fine appetite of former
days has gone. Withered and languid, she drags out her existence
for a few days and, at last, dies. This is how things happen in my
cages; this is how they must happen in the brushwood.

The Silky Epeira (Epeira sericea, OLIV.) excels the Banded Epeira
in the manufacture of big hunting-nets, but she is less gifted in
the art of nest-building. She gives her nest the inelegant form of
an obtuse cone. The opening of this pocket is very wide and is
scalloped into lobes by which the edifice is slung. It is closed
with a large lid, half satin, half swan's-down. The rest is a
stout white fabric, frequently covered with irregular brown

The difference between the work of the two Epeirae does not extend
beyond the wrapper, which is an obtuse cone in the one case and a
balloon in the other. The same internal arrangements prevail
behind this frontage: first, a flossy quilt; next, a little keg in
which the eggs are packed. Though the two Spiders build the outer
wall according to special architectural rules, they both employ the
same means as a protection against the cold.

As we see, the egg-bag of the Epeirae, particularly that of the
Banded Epeira, is an important and complex work. Various materials
enter into its composition: white silk, red silk, brown silk;
moreover, these materials are worked into dissimilar products:
stout cloth, soft eiderdown, dainty satinette, porous felt. And
all of this comes from the same workshop that weaves the hunting-
net, warps the zigzag ribbon-band and casts an entangling shroud
over the prey.

What a wonderful silk-factory it is! With a very simple and never-
varying plant, consisting of the hind-legs and the spinnerets, it
produces, by turns, rope-maker's, spinner's, weaver's, ribbon-
maker's and fuller's work. How does the Spider direct an
establishment of this kind? How does she obtain, at will, skeins
of diverse hues and grades? How does she turn them out, first in
this fashion, then in that? I see the results, but I do not
understand the machinery and still less the process. It beats me

The Spider also sometimes loses her head in her difficult trade,
when some trouble disturbs the peace of her nocturnal labours. I
do not provoke this trouble myself, for I am not present at those
unseasonable hours. It is simply due to the conditions prevailing
in my menagerie.

In their natural state, the Epeirae settle separately, at long
distances from one another. Each has her own hunting-grounds,
where there is no reason to fear the competition that would result
from the close proximity of the nets. In my cages, on the other
hand, there is cohabitation. In order to save space, I lodge two
or three Epeirae in the same cage. My easy-going captives live
together in peace. There is no strife between them, no encroaching
on the neighbour's property. Each of them weaves herself a
rudimentary web, as far from the rest as possible, and here, rapt
in contemplation, as though indifferent to what the others are
doing, she awaits the hop of the Locust.

Nevertheless, these close quarters have their drawbacks when
laying-time arrives. The cords by which the different
establishments are hung interlace and criss-cross in a confused
network. When one of them shakes, all the others are more or less
affected. This is enough to distract the layer from her business
and to make her do silly things. Here are two instances.

A bag has been woven during the night. I find it, when I visit the
cage in the morning, hanging from the trellis-work and completed.
It is perfect, as regards structure; it is decorated with the
regulation black meridian curves. There is nothing missing,
nothing except the essential thing, the eggs, for which the
spinstress has gone to such expense in the matter of silks. Where
are the eggs? They are not in the bag, which I open and find
empty. They are lying on the ground below, on the sand in the pan,
utterly unprotected.

Disturbed at the moment of discharging them, the mother has missed
the mouth of the little bag and dropped them on the floor. Perhaps
even, in her excitement, she came down from above and, compelled by
the exigencies of the ovaries, laid her eggs on the first support
that offered. No matter: if her Spider brain contains the least
gleam of sense, she must be aware of the disaster and is therefore
bound at once to abandon the elaborate manufacture of a now
superfluous nest.

Not at all: the bag is woven around nothing, as accurate in shape,
as finished in structure as under normal conditions. The absurd
perseverance displayed by certain Bees, whose egg and provisions I
used to remove, {20} is here repeated without the slightest
interference from me. My victims used scrupulously to seal up
their empty cells. In the same way, the Epeira puts the eiderdown
quilting and the taffeta wrapper round a capsule that contains

Another, distracted from her work by some startling vibration,
leaves her nest at the moment when the layer of red-brown wadding
is being completed. She flees to the dome, at a few inches above
her unfinished work, and spends upon a shapeless mattress, of no
use whatever, all the silk with which she would have woven the
outer wrapper if nothing had come to disturb her.

Poor fool! You upholster the wires of your cage with swan's-down
and you leave the eggs imperfectly protected. The absence of the
work already executed and the hardness of the metal do not warn you
that you are now engaged upon a senseless task. You remind me of
the Pelopaeus, {21} who used to coat with mud the place on the wall
whence her nest had been removed. You speak to me, in your own
fashion, of a strange psychology which is able to reconcile the
wonders of a master craftsmanship with aberrations due to
unfathomable stupidity.

Let us compare the work of the Banded Epeira with that of the
Penduline Titmouse, the cleverest of our small birds in the art of
nest-building. This Tit haunts the osier-beds of the lower reaches
of the Rhone. Rocking gently in the river breeze, his nest sways
pendent over the peaceful backwaters, at some distance from the
too-impetuous current. It hangs from the drooping end of the
branch of a poplar, an old willow or an alder, all of them tall
trees, favouring the banks of streams.

It consists of a cotton bag, closed all round, save for a small
opening at the side, just sufficient to allow of the mother's
passage. In shape, it resembles the body of an alembic, a
chemist's retort with a short lateral neck, or, better still, the
foot of a stocking, with the edges brought together, but for a
little round hole left at one side. The outward appearances
increase the likeness: one can almost see the traces of a
knitting-needle working with coarse stitches. That is why, struck
by this shape, the Provencal peasant, in his expressive language,
calls the Penduline lou Debassaire, the Stocking-knitter.

The early-ripening seedlets of the widows and poplars furnish the
materials for the work. There breaks from them, in May, a sort of
vernal snow, a fine down, which the eddies of the air heap in the
crevices of the ground. It is a cotton similar to that of our
manufactures, but of very short staple. It comes from an
inexhaustible warehouse: the tree is bountiful; and the wind from
the osier-beds gathers the tiny flocks as they pour from the seeds.
They are easy to pick up.

The difficulty is to set to work. How does the bird proceed, in
order to knit its stocking? How, with such simple implements as
its beak and claws, does it manage to produce a fabric which our
skilled fingers would fail to achieve? An examination of the nest
will inform us, to a certain extent.

The cotton of the poplar cannot, of itself, supply a hanging pocket
capable of supporting the weight of the brood and resisting the
buffeting of the wind. Rammed, entangled and packed together, the
flocks, similar to those which ordinary wadding would give if
chopped up very fine, would produce only an agglomeration devoid of
cohesion and liable to be dispelled by the first breath of air.
They require a canvas, a warp, to keep them in position.

Tiny dead stalks, with fibrous barks, well softened by the action
of moisture and the air, furnish the Penduline with a coarse tow,
not unlike that of hemp. With these ligaments, purged of every
woody particle and tested for flexibility and tenacity, he winds a
number of loops round the end of the branch which he has selected
as a support for his structure.

It is not a very accurate piece of work. The loops run clumsily
and anyhow: some are slacker, others tighter; but, when all is
said, it is solid, which is the main point. Also, this fibrous
sheath, the keystone of the edifice, occupies a fair length of
branch, which enables the fastenings for the net to be multiplied.

The several straps, after describing a certain number of turns,
ravel out at the ends and hang loose. After them come interlaced
threads, greater in number and finer in texture. In the tangled
jumble occur what might almost be described as weaver's knots. As
far as one can judge by the result alone, without having seen the
bird at work, this is how the canvas, the support of the cotton
wall, is obtained.

This warp, this inner framework, is obviously not constructed in
its entirety from the start; it goes on gradually, as the bird
stuffs the part above it with cotton. The wadding, picked up bit
by bit from the ground, is teazled by the bird's claws and
inserted, all fleecy, into the meshes of the canvas. The beak
pushes it, the breast presses it, both inside and out. The result
is a soft felt a couple of inches thick.

Near the top of the pouch, on one side, is contrived a narrow
orifice, tapering into a short neck. This is the kitchen-door. In
order to pass through it, the Penduline, small though he be, has to
force the elastic partition, which yields slightly and then
contracts. Lastly, the house is furnished with a mattress of
first-quality cotton. Here lie from six to eight white eggs, the
size of a cherry-stone.

Well, this wonderful nest is a barbarous casemate compared with
that of the Banded Epeira. As regards shape, this stocking-foot
cannot be mentioned in the same breath with the Spider's elegant
and faultlessly-rounded balloon. The fabric of mixed cotton and
tow is a rustic frieze beside the spinstress' satin; the
suspension-straps are clumsy cables compared with her delicate silk
fastenings. Where shall we find in the Penduline's mattress aught
to vie with the Epeira's eiderdown, that teazled russet gossamer?
The Spider is superior to the bird in every way, in so far as
concerns her work.

But, on her side, the Penduline is a more devoted mother. For
weeks on end, squatting at the bottom of her purse, she presses to
her heart the eggs, those little white pebbles from which the
warmth of her body will bring forth life. The Epeira knows not
these softer passions. Without bestowing a second glance an it,
she abandons her nest to its fate, be it good or ill.


The Epeira, who displays such astonishing industry to give her eggs
a dwelling-house of incomparable perfection, becomes, after that,
careless of her family. For what reason? She lacks the time. She
has to die when the first cold comes, whereas the eggs are destined
to pass the winter in their downy snuggery. The desertion of the
nest is inevitable, owing to the very force of things. But, if the
hatching were earlier and took place in the Epeira's lifetime, I
imagine that she would rival the bird in devotion.

So I gather from the, analogy of Thomisus onustus, WALCK., a
shapely Spider who weaves no web, lies in wait for her prey and
walks sideways, after the manner of the Crab. I have spoken
elsewhere {22} of her encounters with the Domestic Bee, whom she
jugulates by biting her in the neck.

Skilful in the prompt despatch of her prey, the little Crab Spider
is no less well-versed in the nesting art. I find her settled on a
privet in the enclosure. Here, in the heart of a cluster of
flowers, the luxurious creature plaits a little pocket of white
satin, shaped like a wee thimble. It is the receptacle for the
eggs. A round, flat lid, of a felted fabric, closes the mouth.

Above this ceiling rises a dome of stretched threads and faded
flowerets which have fallen from the cluster. This is the
watcher's belvedere, her conning-tower. An opening, which is
always free, gives access to this post.

Here the Spider remains on constant duty. She has thinned greatly
since she laid her eggs, has almost lost her corporation. At the
least alarm, she sallies forth, waves a threatening limb at the
passing stranger and invites him, with a gesture, to keep his
distance. Having put the intruder to flight, she quickly returns

And what does she do in there, under her arch of withered flowers
and silk? Night and day, she shields the precious eggs with her
poor body spread out flat. Eating is neglected. No more lying in
wait, no more Bees drained to the last drop of blood. Motionless,
rapt in meditation, the Spider is in an incubating posture, in
other words, she is sitting on her eggs. Strictly speaking, the
word 'incubating' means that and nothing else.

The brooding Hen is no more assiduous, but she is also a heating-
apparatus and, with the gentle warmth of her body, awakens the
germs to life. For the Spider, the heat of the sun suffices; and
this alone keeps me from saying that she 'broods.'

For two or three weeks, more and more wrinkled by abstinence, the
little Spider never relaxes her position. Then comes the hatching.
The youngsters stretch a few threads in swing-like curves from twig
to twig. The tiny rope-dancers practise for some days in the sun;
then they disperse, each intent upon his own affairs.

Let us now look at the watch-tower of the nest. The mother is
still there, but this time lifeless. The devoted creature has
known the delight of seeing her family born; she has assisted the
weaklings through the trap-door; and, when her duty was done, very
gently she died. The Hen does not reach this height of self-

Other Spiders do better still, as, for instance, the Narbonne
Lycosa, or Black-bellied Tarantula (Lycosa narbonnensis, WALCK.),
whose prowess has been described in an earlier chapter. The reader
will remember her burrow, her pit of a bottle-neck's width, dug in
the pebbly soil beloved by the lavender and the thyme. The mouth
is rimmed by a bastion of gravel and bits of wood cemented with
silk. There is nothing else around her dwelling: no web, no
snares of any kind.

From her inch-high turret, the Lycosa lies in wait for the passing
Locust. She gives a bound, pursues the prey and suddenly deprives
it of motion with a bite in the neck. The game is consumed on the
spot, or else in the lair; the insect's tough hide arouses no
disgust. The sturdy huntress is not a drinker of blood, like the
Epeira; she needs solid food, food that crackles between the jaws.
She is like a Dog devouring his bone.

Would you care to bring her to the light of day from the depths of
her well? Insert a thin straw into the burrow and move it about.
Uneasy as to what is happening above, the recluse hastens to climb
up and stops, in a threatening attitude, at some distance from the
orifice. You see her eight eyes gleaming like diamonds in the
dark; you see her powerful poison-fangs yawning, ready to bite. He
who is not accustomed to the sight of this horror, rising from
under the ground, cannot suppress a shiver. B-r-r-r-r! Let us
leave the beast alone.

Chance, a poor stand-by, sometimes contrives very well. At the
beginning of the month of August, the children call me to the far
side of the enclosure, rejoicing in a find which they have made
under the rosemary-bushes. It is a magnificent Lycosa, with an
enormous belly, the sign of an impending delivery.

The obese Spider is gravely devouring something in the midst of a
circle of onlookers. And what? The remains of a Lycosa a little
smaller than herself, the remains of her male. It is the end of
the tragedy that concludes the nuptials. The sweetheart is eating
her lover. I allow the matrimonial rites to be fulfilled in all
their horror; and, when the last morsel of the unhappy wretch has
been scrunched up, I incarcerate the terrible matron under a cage
standing in an earthen pan filled with sand.

Early one morning, ten days later, I find her preparing for her
confinement. A silk network is first spun on the ground, covering
an extent about equal to the palm of one's hand. It is coarse and
shapeless, but firmly fixed. This is the floor on which the Spider
means to operate.

On this foundation, which acts as a protection from the sand, the
Lycosa fashions a round mat, the size of a two-franc piece and made
of superb white silk. With a gentle, uniform movement, which might
be regulated by the wheels of a delicate piece of clockwork, the
tip of the abdomen rises and falls, each time touching the
supporting base a little farther away, until the extreme scope of
the mechanism is attained.

Then, without the Spider's moving her position, the oscillation is
resumed in the opposite direction. By means of this alternate
motion, interspersed with numerous contacts, a segment of the sheet
is obtained, of a very accurate texture. When this is done, the
Spider moves a little along a circular line and the loom works in
the same manner on another segment.

The silk disk, a sort of hardly concave paten, now no longer
receives aught from the spinnerets in its centre; the marginal belt
alone increases in thickness. The piece thus becomes a bowl-shaped
porringer, surrounded by a wide, flat edge.

The time for the laying has come. With one quick emission, the
viscous, pale-yellow eggs are laid in the basin, where they heap
together in the shape of a globe which projects largely outside the
cavity. The spinnerets are once more set going. With short
movements, as the tip of the abdomen rises and falls to weave the
round mat, they cover up the exposed hemisphere. The result is a
pill set in the middle of a circular carpet.

The legs, hitherto idle, are now working. They take up and break
off one by one the threads that keep the round mat stretched on the
coarse supporting network. At the same time, the fangs grip this
sheet, lift it by degrees, tear it from its base and fold it over
upon the globe of eggs. It is a laborious operation. The whole
edifice totters, the floor collapses, fouled with sand. By a
movement of the legs, those soiled shreds are cast aside. Briefly,
by means of violent tugs of the fangs, which pull, and broom-like
efforts of the legs, which clear away, the Lycosa extricates the
bag of eggs and removes it as a clear-cut mass, free from any

It is a white-silk pill, soft to the touch and glutinous. Its size
is that of an average cherry. An observant eye will notice,
running horizontally around the middle, a fold which a needle is
able to raise without breaking it. This hem, generally
undistinguishable from the rest of the surface, is none other than
the edge of the circular mat, drawn over the lower hemisphere. The
other hemisphere, through which the youngsters will go out, is less
well fortified: its only wrapper is the texture spun over the eggs
immediately after they were laid.

Inside, there is nothing but the eggs: no mattress, no soft
eiderdown, like that of the Epeirae. The Lycosa, indeed, has no
need to guard her eggs against the inclemencies of the winter, for
the hatching will take place long before the cold weather comes.
Similarly, the Thomisus, with her early brood, takes good care not
to incur useless expenditure: she gives her eggs, for their
protection, a simple purse of satin.

The work of spinning, followed by that of tearing, is continued for
a whole morning, from five to nine o'clock. Worn out with fatigue,
the mother embraces her dear pill and remains motionless. I shall
see no more to-day. Next morning, I find the Spider carrying the
bag of eggs slung from her stern.

Henceforth, until the hatching, she does not leave go of the
precious burden, which, fastened to the spinnerets by a short
ligament, drags and bumps along the ground. With this load banging
against her heels, she goes about her business; she walks or rests,
she seeks her prey, attacks it and devours it. Should some
accident cause the wallet to drop off, it is soon replaced. The
spinnerets touch it somewhere, anywhere, and that is enough:
adhesion is at once restored.

The Lycosa is a stay-at-home. She never goes out except to snap up
some game passing within her hunting-domains, near the burrow. At
the end of August, however, it is not unusual to meet her roaming
about, dragging her wallet behind her. Her hesitations make one
think that she is looking for her home, which she has left for the
moment and has a difficulty in finding.

Why these rambles? There are two reasons: first the pairing and
then the making of the pill. There is a lack of space in the
burrow, which provides only room enough for the Spider engaged in
long contemplation. Now the preparations for the egg-bag require
an extensive flooring, a supporting frame-work about the size of
one's hand, as my caged prisoner has shown us. The Lycosa has not
so much space at her disposal, in her well; hence the necessity for
coming out and working at her wallet in the open air, doubtless in
the quiet hours of the night.

The meeting with the male seems likewise to demand an excursion.
Running the risk of being eaten alive, will he venture to plunge
into his lady's cave, into a lair whence flight would be
impossible? It is very doubtful. Prudence demands that matters
should take place outside. Here at least there is some chance of
beating a hasty retreat which will enable the rash swain to escape
the attacks of his horrible bride.

The interview in the open air lessens the danger without removing
it entirely. We had proof of this when we caught the Lycosa in the
act of devouring her lover aboveground, in a part of the enclosure
which had been broken for planting and which was therefore not
suitable for the Spider's establishment. The burrow must have been
some way off; and the meeting of the pair took place at the very
spot of the tragic catastrophe. Although he had a clear road, the
male was not quick enough in getting away and was duly eaten.

After this cannibal orgy, does the Lycosa go back home? Perhaps
not, for a while. Besides, she would have to go out a second time,
to manufacture her pill on a level space of sufficient extent.

When the work is done, some of them emancipate themselves, think
they will have a look at the country before retiring for good and
all. It is these whom we sometimes meet wandering aimlessly and
dragging their bag behind them. Sooner or later, however, the
vagrants return home; and the month of August is not over before a
straw rustled in any burrow will bring the mother up, with her
wallet slung behind her. I am able to procure as many as I want
and, with them, to indulge in certain experiments of the highest

It is a sight worth seeing, that of the Lycosa dragging her
treasure after her, never leaving it, day or night, sleeping or
waking, and defending it with a courage that strikes the beholder
with awe. If I try to take the bag from her, she presses it to her
breast in despair, hangs on to my pincers, bites them with her
poison-fangs. I can hear the daggers grating on the steel. No,
she would not allow herself to be robbed of the wallet with
impunity, if my fingers were not supplied with an implement.

By dint of pulling and shaking the pill with the forceps, I take it
from the Lycosa, who protests furiously. I fling her in exchange a
pill taken from another Lycosa. It is at once seized in the fangs,
embraced by the legs and hung on to the spinneret. Her own or
another's: it is all one to the Spider, who walks away proudly
with the alien wallet. This was to be expected, in view of the
similarity of the pills exchanged.

A test of another kind, with a second subject, renders the mistake
more striking. I substitute, in the place of the lawful bag which
I have removed, the work of the Silky Epeira. The colour and
softness of the material are the same in both cases; but the shape
is quite different. The stolen object is a globe; the object
presented in exchange is an elliptical conoid studded with angular
projections along the edge of the base. The Spider takes no
account of this dissimilarity. She promptly glues the queer bag to
her spinnerets and is as pleased as though she were in possession
of her real pill. My experimental villainies have no other
consequences beyond an ephemeral carting. When hatching-time
arrives, early in the case of the Lycosa, late in that of the
Epeira, the gulled Spider abandons the strange bag and pays it no
further attention.

Let us penetrate yet deeper into the wallet-bearer's stupidity.
After depriving the Lycosa of her eggs, I throw her a ball of cork,
roughly polished with a file and of the same size as the stolen
pill. She accepts the corky substance, so different from the silk
purse, without the least demur. One would have thought that she
would recognize her mistake with those eight eyes of hers, which
gleam like precious stones. The silly creature pays no attention.
Lovingly she embraces the cork ball, fondles it with her palpi,
fastens it to her spinnerets and thenceforth drags it after her as
though she were dragging her own bag.

Let us give another the choice between the imitation and the real.
The rightful pill and the cork ball are placed together on the
floor of the jar. Will the Spider be able to know the one that
belongs to her? The fool is incapable of doing so. She makes a
wild rush and seizes haphazard at one time her property, at another
my sham product. Whatever is first touched becomes a good capture
and is forthwith hung up.

If I increase the number of cork balls, if I put in four or five of
them, with the real pill among them, it is seldom that the Lycosa
recovers her own property. Attempts at enquiry, attempts at
selection there are none. Whatever she snaps up at random she
sticks to, be it good or bad. As there are more of the sham pills
of cork, these are the most often seized by the Spider.

This obtuseness baffles me. Can the animal be deceived by the soft
contact of the cork? I replace the cork balls by pellets of cotton
or paper, kept in their round shape with a few bands of thread.
Both are very readily accepted instead of the real bag that has
been removed.

Can the illusion be due to the colouring, which is light in the
cork and not unlike the tint of the silk globe when soiled with a
little earth, while it is white in the paper and the cotton, when
it is identical with that of the original pill? I give the Lycosa,
in exchange for her work, a pellet of silk thread, chosen of a fine
red, the brightest of all colours. The uncommon pill is as readily
accepted and as jealously guarded as the others.

We will leave the wallet-bearer alone; we know all that we want to
know about her poverty of intellect. Let us wait for the hatching,
which takes place in the first fortnight in September. As they
come out of the pill, the youngsters, to the number of about a
couple of hundred, clamber on the Spider's back and there sit
motionless, jammed close together, forming a sort of bark of
mingled legs and paunches. The mother is unrecognizable under this
live mantilla. When the hatching is over, the wallet is loosened
from the spinnerets and cast aside as a worthless rag.

The little ones are very good: none stirs none tries to get more
room for himself at his neighbours' expense. What are they doing
there, so quietly? They allow themselves to be carted about, like
the young of the Opossum. Whether she sit in long meditation at
the bottom of her den, or come to the orifice, in mild weather, to
bask in the sun, the Lycosa never throws off her great-coat of
swarming youngsters until the fine season comes.

If, in the middle of winter, in January or February, I happen, out
in the fields, to ransack the Spider's dwelling, after the rain,
snow and frost have battered it and, as a rule, dismantled the
bastion at the entrance, I always find her at home, still full of
vigour, still carrying her family. This vehicular upbringing lasts
five or six months at least, without interruption. The celebrated
American carrier, the Opossum, who emancipates her offspring after
a few weeks' carting, cuts a poor figure beside the Lycosa.

What do the little ones eat, on the maternal spine? Nothing, so
far as I know. I do not see them grow larger. I find them, at the
tardy period of their emancipation, just as they were when they
left the bag.

During the bad season, the mother herself is extremely abstemious.
At long intervals, she accepts, in my jars, a belated Locust, whom
I have captured, for her benefit, in the sunnier nooks. In order
to keep herself in condition, as when she is dug up in the course
of my winter excavations, she must therefore sometimes break her
fast and come out in search of prey, without, of course, discarding
her live mantilla.

The expedition has its dangers. The youngsters may be brushed off
by a blade of grass. What becomes of them when they have a fall?
Does the mother give them a thought? Does she come to their
assistance and help them to regain their place on her back? Not at
all. The affection of a Spider's heart, divided among some
hundreds, can spare but a very feeble portion to each. The Lycosa
hardly troubles, whether one youngster fall from his place, or six,
or all of them. She waits impassively for the victims of the
mishap to get out of their own difficulty, which they do, for that
matter, and very nimbly.

I sweep the whole family from the back of one of my boarders with a
hair-pencil. Not a sign of emotion, not an attempt at search on
the part of the denuded one. After trotting about a little on the
sand, the dislodged youngsters find, these here, those there, one
or other of the mother's legs, spread wide in a circle. By means
of these climbing-poles, they swarm to the top and soon the dorsal
group resumes its original form. Not one of the lot is missing.
The Lycosa's sons know their trade as acrobats to perfection: the
mother need not trouble her head about their fall.

With a sweep of the pencil, I make the family of one Spider fall
around another laden with her own family. The dislodged ones
nimbly scramble up the legs and climb on the back of their new
mother, who kindly allows them to behave as though they belonged to
her. There is no room on the abdomen, the regulation resting-
place, which is already occupied by the real sons. The invaders
thereupon encamp on the front part, beset the thorax and change the
carrier into a horrible pin-cushion that no longer bears the least
resemblance to a Spider form. Meanwhile, the sufferer raises no
sort of protest against this access of family. She placidly
accepts them all and walks them all about.

The youngsters, on their side, are unable to distinguish between
what is permitted and forbidden. Remarkable acrobats that they
are, they climb on the first Spider that comes along, even when of
a different species, provided that she be of a fair size. I place
them in the presence of a big Epeira marked with a white cross on a
pale-orange ground (Epeira pallida, OLIV.). The little ones, as
soon as they are dislodged from the back of the Lycosa their
mother, clamber up the stranger without hesitation.

Intolerant of these familiarities, the Spider shakes the leg
encroached upon and flings the intruders to a distance. The
assault is doggedly resumed, to such good purpose that a dozen
succeed in hoisting themselves to the top. The Epeira, who is not
accustomed to the tickling of such a load, turns over on her back
and rolls on the ground in the manner of a donkey when his hide is
itching. Some are lamed, some are even crushed. This does not
deter the others, who repeat the escalade as soon as the Epeira is
on her legs again. Then come more somersaults, more rollings on
the back, until the giddy swarm are all discomfited and leave the
Spider in peace.


Michelet {23} has told us how, as a printer's apprentice in a
cellar, he established amicable relations with a Spider. At a
certain hour of the day, a ray of sunlight would glint through the
window of the gloomy workshop and light up the little compositor's
case. Then his eight-legged neighbour would come down from her web
and take her share of the sunshine on the edge of the case. The
boy did not interfere with her; he welcomed the trusting visitor as
a friend and as a pleasant diversion from the long monotony. When
we lack the society of our fellow-men, we take refuge in that of
animals, without always losing by the change.

I do not, thank God, suffer from the melancholy of a cellar: my
solitude is gay with light and verdure; I attend, whenever I
please, the fields' high festival, the Thrushes' concert, the
Crickets' symphony; and yet my friendly commerce with the Spider is
marked by an even greater devotion than the young typesetter's. I
admit her to the intimacy of my study, I make room for her among my
books, I set her in the sun on my window-ledge, I visit her
assiduously at her home, in the country. The object of our
relations is not to create a means of escape from the petty worries
of life, pin-pricks whereof I have my share like other men, a very
large share, indeed; I propose to submit to the Spider a host of
questions whereto, at times, she condescends to reply.

To what fair problems does not the habit of frequenting her give
rise! To set them forth worthily, the marvellous art which the
little printer was to acquire were not too much. One needs the pen
of a Michelet; and I have but a rough, blunt pencil. Let us try,
nevertheless: even when poorly clad, truth is still beautiful.

I will therefore once more take up the story of the Spider's
instinct, a story of which the preceding chapters have given but a
very rough idea. Since I wrote those earlier essays, my field of
observation has been greatly extended. My notes have been enriched
by new and most remarkable facts. It is right that I should employ
them for the purpose of a more detailed biography.

The exigencies of order and clearness expose me, it is true, to
occasional repetitions. This is inevitable when one has to marshal
in an harmonious whole a thousand items culled from day to day,
often unexpectedly, and bearing no relation one to the other. The
observer is not master of his time; opportunity leads him and by
unsuspected ways. A certain question suggested by an earlier fact
finds no reply until many years after. Its scope, moreover, is
amplified and completed with views collected on the road. In a
work, therefore, of this fragmentary character, repetitions,
necessary for the due co-ordination of ideas, are inevitable. I
shall be as sparing of them as I can.

Let us once more introduce our old friends the Epeira and the
Lycosa, who are the most important Spiders in my district. The
Narbonne Lycosa, or Black-bellied Tarantula, chooses her domicile
in the waste, pebbly lands beloved of the thyme. Her dwelling, a
fortress rather than a villa, is a burrow about nine inches deep
and as wide as the neck of a claret-bottle. The direction is
perpendicular, in so far as obstacles, frequent in a soil of this
kind, permit. A bit of gravel can be extracted and hoisted
outside; but a flint is an immovable boulder which the Spider
avoids by giving a bend to her gallery. If more such are met with,
the residence becomes a winding cave, with stone vaults, with
lobbies communicating by means of sharp passages.

This lack of plan has no attendant drawbacks, so well does the
owner, from long habit, know every corner and storey of her
mansion. If any interesting buzz occur overhead, the Lycosa climbs
up from her rugged manor with the same speed as from a vertical
shaft. Perhaps she even finds the windings and turnings an
advantage, when she has to drag into her den a prey that happens to
defend itself.

As a rule, the end of the burrow widens into a side-chamber, a
lounge or resting-place where the Spider meditates at length and is
content to lead a life of quiet when her belly is full.

A silk coating, but a scanty one, for the Lycosa has not the wealth
of silk possessed by the Weaving Spiders, lines the walls of the
tube and keeps the loose earth from falling. This plaster, which
cements the incohesive and smooths the rugged parts, is reserved
more particularly for the top of the gallery, near the mouth.
Here, in the day-time, if things be peaceful all around, the Lycosa
stations herself, either to enjoy the warmth of the sun, her great
delight, or to lie in wait for game. The threads of the silk
lining afford a firm hold to the claws on every side, whether the
object be to sit motionless for hours, revelling in the light and
heat, or to pounce upon the passing prey.

Around the orifice of the burrow rises, to a greater or lesser
height, a circular parapet, formed of tiny pebbles, twigs and
straps borrowed from the dry leaves of the neighbouring grasses,
all more or less dexterously tied together and cemented with silk.
This work of rustic architecture is never missing, even though it
be no more than a mere pad.

When she reaches maturity and is once settled, the Lycosa becomes
eminently domesticated. I have been living in close communion with
her for the last three years. I have installed her in large
earthen pans on the window-sills of my study and I have her daily
under my eyes. Well, it is very rarely that I happen on her
outside, a few inches from her hole, back to which she bolts at the
least alarm.

We may take it, then, that, when not in captivity, the Lycosa does
not go far afield to gather the wherewithal to build her parapet
and that she makes shift with what she finds upon her threshold.
In these conditions, the building-stones are soon exhausted and the
masonry ceases for lack of materials.

The wish came over me to see what dimensions the circular edifice
would assume, if the Spider were given an unlimited supply. With
captives to whom I myself act as purveyor the thing is easy enough.
Were it only with a view to helping whoso may one day care to
continue these relations with the big Spider of the waste-lands,
let me describe how my subjects are housed.

A good-sized earthenware pan, some nine inches deep, is filled with
a red, clayey earth, rich in pebbles, similar, in short, to that of
the places haunted by the Lycosa. Properly moistened into a paste,
the artificial soil is heaped, layer by layer, around a central
reed, of a bore equal to that of the animal's natural burrow. When
the receptacle is filled to the top, I withdraw the reed, which
leaves a yawning, perpendicular shaft. I thus obtain the abode
which shall replace that of the fields.

To find the hermit to inhabit it is merely the matter of a walk in
the neighbourhood. When removed from her own dwelling, which is
turned topsy-turvy by my trowel, and placed in possession of the
den produced by my art, the Lycosa at once disappears into that
den. She does not come out again, seeks nothing better elsewhere.
A large wire-gauze cover rests on the soil in the pan and prevents

In any case, the watch, in this respect, makes no demands upon my
diligence. The prisoner is satisfied with her new abode and
manifests no regret for her natural burrow. There is no attempt at
flight on her part. Let me not omit to add that each pan must
receive not more than one inhabitant. The Lycosa is very
intolerant. To her, a neighbour is fair game, to be eaten without
scruple when one has might on one's side. Time was when, unaware
of this fierce intolerance, which is more savage still at breeding-
time, I saw hideous orgies perpetrated in my overstocked cages. I
shall have occasion to describe those tragedies later.

Let us meanwhile consider the isolated Lycosae. They do not touch
up the dwelling which I have moulded for them with a bit of reed;
at most, now and again, perhaps with the object of forming a lounge
or bedroom at the bottom, they fling out a few loads of rubbish.
But all, little by little, build the kerb that is to edge the

I have given them plenty of first-rate materials, far superior to
those which they use when left to their own resources. These
consist, first, for the foundations, of little smooth stones, some
of which are as large as an almond. With this road-metal are
mingled short strips of raphia, or palm-fibre, flexible ribbons,
easily bent. These stand for the Spider's usual basket-work,
consisting of slender stalks and dry blades of grass. Lastly, by
way of an unprecedented treasure, never yet employed by a Lycosa, I
place at my captives' disposal some thick threads of wool, cut into
inch lengths.

As I wish, at the same time, to find out whether my animals, with
the magnificent lenses of their eyes, are able to distinguish
colours and prefer one colour to another, I mix up bits of wool of
different hues: there are red, green, white and yellow pieces. If
the Spider have any preference, she can choose where she pleases.

The Lycosa always works at night, a regrettable circumstance, which
does not allow me to follow the worker's methods. I see the
result; and that is all. Were I to visit the building-yard by the
light of a lantern, I should be no wiser. The animal, which is
very shy, would at once dive into her lair; and I should have lost
my sleep for nothing. Furthermore, she is not a very diligent
labourer; she likes to take her time. Two or three bits of wool or
raphia placed in position represent a whole night's work. And to
this slowness we must add long spells of utter idleness.

Two months pass; and the result of my liberality surpasses my
expectations. Possessing more windfalls than they know what to do
with, all picked up in their immediate neighbourhood, my Lycosae
have built themselves donjon-keeps the like of which their race has
not yet known. Around the orifice, on a slightly sloping bank,
small, flat, smooth stones have been laid to form a broken, flagged
pavement. The larger stones, which are Cyclopean blocks compared
with the size of the animal that has shifted them, are employed as
abundantly as the others.

On this rockwork stands the donjon. It is an interlacing of raphia
and bits of wool, picked up at random, without distinction of
shade. Red and white, green and yellow are mixed without any
attempt at order. The Lycosa is indifferent to the joys of colour.

The ultimate result is a sort of muff, a couple of inches high.
Bands of silk, supplied by the spinnerets, unite the pieces, so
that the whole resembles a coarse fabric. Without being absolutely
faultless, for there are always awkward pieces on the outside,
which the worker could not handle, the gaudy building is not devoid
of merit. The bird lining its nest would do no better. Whoso sees
the curious, many-coloured productions in my pans takes them for an
outcome of my industry, contrived with a view to some experimental
mischief; and his surprise is great when I confess who the real
author is. No one would ever believe the Spider capable of
constructing such a monument.

It goes without saying that, in a state of liberty, on our barren
waste-lands, the Lycosa does not indulge in such sumptuous
architecture. I have given the reason: she is too great a stay-
at-home to go in search of materials and she makes use of the
limited resources which she finds around her. Bits of earth, small
chips of stone, a few twigs, a few withered grasses: that is all,
or nearly all. Wherefore the work is generally quite modest and
reduced to a parapet that hardly attracts attention.

My captives teach us that, when materials are plentiful, especially
textile materials that remove all fears of landslip, the Lycosa
delights in tall turrets. She understands the art of donjon-
building and puts it into practice as often as she possesses the

This art is akin to another, from which it is apparently derived.
If the sun be fierce or if rain threaten, the Lycosa closes the
entrance to her dwelling with a silken trellis-work, wherein she
embeds different matters, often the remnants of victims which she
has devoured. The ancient Gael nailed the heads of his vanquished
enemies to the door of his hut. In the same way, the fierce Spider
sticks the skulls of her prey into the lid of her cave. These
lumps look very well on the ogre's roof; but we must be careful not
to mistake them for warlike trophies. The animal knows nothing of
our barbarous bravado. Everything at the threshold of the burrow
is used indiscriminately: fragments of Locust, vegetable remains
and especially particles of earth. A Dragon-fly's head baked by
the sun is as good as a bit of gravel and no better.

And so, with silk and all sorts of tiny materials, the Lycosa
builds a lidded cap to the entrance of her home. I am not well
acquainted with the reasons that prompt her to barricade herself
indoors, particularly as the seclusion is only temporary and varies
greatly in duration. I obtain precise details from a tribe of
Lycosae wherewith the enclosure, as will be seen later, happens to
be thronged in consequence of my investigations into the dispersal
of the family.

At the time of the tropical August heat, I see my Lycosae, now this
batch, now that, building, at the entrance to the burrow, a convex
ceiling, which is difficult to distinguish from the surrounding
soil. Can it be to protect themselves from the too-vivid light?
This is doubtful; for, a few days later, though the power of the
sun remain the same, the roof is broken open and the Spider
reappears at her door, where she revels in the torrid heat of the

Later, when October comes, if it be rainy weather, she retires once
more under a roof, as though she were guarding herself against the
damp. Let us not be too positive of anything, however: often,
when it is raining hard, the Spider bursts her ceiling and leaves
her house open to the skies.

Perhaps the lid is only put on for serious domestic events, notably
for the laying. I do, in fact, perceive young Lycosae who shut
themselves in before they have attained the dignity of motherhood
and who reappear, some time later, with the bag containing the eggs
hung to their stern. The inference that they close the door with
the object of securing greater quiet while spinning the maternal
cocoon would not be in keeping with the unconcern displayed by the
majority. I find some who lay their eggs in an open burrow; I come
upon some who weave their cocoon and cram it with eggs in the open
air, before they even own a residence. In short, I do not succeed
in fathoming the reasons that cause the burrow to be closed, no
matter what the weather, hot or cold, wet or dry.

The fact remains that the lid is broken and repaired repeatedly,

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