A spider and I commiserated on the patio for a couple of hours this afternoon, me from my chair, she from the edge of the table. This one was so teeny that two or three of them would fit on my littlest fingernail. As I gently touched a back leg, she leaped onto my thumbnail. No, I didn’t shake her off, though my abrupt twitch of surprise had her leaping back to the security of the table edge. She had four elongated front legs and a huge bulbous abdomen. Each leg was striped in brown, and her yellowish belly sported a few delicate spots. I excused myself and went indoors to check out what kind of spider she was.
A crab spider. Here she was, visiting me on my patio. Like a crab, she displayed long front legs. And yes, she did walk sideways. Even more fun to watch was how she reacted to me. Clearly, she could see me, because she maneuvered a bit every time I moved. Unlike other spiders, this little beauty has eight distinct eyes, as opposed to most spiders who have eyes with multiple facets. So, we played this game where I advanced to within “nose-reach,” then backed off. Eventually, we both tired of that, and I settled in to simply observe.
Mostly, she carried those long, widely-spaced front legs tight together, two to a side. But every so often, she stretched them out, hoisted the rear of her abdomen, and sat quite still for a long moment. What on earth was she doing? Finally, when the sunlight fell just right, I could see her spinning out a long silken strand, at least a foot long. Considering these spiders don’t spin webs, my best guess was that she was searching for a toehold, as it were. She wasn’t fishing, looking to haul in prey, because crab spiders sit and wait for prey—small insects and such—to come within reach, so they can grab with those powerful crab-like front legs, and drag it in to inject a fatal venom. She must have been a spider-explorer, floating out filament after filament, hoping to snag the edge of a new place to visit.
A flash from the past sent me searching for a poem I remembered about a spider. Sure enough. Walt Whitman. Here was his noiseless, patient spider come to visit me. What a gift!
Here’s Whitman’s poem. Enjoy!
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.