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I do admit that spiders kind of creep me out.


They are also a rather amazing family of creatures. Much like humans, they have managed to reach most of the lands on our planet. Spiders produce silk which, by weight, is five times as strong as steel.


Some make beautiful webs. And some are themselves beautiful. In any case, like every other advanced life form, their internal structure is an incredible design fitted to their environment.

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Their behavior is part of that beauty as well. I had an opportunity to observe a fairly large one for a few days. She had built a web, larger than a bicycle tire, all across the entry way of our back deck. My wife and I liked to go out on the back deck, but both of us were reluctant to destroy the beautiful symmetry of the web. I spent some time watching and she always returned to the center of his web after every “search and destroy” mission that she carried out. As soon as something hit the web, she rushed out unerringly to the spot where the unlucky mosquito, fly, or small moth struggled to set itself free. I only saw one insect succeed before the spider wrapped his prey and bit it to immobilize it. After wrapping up the unlucky prey, the spider would go back to the center. The center is a wise place for her to hang out. It gives the minimum maximum distance to “get to” the prey. And, it allows maximum discrimination for which direction to go. It also allows the spider to “run” the same “algorithm” to get to her prey.

Once, it happened by chance, that two little flying insects hit the web simultaneously and quite far apart. The spider rushed off to one of the two and wrapped it immediately in its silky tomb. Then she returned to the center. She seemed to recall that somewhere out there was another meal, but she didn’t know where. And the insect caught was no longer struggling. So — the spider began systematically “plucking” the radial strings of her web one by one. At last she came to the strand which led to the position of the fly who was attempting to play possum. But once that strand vibrated, the fly, out of what might be something like fear, began to struggle again. That was a fatal mistake. In a flash, the spider’s hypothesis confirmed, she ran up that strand and wrapped up that prey as well.

In The Hobbit, as well as The Lord of the Rings, large spiders are willful villains. It’s much the same in Harry Potter. It’s rare for a spider to be one of the “good guys” but it does happen; e.g., in Charlotte’s Web. Spiders can hurt and even kill people. But it is very rare in the United States; on average about 6 per year. About 30 are killed from stinging insects; about the same number as dogs. About 130 are killed from collisions with deer. The biggest killer worldwide, in terms of complex animals is the mosquito. Those critters have partners of course. They transmit malaria, dengue fever, Zika, encephalitis and other diseases. Spiders trap and kill a lot of mosquitos. Does that make them our friends? Is the enemy of my enemy necessarily my friend?

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The truth is that the web of life has many players and is a constant dance. We try to make sense of it, but we are not really in a position to really understand how the estimated 8 million species interact. In a few cases, like the novel coronavirus, it seems pretty clear that the virus is not friendly to humans. In this case, the “vector” that transmits the virus is not a mosquito. It’s other human beings — especially those who don’t wear masks or socially distance — who are acting as vectors, spreading disease, and killing their fellow Americans. Is the friend of my enemy my enemy?

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

Which is exactly why Putin is working so hard to divide Americans against each other and to break up the EU and NATO.

Have you heard the story about the tailor who killed giants by hiding in a tree and throwing stones at the giants? Each giant assumed another giant had thrown the stone and they ended up killing each other while the tailor sat hidden in the tree. Except in our case, we know there’s a tailor in the tree throwing stones and it makes no difference. Weird.

Meanwhile, the spider spins a web. Watch her grace. Watch her unity. It isn’t simply the left hand knowing what the right is doing. It’s every one of her eight hands knowing what each of the other seven is doing. When they don’t fight with each other, much can be accomplished.

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