I found it a most refreshing and peaceful walk but my friend was an anxious and fearful soul and always had a feeling of foreboding that we might be attacked along the way. She had an arsenal of ‘weapons’ that she carried to protect us … sometimes a hatpin, an umbrella and once a pepper pot.
It made me realise for the first time that I am quite fearless. I’ve travelled alone to many countries where I didn’t speak one word of the language. I loved the challenge of making myself understood, and travelling alone opens you up to experiences you wouldn’t have if travelling with a companion.
But my fearlessness comes to a grinding halt when I come face to face with a spider, particularly a huntsman. Yes I know they are pretty harmless, my brain knows that, but my heart disagrees. I’ve seen them jump, and when I’m lying in bed and see one eyeing me (with all eight eyes) from the ceiling above, I can reach speeds previously unknown to man.
I’m a complete wimp when it comes to spiders and yet they are some of the most amazing and complex creatures on the planet.
A common garden spider can produce seven different types of silk, made from a different sequence of proteins. And each type of thread has a unique purpose.
Some of the threads are sticky, enabling the spider to catch prey. This silk’s gumminess comes from a super strong polymer adhesive that is produced in a gland in the spider’s abdomen. When the spider wants to cross these threads, it uses tiny claws on its legs, which prevent it from getting stuck. The silk is highly elastic and can stretch to 140% of its length without breaking.
Bolas spiders use their silk to make something like a fishing line with a sticky blob at the end. They throw this at insects passing by, snagging them just like a fishermen catching fish.
Nephila spiders, or the golden silk orb-weavers produce gold silk. After mating, the female wraps her single egg sac in a mass of golden silk, which is then hidden on foliage away from the web, disguised within a curled leaf for protection.
The Darwin Bark spider, from Madagascar, is only the size of a thumbnail but creates the strongest material made by a living organism. Their giant webs can span rivers, streams, and even lakes and weight for weight their silk is 10 times stronger than Kevlar. To build it, the female sprays a continuous line of silk 25 metres long from one bank of the river. Air currents carry it across to the other side to create a bridge. In the centre of this bridge, the spider constructs a spiralling orb web that can reach almost 3m in diameter. By positioning their webs directly above rivers, they can capture dragonflies, mayflies and other energy-rich insects that live over the water.
The world’s biggest spider is the goliath spider (Theraphosa blondi). It can grow up to 11 inches wide, and its fangs are up to one inch long. It hunts frogs, lizards, mice, and even small snakes and young birds. I definitely don't want to meet one of those!
And I've kept the best until last. The Australian Maratus "peacock" jumping spider is no bigger than a ladybird. The male is a talented dancer with fancy footwork, using their elaborately decorated abdomen flap to attract the female. Most spiders don't have the visual sensitivity to perceive bright colours, but the peacock spider sees colour through ultraviolet, blue green and red sensitive cells within their eyes, similar to birds. These tiny 'birds of paradise', just 4mm in size are a masterpiece of creation. (Photo: National Science Foundation.)
Spider silk farming has not been successful either. Even though silk can be extracted from spiders, millions of them are needed in order to create just a few feet of silk. Spiders are difficult to keep in captivity in large numbers: they need to be kept separate from each other, due to their predatory nature. Spider silk is compatible with human cells so it could be used for a myriad of medical purposes if ever they discover how to reproduce it.
But most of all I stand in aware of the Creator who designed it all in the first place.
Check out this cute video clip of the Peacock spider dancing. Enjoy! :