10 July 2013
In a window she sits with her brood, four woven purses of silk that hold a galaxy of her sons and daughters. She adroitly moves in the tangled architecture of the web, a labyrinth of rooms and corridors with a map known only to her. She is sure of foot despite her large and bulbous abdomen. She has taken the strategic position near a porch light – she’s no fool. Food must come to her, and food always comes to the light. She is the common house spider and she is a friend of yours.
I found this lady house spider [Achaearanae tepidariorum (=Parasteatoda tepidariorum), I’ll admit that ‘house spider’ is easier to say] in the window. Her egg cases are spun silk, silk from her brown mottled globe of an abdomen. As you can see, a small galaxy of spiderlings has emerged, shimmering in the web. Within a week or two these spiderlings will leave home to try to make it on their own. They leave home via ballooning, a process by which each spiderling releases a silken thread from its abdomen and is picked up by the fingers of the wind and carried off. So close your mouth when you bike, you don’t want spiderlings in there. If you’re not familiar with the process of ballooning, then I am so sorry your parents abused you and kept you from reading Charlotte’s Web (Charlotte was not a house spider, she was a weaving spider).
Common house spiders are in the cob-web spider family. It’s okay that you call all spider webs ‘cob-webs.’ To most, including the dictionary, it’s correct. To a fancy spider-ologist (aka arachnologist), however, a cob-web is one with a three-dimensional architecture of tangles. The name of the cob-web spider family, Theridiidae, may not mean anything to you (unless you are one of those fancy spider-ologists,), but this name might, BLACK WIDOW. Mwahahahahahahahahahaha. Ahem. The black widow spider is also in this family, with her globular, shiny boot-black abdomen adorned with the red hour glass to indicate that your time has come. Well, hopefully not. Their bites are painful and not always fatal, but they can be. So go to the doctor if a black widow bites you. Common house spiders are not fatal to humans. A bite may surprise you, but you shouldn’t have been touching the spider in the first place.
House spiders are common in the eaves, doorways, windows, and corners of houses. Any corner will do. You may consider them pests, but they do eat those insects that you just let in the house as you came in the door. You may consider their dust-covered webs unsightly and only appropriate for Halloween. I ask you then, what is more unsightly, a dusty cob-web or flies in your butter? I say cob-webs are not the sign of an unkempt house, but a healthy one. But if you must remove them, before you jam the unkind end of the broom into the web, catch the resident in a jar and put her under the porch. Or in a barn perhaps. Maybe one with a pig.