There has been an Funnel Web Spider living in the corner of our bathroom windowsill this summer. I call her Svetlana, after the one-legged health aid in the “Sopranos”. TV’s Svetlana had nerves of steel and dispensed truth from one side of her mouth while the other was clamped down on a cigarette. It took me a while to settle on a name, but I decided that in spite of the disparity in the number of their legs they had much in common.
My husband wanted to close the window the other night. I told him flat out no and explained that Svetlana wouldn’t be able to make it out of her little funnel (which she cleverly built into the channel of the window sill) if we closed the window. John is a champ, and has gotten used to a lot over the years, so he didn’t even bat an eye when I explained I was talking about a spider. He has even learned to feign interest,bless him, and asked what kind of spider was going to mean wearing a sweater while he brushed his teeth. When I said, “Funnel Web”, he whooped “Whoa! Poisonous! The SAS Survival Guide says they are one of the most poisonous spiders in the world!” I knew I shouldn’t have gotten him that book for Christmas. But Svetlana is a NORTH AMERICAN funnel web, not the Australian spider the SAS warns of. That is not to say, however, that she hasn’t got her own little arsenal of survival tricks.
Funnel Web spiders are sometimes called “grass” spiders, for their habit of making trampoline-like webs in the grass or shrubbery. If you look carefully you can sometimes see a little tunnel leading to who-knows-where in the grass or greens. This is where the spider usually waits for another bug to fall or fly into the web, whereupon the spider scurries out and bites the victim. The insides of the victim liquify and the spider returns later and drinks him up. The web doesn’t even have to be made of sticky silk to work perfectly.
Spiders can be quite pretty and FW’s are no exception. They have stripey legs, and lines on their backs. There are usually eight eyes in rows of four over four which glitter if they catch the light properly. Of course, you can see all of this better and better as the spider molts its exoskeleton and gets progressively bigger, between four and twelve times in a summer, depending on the species.
Spiders are quite versatile, especially the Funnel Web. This time of year the vegetation has lots of dew in the morning and when I walk in the meadow I can see many of their webs spread out on the grass like so much laundry drying, the shapes made visible by the moisture. It’s fun but also a bit wicked to take a little branch and disturb the web ever so slightly so you can watch the spider dart out in the hope that a juicy meal has run afoul of her lines.
I made a little movie recently of some webs I found at Hill-Stead, and I added a few frames of Svetlana. There’s a love scene even though the whole thing only lasts four and a half minutes. Don’t get too invested in the romance, though. It ends badly for the fellow. Some spider brides kill the groom, wrap him up and eat him later. The couple in my movie are orb weavers, but unfortunately for male spiders, the habit is not confined to that species.
Get your popcorn, and I’ll see you on the trails.