Monday, December 24, 2012

LED Spiders

     Find a field which is overlain with shaggy grass.
     Go out for a walk two hours after sunset, when the dew has begun to settle like fat little soldiers along the the straight-edges of the grass-blades.  Perhaps the spiders come out to quench their thirst after hot, dry days, inserting their puckered mouths like straws through the surface tension of the dew-bubbles, draining them.
     You'll need a headlamp to keep from tripping over twisted limbs that may have fallen from trees that borders the field.  LED lights send out rays that boomerang back when they hit the pupils of spiders.
     (Do spiders have pupils?)
     Look forward, and you see nothing but sky.  That's what runners do, so intent are they to chalk up miles and finish the run.  But turn your head to the grass and your LED will spotlights thousands of spiders who seem to be staring straight back at you.  Their eyes are pinholes, like another Milky Way, into the universe.
     The first time I saw this glittery display I assumed it was the dew itself reflecting light.  But water doesn't sparkle in response to LED light.  My pond, for instance, is a black hole that soaks up the glow of my headlamp without revealing anything.
     Kneel down, following each pair of lit-up pupils and you'll see in the grass the spiders who own them.  These are known as wolf spiders, terrestrial predators with big eyes.  They don't move.  Maybe they trust you, or are deep in thought.  They wait at night for their prey to wander in front of them, then paralyze them with their venomous fangs.  They don't eat other insects whole, but liquify them by spraying them with enzymes, after which they drink the remains.
     Wolf spiders are found by the millions in gardens and fields, and are an important part of the ecosystem, controlling populations of other insects that destroy crops.  They don't build webs like other spiders, but travel around on the ground, carrying their egg sacs,  then their baby spiders, on their backs.  Wolf spiders don't eat plants--only other living creatures including, sometimes, their mates.  Except for the occasional honeybee or butterfly, their meals consist of insects we'd rather not have around--aphids, roaches, ants, termites.
      There are 38,000 species of spiders, but only four are poisonous:  black widow, brown recluse, hobo and yellow-sac spiders.  The black widows (southern black widow, northern black widow, red widow, and brown widow) and brown recluse are found in Florida.  They don't bite except in defense. They like to hide in dark, enclosed places, so I always shake out my gloves and boots before putting them on, avoiding the most common way to get bitten by a spider.
     Wolf spiders don't bite people.  They sit around on the grass at night, waiting for something to happen.  Sitting around and waiting is something I'm learning to do, too.  If I could also figure out how to paralyze my prey, and liquify it with enzymes, I'd have nothing to worry about.  I'm not sure I'd want to eat a liquified prosecutor, though.  Sounds awful.
     Go out and look for wolf spiders tonight.  If you don't have an LED headlamp, a flashlight works almost as well.   So many eyes, watching you.  It's not a lonely world, out there.   

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