In the famous novel by Bram Stoker, Dracula, there was a character named Renfield who exhibited an abnormal attraction to bugs and spiders; to the point of eating them. He was considered clinically insane. We too exhibited a fascination with bugs, spiders, rodents, reptiles and other creatures; although we didn’t eat them and as far as I know we weren’t considered clinically insane (in order to be clinically insane, one needs to be interviewed and observed by a psychologist or psychiatrist for a diagnosis and to date that hasn’t happened; yet).
One day, while traveling through the neighborhood, in between houses, up and down the street; a sparkle of light, a gleam in the sun, caught my eye. As I got closer to the area where the gleam had originated, I noticed between two bushes on the side of a house, a beautiful, perfectly formed spider web; approximately two feet in diameter. It was glorious! Mankind in all his wisdom could not make something as perfect and beautiful as this web. And yet, in the midst of the beauty, there was also an accompanying feeling of dread and fear. I stood and stared for a while and then ran to get Timmy. I figured that he would want to see this thing too.
As we came back to the spot that held the spider web, we noticed that not only was there a web; there was also a huge, beautiful spider. This spider hung head down in the center of the web. It had bright yellow and black markings on the abdomen and legs with a white head. It was approximately one inch in length; not counting the long legs. We later found out that the spider was known as the Golden Garden Spider and is harmless to humans, but we didn’t know it at the time and our fear was very real. We watched the spider from a safe distance and it stayed in the web; motionless.
At one point the spider began to move from the center of the web back to the outside edge. We jumped back in excitement and slowly approached once again. “I wonder what spiders eat?” I muttered in hushed tones. Timmy wasn’t sure, but guessed, “I don’t know. Maybe bugs?” “Let’s go ask Vicki, she’s smart.” Vicki informed us that the spider would probably eat flies, moths and other bugs. It seems Timmy was right. So we decided to feed the spider.
Our first offering to the altar of the Golden Garden Spider would be a fly and we proceeded to search the neighborhood for a likely fly spot. Like hunting any animal, when you’re trying to find them they’re never around, but when you’re not looking for them, they’re everywhere. We finally found some flies buzzing around a trash can. I smacked one down, stunning it, closed my hand around it and then Timmy and I ran back to the spider web with lunch.
The spider was nowhere to be seen, but we had the fly and decided to throw it into the web anyway. “Timmy, stand back! I’m going to pitch the fly into the web.” “Shouldn’t you stand a wittew cwoseh?” Timmy queried. With an air of confidence I stated, “First, if I get too close, the spider could jump off the web and land on me and then bite me and I could die. Second, I’m a pitcher and I know how to throw a strike. Move back.”
I wound up and threw the fly with all my might, but as we gazed into the web, there wasn’t a fly to be seen. Timmy claimed he saw the creature fly away. I didn’t see it fly away because as soon as I let it go, I turned the other way and ran. Well, back to the trash can for another fly. This time, the fly wouldn’t fly away because I pulled off its wings. (Which is crueler; pulling off the wings or throwing the fly into the spider’s web to be devoured? It’s all a part of nature.)
The second attempt was much more successful. As the fly hit the web, it began to struggle, but to no avail. Finally, the fly stopped struggling and the web became still once again; save for a slight breeze causing a minimal swaying. Up until now, we thought the experience had been really neat. Here’s what happened next. The spider showed up on the web from wherever it was hiding and proceeded down the web to where the fly was trapped. Here are the specifics of the process we saw unfold before our eyes:
The spider does not see very well, but by detecting vibrations of the trapped insect in the web, it knows when lunch or dinner has arrived. It injects its prey with venom and quickly wraps it with silk. When it eats its prey, it injects digestive enzymes to break down the soft tissues into a liquid, which the spider then sucks into its mouth. The exoskeleton of the prey is dropped to the ground. This was great! Far better than television (with only three channels on a black and white TV, it wasn’t hard to beat). Well, we’d done a fly, why not a moth? We proceeded to find and catch a moth, a big one, and took it back to the web, where we watched the same process once again.
From that day on I had a new respect and admiration for the Golden Garden Spider. (It seems that the Golden Garden Spider and Renfield are fellow travelers when it comes to cuisine preferences). I pretty much left the spiders alone out of a newfound respect, although I did try to destroy a web once by spraying water from the garden hose, but the web withstood the onslaught and I gave up and moved on to other mischief.
*This story is an excerpt from Little Heathens, which can be purchased on amazon.com in paperback or Kindle versions.