The Life of the Spider
by J. Henri Fabre
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The exigencies of order and clearness expose me, it is true, to occasional repetitions. This is inevitable when one has to marshal in an harmonious whole a thousand items culled from day to day, often unexpectedly, and bearing no relation one to the other. The observer is not master of his time; opportunity leads him and by unsuspected ways. A certain question suggested by an earlier fact finds no reply until many years after. Its scope, moreover, is amplified and completed with views collected on the road. In a work, therefore, of this fragmentary character, repetitions, necessary for the due co-ordination of ideas, are inevitable. I shall be as sparing of them as I can.

Let us once more introduce our old friends the Epeira and the Lycosa, who are the most important Spiders in my district. The Narbonne Lycosa, or Black-bellied Tarantula, chooses her domicile in the waste, pebbly lands beloved of the thyme. Her dwelling, a fortress rather than a villa, is a burrow about nine inches deep and as wide as the neck of a claret-bottle. The direction is perpendicular, in so far as obstacles, frequent in a soil of this kind, permit. A bit of gravel can be extracted and hoisted outside; but a flint is an immovable boulder which the Spider avoids by giving a bend to her gallery. If more such are met with, the residence becomes a winding cave, with stone vaults, with lobbies communicating by means of sharp passages.

This lack of plan has no attendant drawbacks, so well does the owner, from long habit, know every corner and storey of her mansion. If any interesting buzz occur overhead, the Lycosa climbs up from her rugged manor with the same speed as from a vertical shaft. Perhaps she even finds the windings and turnings an advantage, when she has to drag into her den a prey that happens to defend itself.

As a rule, the end of the burrow widens into a side-chamber, a lounge or resting-place where the Spider meditates at length and is content to lead a life of quiet when her belly is full.

A silk coating, but a scanty one, for the Lycosa has not the wealth of silk possessed by the Weaving Spiders, lines the walls of the tube and keeps the loose earth from falling. This plaster, which cements the incohesive and smooths the rugged parts, is reserved more particularly for the top of the gallery, near the mouth. Here, in the daytime, if things be peaceful all around, the Lycosa stations herself, either to enjoy the warmth of the sun, her great delight, or to lie in wait for game. The threads of the silk lining afford a firm hold to the claws on every side, whether the object be to sit motionless for hours, revelling in the light and heat, or to pounce upon the passing prey.

Around the orifice of the burrow rises, to a greater or lesser height, a circular parapet, formed of tiny pebbles, twigs and straps borrowed from the dry leaves of the neighbouring grasses, all more or less dexterously tied together and cemented with silk. This work of rustic architecture is never missing, even though it be no more than a mere pad.

When she reaches maturity and is once settled, the Lycosa becomes eminently domesticated. I have been living in close communion with her for the last three years. I have installed her in large earthen pans on the window-sills of my study and I have her daily under my eyes. Well, it is very rarely that I happen on her outside, a few inches from her hole, back to which she bolts at the least alarm.

We may take it, then, that, when not in captivity, the Lycosa does not go far afield to gather the wherewithal to build her parapet and that she makes shift with what she finds upon her threshold. In these conditions, the building-stones are soon exhausted and the masonry ceases for lack of materials.

The wish came over me to see what dimensions the circular edifice would assume, if the Spider were given an unlimited supply. With captives to whom I myself act as purveyor the thing is easy enough. Were it only with a view to helping whoso may one day care to continue these relations with the big Spider of the waste-lands, let me describe how my subjects are housed.

A good-sized earthenware pan, some nine inches deep, is filled with a red, clayey earth, rich in pebbles, similar, in short, to that of the places haunted by the Lycosa. Properly moistened into a paste, the artificial soil is heaped, layer by layer, around a central reed, of a bore equal to that of the animal's natural burrow. When the receptacle is filled to the top, I withdraw the reed, which leaves a yawning, perpendicular shaft. I thus obtain the abode which shall replace that of the fields.

To find the hermit to inhabit it is merely the matter of a walk in the neighbourhood. When removed from her own dwelling, which is turned topsy- turvy by my trowel, and placed in possession of the den produced by my art, the Lycosa at once disappears into that den. She does not come out again, seeks nothing better elsewhere. A large wire-gauze cover rests on the soil in the pan and prevents escape.

In any case, the watch, in this respect, makes no demands upon my diligence. The prisoner is satisfied with her new abode and manifests no regret for her natural burrow. There is no attempt at flight on her part. Let me not omit to add that each pan must receive not more than one inhabitant. The Lycosa is very intolerant. To her, a neighbour is fair game, to be eaten without scruple when one has might on one's side. Time was when, unaware of this fierce intolerance, which is more savage still at breeding-time, I saw hideous orgies perpetrated in my overstocked cages. I shall have occasion to describe those tragedies later.

Let us meanwhile consider the isolated Lycosae. They do not touch up the dwelling which I have moulded for them with a bit of reed; at most, now and again, perhaps with the object of forming a lounge or bedroom at the bottom, they fling out a few loads of rubbish. But all, little by little, build the kerb that is to edge the mouth.

I have given them plenty of first-rate materials, far superior to those which they use when left to their own resources. These consist, first, for the foundations, of little smooth stones, some of which are as large as an almond. With this road-metal are mingled short strips of raphia, or palm-fibre, flexible ribbons, easily bent. These stand for the Spider's usual basket-work, consisting of slender stalks and dry blades of grass. Lastly, by way of an unprecedented treasure, never yet employed by a Lycosa, I place at my captives' disposal some thick threads of wool, cut into inch lengths.

As I wish, at the same time, to find out whether my animals, with the magnificent lenses of their eyes, are able to distinguish colours and prefer one colour to another, I mix up bits of wool of different hues: there are red, green, white and yellow pieces. If the Spider have any preference, she can choose where she pleases.

The Lycosa always works at night, a regrettable circumstance, which does not allow me to follow the worker's methods. I see the result; and that is all. Were I to visit the building-yard by the light of a lantern, I should be no wiser. The animal, which is very shy, would at once dive into her lair; and I should have lost my sleep for nothing. Furthermore, she is not a very diligent labourer; she likes to take her time. Two or three bits of wool or raphia placed in position represent a whole night's work. And to this slowness we must add long spells of utter idleness.

Two months pass; and the result of my liberality surpasses my expectations. Possessing more windfalls than they know what to do with, all picked up in their immediate neighbourhood, my Lycosae have built themselves donjon-keeps the like of which their race has not yet known. Around the orifice, on a slightly sloping bank, small, flat, smooth stones have been laid to form a broken, flagged pavement. The larger stones, which are Cyclopean blocks compared with the size of the animal that has shifted them, are employed as abundantly as the others.

On this rockwork stands the donjon. It is an interlacing of raphia and bits of wool, picked up at random, without distinction of shade. Red and white, green and yellow are mixed without any attempt at order. The Lycosa is indifferent to the joys of colour.

The ultimate result is a sort of muff, a couple of inches high. Bands of silk, supplied by the spinnerets, unite the pieces, so that the whole resembles a coarse fabric. Without being absolutely faultless, for there are always awkward pieces on the outside, which the worker could not handle, the gaudy building is not devoid of merit. The bird lining its nest would do no better. Whoso sees the curious, many-coloured productions in my pans takes them for an outcome of my industry, contrived with a view to some experimental mischief; and his surprise is great when I confess who the real author is. No one would ever believe the Spider capable of constructing such a monument.

It goes without saying that, in a state of liberty, on our barren waste- lands, the Lycosa does not indulge in such sumptuous architecture. I have given the reason: she is too great a stay-at-home to go in search of materials and she makes use of the limited resources which she finds around her. Bits of earth, small chips of stone, a few twigs, a few withered grasses: that is all, or nearly all. Wherefore the work is generally quite modest and reduced to a parapet that hardly attracts attention.

My captives teach us that, when materials are plentiful, especially textile materials that remove all fears of landslip, the Lycosa delights in tall turrets. She understands the art of donjon-building and puts it into practice as often as she possesses the means.

This art is akin to another, from which it is apparently derived. If the sun be fierce or if rain threaten, the Lycosa closes the entrance to her dwelling with a silken trellis-work, wherein she embeds different matters, often the remnants of victims which she has devoured. The ancient Gael nailed the heads of his vanquished enemies to the door of his hut. In the same way, the fierce Spider sticks the skulls of her prey into the lid of her cave. These lumps look very well on the ogre's roof; but we must be careful not to mistake them for warlike trophies. The animal knows nothing of our barbarous bravado. Everything at the threshold of the burrow is used indiscriminately: fragments of Locust, vegetable remains and especially particles of earth. A Dragon-fly's head baked by the sun is as good as a bit of gravel and no better.

And so, with silk and all sorts of tiny materials, the Lycosa builds a lidded cap to the entrance of her home. I am not well acquainted with the reasons that prompt her to barricade herself indoors, particularly as the seclusion is only temporary and varies greatly in duration. I obtain precise details from a tribe of Lycosae wherewith the enclosure, as will be seen later, happens to be thronged in consequence of my investigations into the dispersal of the family.

At the time of the tropical August heat, I see my Lycosae, now this batch, now that, building, at the entrance to the burrow, a convex ceiling, which is difficult to distinguish from the surrounding soil. Can it be to protect themselves from the too-vivid light? This is doubtful; for, a few days later, though the power of the sun remain the same, the roof is broken open and the Spider reappears at her door, where she revels in the torrid heat of the dog-days.

Later, when October comes, if it be rainy weather, she retires once more under a roof, as though she were guarding herself against the damp. Let us not be too positive of anything, however: often, when it is raining hard, the Spider bursts her ceiling and leaves her house open to the skies.

Perhaps the lid is only put on for serious domestic events, notably for the laying. I do, in fact, perceive young Lycosae who shut themselves in before they have attained the dignity of motherhood and who reappear, some time later, with the bag containing the eggs hung to their stern. The inference that they close the door with the object of securing greater quiet while spinning the maternal cocoon would not be in keeping with the unconcern displayed by the majority. I find some who lay their eggs in an open burrow; I come upon some who weave their cocoon and cram it with eggs in the open air, before they even own a residence. In short, I do not succeed in fathoming the reasons that cause the burrow to be closed, no matter what the weather, hot or cold, wet or dry.

The fact remains that the lid is broken and repaired repeatedly, sometimes on the same day. In spite of the earthy casing, the silk woof gives it the requisite pliancy to cleave when pushed by the anchorite and to rip open without falling into ruins. Swept back to the circumference of the mouth and increased by the wreckage of further ceilings, it becomes a parapet, which the Lycosa raises by degrees in her long moments of leisure. The bastion which surmounts the burrow, therefore, takes its origin from the temporary lid. The turret derives from the split ceiling.

What is the purpose of this turret? My pans will tell us that. An enthusiastic votary of the chase, so long as she is not permanently fixed, the Lycosa, once she has set up house, prefers to lie in ambush and wait for the quarry. Every day, when the heat is greatest, I see my captives come up slowly from under ground and lean upon the battlements of their woolly castle-keep. They are then really magnificent in their stately gravity. With their swelling belly contained within the aperture, their head outside, their glassy eyes staring, their legs gathered for a spring, for hours and hours they wait, motionless, bathing voluptuously in the sun.

Should a tit-bit to her liking happen to pass, forthwith the watcher darts from her tall tower, swift as an arrow from the bow. With a dagger- thrust in the neck, she stabs the jugular of the Locust, Dragon-fly or other prey whereof I am the purveyor; and she as quickly scales the donjon and retires with her capture. The performance is a wonderful exhibition of skill and speed.

Very seldom is a quarry missed, provided that it pass at a convenient distance, within the range of the huntress' bound. But, if the prey be at some distance, for instance on the wire of the cage, the Lycosa takes no notice of it. Scorning to go in pursuit, she allows it to roam at will. She never strikes except when sure of her stroke. She achieves this by means of her tower. Hiding behind the wall, she sees the stranger advancing, keeps her eyes on him and suddenly pounces when he comes within reach. These abrupt tactics make the thing a certainty. Though he were winged and swift of flight, the unwary one who approaches the ambush is lost.

This presumes, it is true, an exemplary patience on the Lycosa's part; for the burrow has naught that can serve to entice victims. At best, the ledge provided by the turret may, at rare intervals, tempt some weary wayfarer to use it as a resting-place. But, if the quarry do not come to- day, it is sure to come to-morrow, the next day, or later, for the Locusts hop innumerable in the waste-land, nor are they always able to regulate their leaps. Some day or other, chance is bound to bring one of them within the purlieus of the burrow. This is the moment to spring upon the pilgrim from the ramparts. Until then, we maintain a stoical vigilance. We shall dine when we can; but we shall end by dining.

The Lycosa, therefore, well aware of these lingering eventualities, waits and is not unduly distressed by a prolonged abstinence. She has an accommodating stomach, which is satisfied to be gorged to-day and to remain empty afterwards for goodness knows how long. I have sometimes neglected my catering-duties for weeks at a time; and my boarders have been none the worse for it. After a more or less protracted fast, they do not pine away, but are smitten with a wolf-like hunger. All these ravenous eaters are alike: they guzzle to excess to-day, in anticipation of to-morrow's dearth.

In her youth, before she has a burrow, the Lycosa earns her living in another manner. Clad in grey like her elders, but without the black-velvet apron which she receives on attaining the marriageable age, she roams among the scrubby grass. This is true hunting. Should a suitable quarry heave in sight, the Spider pursues it, drives it from its shelters, follows it hot-foot. The fugitive gains the heights, makes as though to fly away. He has not the time. With an upward leap, the Lycosa grabs him before he can rise.

I am charmed with the agility wherewith my yearling boarders seize the Flies which I provide for them. In vain does the Fly take refuge a couple of inches up, on some blade of grass. With a sudden spring into the air, the Spider pounces on the prey. No Cat is quicker in catching her Mouse.

But these are the feats of youth not handicapped by obesity. Later, when a heavy paunch, dilated with eggs and silk, has to be trailed along, those gymnastic performances become impracticable. The Lycosa then digs herself a settled abode, a hunting-box, and sits in her watch-tower, on the look-out for game.

When and how is the burrow obtained wherein the Lycosa, once a vagrant, now a stay-at-home, is to spend the remainder of her long life? We are in autumn, the weather is already turning cool. This is how the Field Cricket sets to work: as long as the days are fine and the nights not too cold, the future chorister of spring rambles over the fallows, careless of a local habitation. At critical moments, the cover of a dead leaf provides him with a temporary shelter. In the end, the burrow, the permanent dwelling, is dug as the inclement season draws nigh.

The Lycosa shares the Cricket's views: like him, she finds a thousand pleasures in the vagabond life. With September comes the nuptial badge, the black-velvet bib. The Spiders meet at night, by the soft moonlight: they romp together, they eat the beloved shortly after the wedding; by day, they scour the country, they track the game on the short-pile, grassy carpet, they take their fill of the joys of the sun. That is much better than solitary meditation at the bottom of a well. And so it is not rare to see young mothers dragging their bag of eggs, or even already carrying their family, and as yet without a home.

In October, it is time to settle down. We then, in fact, find two sorts of burrows, which differ in diameter. The larger, bottle-neck burrows belong to the old matrons, who have owned their house for two years at least. The smaller, of the width of a thick lead-pencil, contain the young mothers, born that year. By dint of long and leisurely alterations, the novice's earths will increase in depth as well as in diameter and become roomy abodes, similar to those of the grandmothers. In both, we find the owner and her family, the latter sometimes already hatched and sometimes still enclosed in the satin wallet.

Seeing no digging-tools, such as the excavation of the dwelling seemed to me to require, I wondered whether the Lycosa might not avail herself of some chance gallery, the work of the Cicada or the Earth-worm. This ready-made tunnel, thought I, must shorten the labours of the Spider, who appears to be so badly off for tools; she would only have to enlarge it and put it in order. I was wrong: the burrow is excavated, from start to finish, by her unaided labour.

Then where are the digging-implements? We think of the legs, of the claws. We think of them, but reflection tells us that tools such as these would not do: they are too long and too difficult to wield in a confined space. What is required is the miner's short-handled pick, wherewith to drive hard, to insert, to lever and to extract; what is required is the sharp point that enters the earth and crumbles it into fragments. There remain the Lycosa's fangs, delicate weapons which we at first hesitate to associate with such work, so illogical does it seem to dig a pit with surgeon's scalpels.

The fangs are a pair of sharp, curved points, which, when at rest, crook like a finger and take shelter between two strong pillars. The Cat sheathes her claws under the velvet of the paw, to preserve their edge and sharpness. In the same way, the Lycosa protects her poisoned daggers by folding them within the case of two powerful columns, which come plumb on the surface and contain the muscles that work them.

Well, this surgical outfit, intended for stabbing the jugular artery of the prey, suddenly becomes a pick-axe and does rough navvy's work. To witness the underground digging is impossible; but we can, at least, with the exercise of a little patience, see the rubbish carted away. If I watch my captives, without tiring, at a very early hour—for the work takes place mostly at night and at long intervals—in the end I catch them coming up with a load. Contrary to what I expected, the legs take no part in the carting. It is the mouth that acts as the barrow. A tiny ball of earth is held between the fangs and is supported by the palpi, or feelers, which are little arms employed in the service of the mouth-parts. The Lycosa descends cautiously from her turret, goes to some distance to get rid of her burden and quickly dives down again to bring up more.

We have seen enough: we know that the Lycosa's fangs, those lethal weapons, are not afraid to bite into clay and gravel. They knead the excavated rubbish into pellets, take up the mass of earth and carry it outside. The rest follows naturally; it is the fangs that dig, delve and extract. How finely-tempered they must be, not to be blunted by this well-sinker's work and to do duty presently in the surgical operation of stabbing the neck!

I have said that the repairs and extensions of the burrow are made at long intervals. From time to time, the circular parapet receives additions and becomes a little higher; less frequently still, the dwelling is enlarged and deepened. As a rule, the mansion remains as it was for a whole season. Towards the end of winter, in March more than at any other period, the Lycosa seems to wish to give herself a little more space. This is the moment to subject her to certain tests.

We know that the Field Cricket, when removed from his burrow and caged under conditions that would allow him to dig himself a new home should the fit seize him, prefers to tramp from one casual shelter to another, or rather abandons every idea of creating a permanent residence. There is a short season whereat the instinct for building a subterranean gallery is imperatively aroused. When this season is past, the excavating artist, if accidentally deprived of his abode, becomes a wandering Bohemian, careless of a lodging. He has forgotten his talents and he sleeps out.

That the bird, the nest-builder, should neglect its art when it has no brood to care for is perfectly logical: it builds for its family, not for itself. But what shall we say of the Cricket, who is exposed to a thousand mishaps when away from home? The protection of a roof would be of great use to him; and the giddy-pate does not give it a thought, though he is very strong and more capable than ever of digging with his powerful jaws.

What reason can we allege for this neglect? None, unless it be that the season of strenuous burrowing is past. The instincts have a calendar of their own. At the given hour, suddenly they awaken; as suddenly, afterwards, they fall asleep. The ingenious become incompetent when the prescribed period is ended.

On a subject of this kind, we can consult the Spider of the waste-lands. I catch an old Lycosa in the fields and house her, that same day, under wire, in a burrow where I have prepared a soil to her liking. If, by my contrivances and with a bit of reed, I have previously moulded a burrow roughly representing the one from which I took her, the Spider enters it forthwith and seems pleased with her new residence. The product of my art is accepted as her lawful property and undergoes hardly any alterations. In course of time, a bastion is erected around the orifice; the top of the gallery is cemented with silk; and that is all. In this establishment of my building, the animal's behaviour remains what it would be under natural conditions.

But place the Lycosa on the surface of the ground, without first shaping a burrow. What will the homeless Spider do? Dig herself a dwelling, one would think. She has the strength to do so; she is in the prime of life. Besides, the soil is similar to that whence I ousted her and suits the operation perfectly. We therefore expect to see the Spider settled before long in a shaft of her own construction.

We are disappointed. Weeks pass and not an effort is made, not one. Demoralized by the absence of an ambush, the Lycosa hardly vouchsafes a glance at the game which I serve up. The Crickets pass within her reach in vain; most often she scorns them. She slowly wastes away with fasting and boredom. At length, she dies.

Take up your miner's trade again, poor fool! Make yourself a home, since you know how to, and life will be sweet to you for many a long day yet: the weather is fine and victuals plentiful. Dig, delve, go underground, where safety lies. Like an idiot, you refrain; and you perish. Why?

Because the craft which you were wont to ply is forgotten; because the days of patient digging are past and your poor brain is unable to work back. To do a second time what has been done already is beyond your wit. For all your meditative air, you cannot solve the problem of how to reconstruct that which is vanished and gone.

Let us now see what we can do with younger Lycosae, who are at the burrowing-stage. I dig out five or six at the end of February. They are half the size of the old ones; their burrows are equal in diameter to my little finger. Rubbish quite fresh-spread around the pit bears witness to the recent date of the excavations.

Relegated to their wire cages, these young Lycosae behave differently according as the soil placed at their disposal is or is not already provided with a burrow made by me. A burrow is hardly the word: I give them but the nucleus of a shaft, about an inch deep, to lure them on. When in possession of this rudimentary lair, the Spider does not hesitate to pursue the work which I have interrupted in the fields. At night, she digs with a will. I can see this by the heap of rubbish flung aside. She at last obtains a house to suit her, a house surmounted by the usual turret.

The others, on the contrary, those Spiders for whom the thrust of my pencil has not contrived an entrance-hall representing, to a certain extent, the natural gallery whence I dislodged them, absolutely refuse to work; and they die, notwithstanding the abundance of provisions.

The first pursue the season's task. They were digging when I caught them; and, carried away by the enthusiasm of their activity, they go on digging inside my cages. Taken in by my decoy-shaft, they deepen the imprint of the pencil as though they were deepening their real vestibule. They do not begin their labours over again; they continue them.

The second, not having this inducement, this semblance of a burrow mistaken for their own work, forsake the idea of digging and allow themselves to die, because they would have to travel back along the chain of actions and to resume the pick-strokes of the start. To begin all over again requires reflection, a quality wherewith they are not endowed.

To the insect—and we have seen this in many earlier cases—what is done is done and cannot be taken up again. The hands of a watch do not move backwards. The insect behaves in much the same way. Its activity urges it in one direction, ever forwards, without allowing it to retrace its steps, even when an accident makes this necessary.

What the Mason-bees and the others taught us erewhile the Lycosa now confirms in her manner. Incapable of taking fresh pains to build herself a second dwelling, when the first is done for, she will go on the tramp, she will break into a neighbour's house, she will run the risk of being eaten should she not prove the stronger, but she will never think of making herself a home by starting afresh.

What a strange intellect is that of the animal, a mixture of mechanical routine and subtle brain-power! Does it contain gleams that contrive, wishes that pursue a definite object? Following in the wake of so many others, the Lycosa warrants us in entertaining a doubt.


For three weeks and more, the Lycosa trails the bag of eggs hanging to her spinnerets. The reader will remember the experiments described in the third chapter of this volume, particularly those with the cork ball and the thread pellet which the Spider so foolishly accepts in exchange for the real pill. Well, this exceedingly dull-witted mother, satisfied with aught that knocks against her heels, is about to make us wonder at her devotion.

Whether she come up from her shaft to lean upon the kerb and bask in the sun, whether she suddenly retire underground in the face of danger, or whether she be roaming the country before settling down, never does she let go her precious bag, that very cumbrous burden in walking, climbing or leaping. If, by some accident, it become detached from the fastening to which it is hung, she flings herself madly on her treasure and lovingly embraces it, ready to bite whoso would take it from her. I myself am sometimes the thief. I then hear the points of the poison-fangs grinding against the steel of my pincers, which tug in one direction while the Lycosa tugs in the other. But let us leave the animal alone: with a quick touch of the spinnerets, the pill is restored to its place; and the Spider strides off, still menacing.

Towards the end of summer, all the householders, old or young, whether in captivity on the window-sill or at liberty in the paths of the enclosure, supply me daily with the following improving sight. In the morning, as soon as the sun is hot and beats upon their burrow, the anchorites come up from the bottom with their bag and station themselves at the opening. Long siestas on the threshold in the sun are the order of the day throughout the fine season; but, at the present time, the position adopted is a different one. Formerly, the Lycosa came out into the sun for her own sake. Leaning on the parapet, she had the front half of her body outside the pit and the hinder half inside.

The eyes took their fill of light; the belly remained in the dark. When carrying her egg-bag, the Spider reverses the posture: the front is in the pit, the rear outside. With her hind-legs she holds the white pill bulging with germs lifted above the entrance; gently she turns and returns it, so as to present every side to the life-giving rays. And this goes on for half the day, so long as the temperature is high; and it is repeated daily, with exquisite patience, during three or four weeks. To hatch its eggs, the bird covers them with the quilt of its breast; it strains them to the furnace of its heart. The Lycosa turns hers in front of the hearth of hearths, she gives them the sun as an incubator.

In the early days of September, the young ones, who have been some time hatched, are ready to come out. The pill rips open along the middle fold. We read of the origin of this fold in an earlier chapter. {24} Does the mother, feeling the brood quicken inside the satin wrapper, herself break open the vessel at the opportune moment? It seems probable. On the other hand, there may be a spontaneous bursting, such as we shall see later in the Banded Epeira's balloon, a tough wallet which opens a breach of its own accord, long after the mother has ceased to exist.

The whole family emerges from the bag straightway. Then and there, the youngsters climb to the mother's back. As for the empty bag, now a worthless shred, it is flung out of the burrow; the Lycosa does not give it a further thought. Huddled together, sometimes in two or three layers, according to their number, the little ones cover the whole back of the mother, who, for seven or eight months to come, will carry her family night and day. Nowhere can we hope to see a more edifying domestic picture than that of the Lycosa clothed in her young.

From time to time, I meet a little band of gipsies passing along the high- road on their way to some neighbouring fair. The new-born babe mewls on the mother's breast, in a hammock formed out of a kerchief. The last- weaned is carried pick-a-back; a third toddles clinging to its mother's skirts; others follow closely, the biggest in the rear, ferreting in the blackberry-laden hedgerows. It is a magnificent spectacle of happy-go- lucky fruitfulness. They go their way, penniless and rejoicing. The sun is hot and the earth is fertile.

But how this picture pales before that of the Lycosa, that incomparable gipsy whose brats are numbered by the hundred! And one and all of them, from September to April, without a moment's respite, find room upon the patient creature's back, where they are content to lead a tranquil life and to be carted about.

The little ones are very good; none moves, none seeks a quarrel with his neighbours. Clinging together, they form a continuous drapery, a shaggy ulster under which the mother becomes unrecognizable. Is it an animal, a fluff of wool, a cluster of small seeds fastened to one another? 'Tis impossible to tell at the first glance.

The equilibrium of this living blanket is not so firm but that falls often occur, especially when the mother climbs from indoors and comes to the threshold to let the little ones take the sun. The least brush against the gallery unseats a part of the family. The mishap is not serious. The Hen, fidgeting about her Chicks, looks for the strays, calls them, gathers them together. The Lycosa knows not these maternal alarms. Impassively, she leaves those who drop off to manage their own difficulty, which they do with wonderful quickness. Commend me to those youngsters for getting up without whining, dusting themselves and resuming their seat in the saddle! The unhorsed ones promptly find a leg of the mother, the usual climbing-pole; they swarm up it as fast as they can and recover their places on the bearer's back. The living bark of animals is reconstructed in the twinkling of an eye.

To speak here of mother-love were, I think, extravagant. The Lycosa's affection for her offspring hardly surpasses that of the plant, which is unacquainted with any tender feeling and nevertheless bestows the nicest and most delicate care upon its seeds. The animal, in many cases, knows no other sense of motherhood. What cares the Lycosa for her brood! She accepts another's as readily as her own; she is satisfied so long as her back is burdened with a swarming crowd, whether it issue from her ovaries or elsewhence. There is no question here of real maternal affection.

I have described elsewhere the prowess of the Copris {25} watching over cells that are not her handiwork and do not contain her offspring. With a zeal which even the additional labour laid upon her does not easily weary, she removes the mildew from the alien dung-balls, which far exceed the regular nests in number; she gently scrapes and polishes and repairs them; she listens to them attentively and enquires by ear into each nursling's progress. Her real collection could not receive greater care. Her own family or another's: it is all one to her.

The Lycosa is equally indifferent. I take a hair-pencil and sweep the living burden from one of my Spiders, making it fall close to another covered with her little ones. The evicted youngsters scamper about, find the new mother's legs outspread, nimbly clamber up these and mount on the back of the obliging creature, who quietly lets them have their way.

They slip in among the others, or, when the layer is too thick, push to the front and pass from the abdomen to the thorax and even to the head, though leaving the region of the eyes uncovered. It does not do to blind the bearer: the common safety demands that. They know this and respect the lenses of the eyes, however populous the assembly be. The whole animal is now covered with a swarming carpet of young, all except the legs, which must preserve their freedom of action, and the under part of the body, where contact with the ground is to be feared.

My pencil forces a third family upon the already overburdened Spider; and this too is peacefully accepted. The youngsters huddle up closer, lie one on top of the other in layers and room is found for all. The Lycosa has lost the last semblance of an animal, has become a nameless bristling thing that walks about. Falls are frequent and are followed by continual climbings.

I perceive that I have reached the limits not of the bearer's good-will, but of equilibrium. The Spider would adopt an indefinite further number of foundlings, if the dimensions of her back afforded them a firm hold. Let us be content with this. Let us restore each family to its mother, drawing at random from the lot. There must necessarily be interchanges, but that is of no importance: real children and adopted children are the same thing in the Lycosa's eyes.

One would like to know if, apart from my artifices, in circumstances where I do not interfere, the good-natured dry-nurse sometimes burdens herself with a supplementary family; it would also be interesting to learn what comes of this association of lawful offspring and strangers. I have ample materials wherewith to obtain an answer to both questions. I have housed in the same cage two elderly matrons laden with youngsters. Each has her home as far removed from the other's as the size of the common pan permits. The distance is nine inches or more. It is not enough. Proximity soon kindles fierce jealousies between those intolerant creatures, who are obliged to live far apart, so as to secure adequate hunting-grounds.

One morning, I catch the two harridans fighting out their quarrel on the floor. The loser is laid flat upon her back; the victress, belly to belly with her adversary, clutches her with her legs and prevents her from moving a limb. Both have their poison-fangs wide open, ready to bite without yet daring, so mutually formidable are they. After a certain period of waiting, during which the pair merely exchange threats, the stronger of the two, the one on top, closes her lethal engine and grinds the head of the prostrate foe. Then she calmly devours the deceased by small mouthfuls.

Now what do the youngsters do, while their mother is being eaten? Easily consoled, heedless of the atrocious scene, they climb on the conqueror's back and quietly take their places among the lawful family. The ogress raises no objection, accepts them as her own. She makes a meal off the mother and adopts the orphans.

Let us add that, for many months yet, until the final emancipation comes, she will carry them without drawing any distinction between them and her own young. Henceforth, the two families, united in so tragic a fashion, will form but one. We see how greatly out of place it would be to speak, in this connection, of mother-love and its fond manifestations.

Does the Lycosa at least feed the younglings who, for seven months, swarm upon her back? Does she invite them to the banquet when she has secured a prize? I thought so at first; and, anxious to assist at the family repast, I devoted special attention to watching the mothers eat. As a rule, the prey is consumed out of sight, in the burrow; but sometimes also a meal is taken on the threshold, in the open air. Besides, it is easy to rear the Lycosa and her family in a wire-gauze cage, with a layer of earth wherein the captive will never dream of sinking a well, such work being out of season. Everything then happens in the open.

Well, while the mother munches, chews, expresses the juices and swallows, the youngsters do not budge from their camping-ground on her back. Not one quits its place nor gives a sign of wishing to slip down and join in the meal. Nor does the mother extend an invitation to them to come and recruit themselves, nor put any broken victuals aside for them. She feeds and the others look on, or rather remain indifferent to what is happening. Their perfect quiet during the Lycosa's feast points to the posession of a stomach that knows no cravings.

Then with what are they sustained, during their seven months' upbringing on the mother's back? One conceives a notion of exudations supplied by the bearer's body, in which case the young would feed on their mother, after the manner of parasitic vermin, and gradually drain her strength.

We must abandon this notion. Never are they seen to put their mouths to the skin that should be a sort of teat to them. On the other hand, the Lycosa, far from being exhausted and shrivelling, keeps perfectly well and plump. She has the same pot-belly when she finishes rearing her young as when she began. She has not lost weight: far from it; on the contrary, she has put on flesh: she has gained the wherewithal to beget a new family next summer, one as numerous as to-day's.

Once more, with what do the little ones keep up their strength? We do not like to suggest reserves supplied by the egg as rectifying the beastie's expenditure of vital force, especially when we consider that those reserves, themselves so close to nothing, must be economized in view of the silk, a material of the highest importance, of which a plentiful use will be made presently. There must be other powers at play in the tiny animal's machinery.

Total abstinence from food could be understood, if it were accompanied by inertia: immobility is not life. But the young Lycosae, although usually quiet on their mother's back, are at all times ready for exercise and for agile swarming. When they fall from the maternal perambulator, they briskly pick themselves up, briskly scramble up a leg and make their way to the top. It is a splendidly nimble and spirited performance. Besides, once seated, they have to keep a firm balance in the mass; they have to stretch and stiffen their little limbs in order to hang on to their neighbours. As a matter of fact, there is no absolute rest for them. Now physiology teaches us that not a fibre works without some expenditure of energy. The animal, which can be likened, in no small measure, to our industrial machines, demands, on the one hand, the renovation of its organism, which wears out with movement, and, on the other, the maintenance of the heat transformed into action. We can compare it with the locomotive-engine. As the iron horse performs its work, it gradually wears out its pistons, its rods, its wheels, its boiler-tubes, all of which have to be made good from time to time. The founder and the smith repair it, supply it, so to speak, with 'plastic food,' the food that becomes embodied with the whole and forms part of it. But, though it have just come from the engine-shop, it is still inert. To acquire the power of movement, it must receive from the stoker a supply of 'energy- producing food;' in other words, he lights a few shovelfuls of coal in its inside. This heat will produce mechanical work.

Even so with the beast. As nothing is made from nothing, the egg supplies first the materials of the new-born animal; then the plastic food, the smith of living creatures, increases the body, up to a certain limit, and renews it as it wears away. The stoker works at the same time, without stopping. Fuel, the source of energy, makes but a short stay in the system, where it is consumed and furnishes heat, whence movement is derived. Life is a fire-box. Warmed by its food, the animal machine moves, walks, runs, jumps, swims, flies, sets its locomotory apparatus going in a thousand manners.

To return to the young Lycosae, they grow no larger until the period of their emancipation. I find them at the age of seven months the same as when I saw them at their birth. The egg supplied the materials necessary for their tiny frames; and, as the loss of waste substance is, for the moment, excessively small, or even nil, additional plastic food is not needed so long as the beastie does not grow. In this respect, the prolonged abstinence presents no difficulty. But there remains the question of energy-producing food, which is indispensable, for the little Lycosa moves, when necessary, and very actively at that. To what shall we attribute the heat expended upon action, when the animal takes absolutely no nourishment?

An idea suggests itself. We say to ourselves that, without being life, a machine is something more than matter, for man has added a little of his mind to it. Now the iron beast, consuming its ration of coal, is really browsing the ancient foliage of arborescent ferns in which solar energy has accumulated.

Beasts of flesh and blood act no otherwise. Whether they mutually devour one another or levy tribute on the plant, they invariably quicken themselves with the stimulant of the sun's heat, a heat stored in grass, fruit, seed and those which feed on such. The sun, the soul of the universe, is the supreme dispenser of energy.

Instead of being served up through the intermediary of food and passing through the ignominious circuit of gastric chemistry, could not this solar energy penetrate the animal directly and charge it with activity, even as the battery charges an accumulator with power? Why not live on sun, seeing that, after all, we find naught but sun in the fruits which we consume?

Chemical science, that bold revolutionary, promises to provide us with synthetic food-stuffs. The laboratory and the factory will take the place of the farm. Why should not physical science step in as well? It would leave the preparation of plastic food to the chemist's retorts; it would reserve for itself that of energy-producing food, which, reduced to its exact terms, ceases to be matter. With the aid of some ingenious apparatus, it would pump into us our daily ration of solar energy, to be later expended in movement, whereby the machine would be kept going without the often painful assistance of the stomach and its adjuncts. What a delightful world, where one would lunch off a ray of sunshine!

Is it a dream, or the anticipation of a remote reality? The problem is one of the most important that science can set us. Let us first hear the evidence of the young Lycosae regarding its possibilities.

For seven months, without any material nourishment, they expend strength in moving. To wind up the mechanism of their muscles, they recruit themselves direct with heat and light. During the time when she was dragging the bag of eggs behind her, the mother, at the best moments of the day, came and held up her pill to the sun. With her two hind-legs, she lifted it out of the ground, into the full light; slowly she turned it and returned it, so that every side might receive its share of the vivifying rays. Well, this bath of life, which awakened the germs, is now prolonged to keep the tender babes active.

Daily, if the sky be clear, the Lycosa, carrying her young, comes up from the burrow, leans on the kerb and spends long hours basking in the sun. Here, on their mother's back, the youngsters stretch their limbs delightedly, saturate themselves with heat, take in reserves of motor power, absorb energy.

They are motionless; but, if I only blow upon them, they stampede as nimbly as though a hurricane were passing. Hurriedly, they disperse; hurriedly, they reassemble: a proof that, without material nourishment, the little animal machine is always at full pressure, ready to work. When the shade comes, mother and sons go down again, surfeited with solar emanations. The feast of energy at the Sun Tavern is finished for the day. It is repeated in the same way daily, if the weather be mild, until the hour of emancipation comes, followed by the first mouthfuls of solid food.


The month of March comes to an end; and the departure of the youngsters begins, in glorious weather, during the hottest hours of the morning. Laden with her swarming burden, the mother Lycosa is outside her burrow, squatting on the parapet at the entrance. She lets them do as they please; as though indifferent to what is happening, she exhibits neither encouragement nor regret. Whoso will goes; whoso will remains behind.

First these, then those, according as they feel themselves duly soaked with sunshine, the little ones leave the mother in batches, run about for a moment on the ground and then quickly reach the trellis-work of the cage, which they climb with surprising alacrity. They pass through the meshes, they clamber right to the top of the citadel. All, with not one exception, make for the heights, instead of roaming on the ground, as might reasonably be expected from the eminently earthly habits of the Lycosae; all ascend the dome, a strange procedure whereof I do not yet guess the object.

I receive a hint from the upright ring that finishes the top of the cage. The youngsters hurry to it. It represents the porch of their gymnasium. They hang out threads across the opening; they stretch others from the ring to the nearest points of the trellis-work. On these foot-bridges, they perform slack-rope exercises amid endless comings and goings. The tiny legs open out from time to time and straddle as though to reach the most distant points. I begin to realize that they are acrobats aiming at loftier heights than those of the dome.

I top the trellis with a branch that doubles the attainable height. The bustling crowd hastily scrambles up it, reaches the tip of the topmost twigs and thence sends out threads that attach themselves to every surrounding object. These form so many suspension-bridges; and my beasties nimbly run along them, incessantly passing to and fro. One would say that they wished to climb higher still. I will endeavour to satisfy their desires.

I take a nine-foot reed, with tiny branches spreading right up to the top, and place it above the cage. The little Lycosae clamber to the very summit. Here, longer threads are produced from the rope-yard and are now left to float, anon converted into bridges by the mere contact of the free end with the neighbouring supports. The rope-dancers embark upon them and form garlands which the least breath of air swings daintily. The thread is invisible when it does not come between the eyes and the sun; and the whole suggests rows of Gnats dancing an aerial ballet.

Then, suddenly, teased by the air-currents, the delicate mooring breaks and flies through space. Behold the emigrants off and away, clinging to their thread. If the wind be favourable, they can land at great distances. Their departure is thus continued for a week or two, in bands more or less numerous, according to the temperature and the brightness of the day. If the sky be overcast, none dreams of leaving. The travellers need the kisses of the sun, which give energy and vigour.

At last, the whole family has disappeared, carried afar by its flying- ropes. The mother remains alone. The loss of her offspring hardly seems to distress her. She retains her usual colour and plumpness, which is a sign that the maternal exertions have not been too much for her.

I also notice an increased fervour in the chase. While burdened with her family, she was remarkably abstemious, accepting only with great reserve the game placed at her disposal. The coldness of the season may have militated against copious refections; perhaps also the weight of the little ones hampered her movements and made her more discreet in attacking the prey.

To-day, cheered by the fine weather and able to move freely, she hurries up from her lair each time I set a tit-bit to her liking buzzing at the entrance to her burrow; she comes and takes from my fingers the savoury Locust, the portly Anoxia; {26} and this performance is repeated daily, whenever I have the leisure to devote to it. After a frugal winter, the time has come for plentiful repasts.

This appetite tells us that the animal is not at the point of death; one does not feast in this way with a played-out stomach. My boarders are entering in full vigour upon their fourth year. In the winter, in the fields, I used to find large mothers, carting their young, and others not much more than half their size. The whole series, therefore, represented three generations. And now, in my earthenware pans, after the departure of the family, the old matrons still carry on and continue as strong as ever. Every outward appearance tells us that, after becoming great-grandmothers, they still keep themselves fit for propagating their species.

The facts correspond with these anticipations. When September returns, my captives are dragging a bag as bulky as that of last year. For a long time, even when the eggs of the others have been hatched for some weeks past, the mothers come daily to the threshold of the burrow and hold out their wallets for incubation by the sun. Their perseverance is not rewarded: nothing issues from the satin purse; nothing stirs within. Why? Because, in the prison of my cages, the eggs have had no father. Tired of waiting and at last recognizing the barrenness of their produce, they push the bag of eggs outside the burrow and trouble about it no more. At the return of spring, by which time the family, if developed according to rule, would have been emancipated, they die. The mighty Spider of the waste-lands, therefore, attains to an even more patriarchal age than her neighbour the Sacred Beetle: {27} she lives for five years at the very least.

Let us leave the mothers to their business and return to the youngsters. It is not without a certain surprise that we see the little Lycosae, at the first moment of their emancipation, hasten to ascend the heights. Destined to live on the ground, amidst the short grass, and afterwards to settle in the permanent abode, a pit, they start by being enthusiastic acrobats. Before descending to the low levels, their normal dwelling- place, they affect lofty altitudes.

To rise higher and ever higher is their first need. I have not, it seems, exhausted the limit of their climbing-instinct even with a nine- foot pole, suitably furnished with branches to facilitate the escalade. Those who have eagerly reached the very top wave their legs, fumble in space as though for yet higher stalks. It behoves us to begin again and under better conditions.

Although the Narbonne Lycosa, with her temporary yearning for the heights, is more interesting than other Spiders, by reason of the fact that her usual habitation is underground, she is not so striking at swarming-time, because the youngsters, instead of all migrating at once, leave the mother at different periods and in small batches. The sight will be a finer one with the common Garden or Cross Spider, the Diadem Epeira (Epeira diadema, LIN.), decorated with three white crosses on her back.

She lays her eggs in November and dies with the first cold snap. She is denied the Lycosa's longevity. She leaves the natal wallet early one spring and never sees the following spring. This wallet, which contains the eggs, has none of the ingenious structure which we admired in the Banded and in the Silky Epeira. No longer do we see a graceful balloon- shape nor yet a paraboloid with a starry base; no longer a tough, waterproof satin stuff; no longer a swan's-down resembling a fleecy, russet cloud; no longer an inner keg in which the eggs are packed. The art of stout fabrics and of walls within walls is unknown here.

The work of the Cross Spider is a pill of white silk, wrought into a yielding felt, through which the new-born Spiders will easily work their way, without the aid of the mother, long since dead, and without having to rely upon its bursting at the given hour. It is about the size of a damson.

We can judge the method of manufacture from the structure. Like the Lycosa, whom we saw, in Chapter III., at work in one of my earthenware pans, the Cross Spider, on the support supplied by a few threads stretched between the nearest objects, begins by making a shallow saucer of sufficient thickness to dispense with subsequent corrections. The process is easily guessed. The tip of the abdomen goes up and down, down and up with an even beat, while the worker shifts her place a little. Each time, the spinnerets add a bit of thread to the carpet already made.

When the requisite thickness is obtained, the mother empties her ovaries, in one continuous flow, into the centre of the bowl. Glued together by their inherent moisture, the eggs, of a handsome orange-yellow, form a ball-shaped heap. The work of the spinnerets is resumed. The ball of germs is covered with a silk cap, fashioned in the same way as the saucer. The two halves of the work are so well joined that the whole constitutes an unbroken sphere.

The Banded Epeira and the Silky Epeira, those experts in the manufacture of rainproof textures, lay their eggs high up, on brushwood and bramble, without shelter of any kind. The thick material of the wallets is enough to protect the eggs from the inclemencies of the winter, especially from damp. The Diadem Epeira, or Cross Spider, needs a cranny for hers, which is contained in a non-waterproof felt. In a heap of stones, well exposed to the sun, she will choose a large slab to serve as a roof. She lodges her pill underneath it, in the company of the hibernating Snail.

More often still, she prefers the thick tangle of some dwarf shrub, standing eight or nine inches high and retaining its leaves in winter. In the absence of anything better, a tuft of grass answers the purpose. Whatever the hiding-place, the bag of eggs is always near the ground, tucked away as well as may be, amid the surrounding twigs.

Save in the case of the roof supplied by a large stone, we see that the site selected hardly satisfies proper hygienic needs. The Epeira seems to realize this fact. By way of an additional protection, even under a stone, she never fails to make a thatched roof for her eggs. She builds them a covering with bits of fine, dry grass, joined together with a little silk. The abode of the eggs becomes a straw wigwam.

Good luck procures me two Cross Spiders' nests, on the edge of one of the paths in the enclosure, among some tufts of ground-cypress, or lavender- cotton. This is just what I wanted for my plans. The find is all the more valuable as the period of the exodus is near at hand.

I prepare two lengths of bamboo, standing about fifteen feet high and clustered with little twigs from top to bottom. I plant one of them straight up in the tuft, beside the first nest. I clear the surrounding ground, because the bushy vegetation might easily, thanks to threads carried by the wind, divert the emigrants from the road which I have laid out for them. The other bamboo I set up in the middle of the yard, all by itself, some few steps from any outstanding object. The second nest is removed as it is, shrub and all, and placed at the bottom of the tall, ragged distaff.

The events expected are not long in coming. In the first fortnight in May, a little earlier in one case, a little later in the other, the two families, each presented with a bamboo climbing-pole, leave their respective wallets. There is nothing remarkable about the mode of egress. The precincts to be crossed consist of a very slack net-work, through which the outcomers wriggle: weak little orange-yellow beasties, with a triangular black patch upon their sterns. One morning is long enough for the whole family to make its appearance.

By degrees, the emancipated youngsters climb the nearest twigs, clamber to the top, and spread a few threads. Soon, they gather in a compact, ball-shaped cluster, the size of a walnut. They remain motionless. With their heads plunged into the heap and their sterns projecting, they doze gently, mellowing under the kisses of the sun. Rich in the possession of a thread in their belly as their sole inheritance, they prepare to disperse over the wide world.

Let us create a disturbance among the globular group by stirring it with a straw. All wake up at once. The cluster softly dilates and spreads, as though set in motion by some centrifugal force; it becomes a transparent orb wherein thousands and thousands of tiny legs quiver and shake, while threads are extended along the way to be followed. The whole work resolves itself into a delicate veil which swallows up the scattered family. We then see an exquisite nebula against whose opalescent tapestry the tiny animals gleam like twinkling orange stars.

This straggling state, though it last for hours, is but temporary. If the air grow cooler, if rain threaten, the spherical group reforms at once. This is a protective measure. On the morning after a shower, I find the families on either bamboo in as good condition as on the day before. The silk veil and the pill formation have sheltered them well enough from the downpour. Even so do Sheep, when caught in a storm in the pastures, gather close, huddle together and make a common rampart of their backs.

The assembly into a ball-shaped mass is also the rule in calm, bright weather, after the morning's exertions. In the afternoon, the climbers collect at a higher point, where they weave a wide, conical tent, with the end of a shoot for its top, and, gathered into a compact group, spend the night there. Next day, when the heat returns, the ascent is resumed in long files, following the shrouds which a few pioneers have rigged and which those who come after elaborate with their own work.

Collected nightly into a globular troop and sheltered under a fresh tent, for three or four days, each morning, before the sun grows too hot, my little emigrants thus raise themselves, stage by stage, on both bamboos, until they reach the sun-unit, at fifteen feet above the ground. The climb comes to an end for lack of foothold.

Under normal conditions, the ascent would be shorter. The young Spiders have at their disposal the bushes, the brushwood, providing supports on every side for the threads wafted hither and thither by the eddying air- currents. With these rope-bridges flung across space, the dispersal presents no difficulties. Each emigrant leaves at his own good time and travels as suits him best.

My devices have changed these conditions somewhat. My two bristling poles stand at a distance from the surrounding shrubs, especially the one which I planted in the middle of the yard. Bridges are out of the question, for the threads flung into the air are not long enough. And so the acrobats, eager to get away, keep on climbing, never come down again, are impelled to seek in a higher position what they have failed to find in a lower. The top of my two bamboos probably fails to represent the limit of what my keen climbers are capable of achieving.

We shall see, in a moment, the object of this climbing-propensity, which is a sufficiently remarkable instinct in the Garden Spiders, who have as their domain the low-growing brushwood wherein their nets are spread; it becomes a still more remarkable instinct in the Lycosa, who, except at the moment when she leaves her mother's back, never quits the ground and yet, in the early hours of her life, shows herself as ardent a wooer of high places as the young Garden Spiders.

Let us consider the Lycosa in particular. In her, at the moment of the exodus, a sudden instinct arises, to disappear, as promptly and for ever, a few hours later. This is the climbing-instinct, which is unknown to the adult and soon forgotten by the emancipated youngling, doomed to wander homeless, for many a long day, upon the ground. Neither of them dreams of climbing to the top of a grass-stalk. The full-grown Spider hunts trapper-fashion, ambushed in her tower; the young one hunts afoot through the scrubby grass. In both cases there is no web and therefore no need for lofty contact-points. They are not allowed to quit the ground and climb the heights.

Yet here we have the young Lycosa, wishing to leave the maternal abode and to travel far afield by the easiest and swiftest methods, suddenly becoming an enthusiastic climber. Impetuously she scales the wire trellis of the cage where she was born; hurriedly she clambers to the top of the tall mast which I have prepared for her. In the same way, she would make for the summit of the bushes in her waste-land.

We catch a glimpse of her object. From on high, finding a wide space beneath her, she sends a thread floating. It is caught by the wind and carries her hanging to it. We have our aeroplanes; she too possesses her flying-machine. Once the journey is accomplished, naught remains of this ingenious business. The climbing-instinct conies suddenly, at the hour of need, and no less suddenly vanishes.


Seeds, when ripened in the fruit, are disseminated, that is to say, scattered on the surface of the ground, to sprout in spots as yet unoccupied and fill the expanses that realize favourable conditions.

Amid the wayside rubbish grows one of the gourd family, Ecbalium elaterium, commonly called the squirting cucumber, whose fruit—a rough and extremely bitter little cucumber—is the size of a date. When ripe, the fleshy core resolves into a liquid in which float the seeds. Compressed by the elastic rind of the fruit, this liquid bears upon the base of the footstalk, which is gradually forced out, yields like a stopper, breaks off and leaves an orifice through which a stream of seeds and fluid pulp is suddenly ejected. If, with a novice hand, under a scorching sun, you shake the plant laden with yellow fruit, you are bound to be somewhat startled when you hear a noise among the leaves and receive the cucumber's grapeshot in your face.

The fruit of the garden balsam, when ripe, splits, at the least touch, into five fleshy valves, which curl up and shoot their seeds to a distance. The botanical name of Impatiens given to the balsam alludes to this sudden dehiscence of the capsules, which cannot endure contact without bursting.

In the damp and shady places of the woods there exists a plant of the same family which, for similar reasons, bears the even more expressive name of Impatiens noli-me-tangere, or touch-me-not.

The capsule of the pansy expands into three valves, each scooped out like a boat and laden in the middle with two rows of seeds. When these valves dry, the edges shrivel, press upon the grains and eject them.

Light seeds, especially those of the order of Compositae, have aeronautic apparatus—tufts, plumes, fly-wheels—which keep them up in the air and enable them to take distant voyages. In this way, at the least breath, the seeds of the dandelion, surmounted by a tuft of feathers, fly from their dry receptacle and waft gently in the air.

Next to the tuft, the wing is the most satisfactory contrivance for dissemination by wind. Thanks to their membranous edge, which gives them the appearance of thin scales, the seeds of the yellow wall-flower reach high cornices of buildings, clefts of inaccessible rocks, crannies in old walls, and sprout in the remnant of mould bequeathed by the mosses that were there before them.

The samaras, or keys, of the elm, formed of a broad, light fan with the seed cased in its centre; those of the maple, joined in pairs and resembling the unfurled wings of a bird; those of the ash, carved like the blade of an oar, perform the most distant journeys when driven before the storm.

Like the plant, the insect also sometimes possesses travelling-apparatus, means of dissemination that allow large families to disperse quickly over the country, so that each member may have his place in the sun without injuring his neighbour; and these apparatus, these methods vie in ingenuity with the elm's samara, the dandelion-plume and the catapult of the squirting cucumber.

Let us consider, in particular, the Epeirae, those magnificent Spiders who, to catch their prey, stretch, between one bush and the next, great vertical sheets of meshes, resembling those of the fowler. The most remarkable in my district is the Banded Epeira (Epeira fasciata, WALCK.), so prettily belted with yellow, black and silvery white. Her nest, a marvel of gracefulness, is a satin bag, shaped like a tiny pear. Its neck ends in a concave mouthpiece closed with a lid, also of satin. Brown ribbons, in fanciful meridian waves, adorn the object from pole to pole.

Open the nest. We have seen, in an earlier chapter, {28} what we find there; let us retell the story. Under the outer wrapper, which is as stout as our woven stuffs and, moreover, perfectly waterproof, is a russet eiderdown of exquisite delicacy, a silky fluff resembling driven smoke. Nowhere does mother-love prepare a softer bed.

In the middle of this downy mass hangs a fine, silk, thimble-shaped purse, closed with a movable lid. This contains the eggs, of a pretty orange-yellow and about five hundred in number.

All things considered, is not this charming edifice an animal fruit, a germ-casket, a capsule to be compared with that of the plants? Only, the Epeira's wallet, instead of seeds, holds eggs. The difference is more apparent than real, for egg and grain are one.

How will this living fruit, ripening in the heat beloved of the Cicadae, manage to burst? How, above all, will dissemination take place? They are there in their hundreds. They must separate, go far away, isolate themselves in a spot where there is not too much fear of competition among neighbours. How will they set to work to achieve this distant exodus, weaklings that they are, taking such very tiny steps?

I receive the first answer from another and much earlier Epeira, whose family I find, at the beginning of May, on a yucca in the enclosure. The plant blossomed last year. The branching flower-stem, some three feet high, still stands erect, though withered. On the green leaves, shaped like a sword-blade, swarm two newly-hatched families. The wee beasties are a dull yellow, with a triangular black patch upon their stern. Later on, three white crosses, ornamenting the back, will tell me that my find corresponds with the Cross or Diadem Spider (Epeira diadema, WALCK.).

When the sun reaches this part of the enclosure, one of the two groups falls into a great state of flutter. Nimble acrobats that they are, the little Spiders scramble up, one after the other, and reach the top of the stem. Here, marches and countermarches, tumult and confusion reign, for there is a slight breeze which throws the troop into disorder. I see no connected manoeuvres. From the top of the stalk they set out at every moment, one by one; they dart off suddenly; they fly away, so to speak. It is as though they had the wings of a Gnat.

Forthwith they disappear from view. Nothing that my eyes can see explains this strange flight; for precise observation is impossible amid the disturbing influences out of doors. What is wanted is a peaceful atmosphere and the quiet of my study.

I gather the family in a large box, which I close at once, and instal it in the animals' laboratory, on a small table, two steps from the open window. Apprised by what I have just seen of their propensity to resort to the heights, I give my subjects a bundle of twigs, eighteen inches tall, as a climbing-pole. The whole band hurriedly clambers up and reaches the top. In a few moments there is not one lacking in the group on high. The future will tell us the reason of this assemblage on the projecting tips of the twigs.

The little Spiders are now spinning here and there at random: they go up, go down, come up again. Thus is woven a light veil of divergent threads, a many-cornered web with the end of the branch for its summit and the edge of the table for its base, some eighteen inches wide. This veil is the drill-ground, the work-yard where the preparations for departure are made.

Here hasten the humble little creatures, running indefatigably to and fro. When the sun shines upon them, they become gleaming specks and form upon the milky background of the veil a sort of constellation, a reflex of those remote points in the sky where the telescope shows us endless galaxies of stars. The immeasurably small and the immeasurably large are alike in appearance. It is all a matter of distance.

But the living nebula is not composed of fixed stars; on the contrary, its specks are in continual movement. The young Spiders never cease shifting their position on the web. Many let themselves drop, hanging by a length of thread, which the faller's weight draws from the spinnerets. Then quickly they climb up again by the same thread, which they wind gradually into a skein and lengthen by successive falls. Others confine themselves to running about the web and also give me the impression of working at a bundle of ropes.

The thread, as a matter of fact, does not flow from the spinneret; it is drawn thence with a certain effort. It is a case of extraction, not emission. To obtain her slender cord, the Spider has to move about and haul, either by falling or by walking, even as the rope-maker steps backwards when working his hemp. The activity now displayed on the drill- ground is a preparation for the approaching dispersal. The travellers are packing up.

Soon we see a few Spiders trotting briskly between the table and the open window. They are running in mid-air. But on what? If the light fall favourably, I manage to see, at moments, behind the tiny animal, a thread resembling a ray of light, which appears for an instant, gleams and disappears. Behind, therefore, there is a mooring, only just perceptible, if you look very carefully; but, in front, towards the window, there is nothing to be seen at all.

In vain I examine above, below, at the side; in vain I vary the direction of the eye: I can distinguish no support for the little creature to walk upon. One would think that the beastie were paddling in space. It suggests the idea of a small bird, tied by the leg with a thread and making a flying rush forwards.

But, in this case, appearances are deceptive: flight is impossible; the Spider must necessarily have a bridge whereby to cross the intervening space. This bridge, which I cannot see, I can at least destroy. I cleave the air with a ruler in front of the Spider making for the window. That is quite enough: the tiny animal at once ceases to go forward and falls. The invisible foot-plank is broken. My son, young Paul, who is helping me, is astounded at this wave of the magic wand, for not even he, with his fresh, young eyes, is able to see a support ahead for the Spiderling to move along.

In the rear, on the other hand, a thread is visible. The difference is easily explained. Every Spider, as she goes, at the same time spins a safety-cord which will guard the rope-walker against the risk of an always possible fall. In the rear, therefore, the thread is of double thickness and can be seen, whereas, in front, it is still single and hardly perceptible to the eye.

Obviously, this invisible foot-bridge is not flung out by the animal: it is carried and unrolled by a gust of air. The Epeira, supplied with this line, lets it float freely; and the wind, however softly blowing, bears it along and unwinds it. Even so is the smoke from the bowl of a pipe whirled up in the air.

This floating thread has but to touch any object in the neighbourhood and it will remain fixed to it. The suspension-bridge is thrown; and the Spider can set out. The South-American Indians are said to cross the abysses of the Cordilleras in travelling-cradles made of twisted creepers; the little Spider passes through space on the invisible and the imponderable.

But to carry the end of the floating thread elsewhither a draught is needed. At this moment, the draught exists between the door of my study and the window, both of which are open. It is so slight that I do not feel its; I only know of it by the smoke from my pipe, curling softly in that direction. Cold air enters from without through the door; warm air escapes from the room through the window. This is the drought that carries the threads with it and enables the Spiders to embark upon their journey.

I get rid of it by closing both apertures and I break off any communication by passing my ruler between the window and the table. Henceforth, in the motionless atmosphere, there are no departures. The current of air is missing, the skeins are not unwound and migration becomes impossible.

It is soon resumed, but in a direction whereof I never dreamt. The hot sun is beating on a certain part of the floor. At this spot, which is warmer than the rest, a column of lighter, ascending air is generated. If this column catch the threads, my Spiders ought to rise to the ceiling of the room.

The curious ascent does, in fact, take place. Unfortunately, my troop, which has been greatly reduced by the number of departures through the window, does not lend itself to prolonged experiment. We must begin again.

The next morning, on the same yucca, I gather the second family, as numerous as the first. Yesterday's preparations are repeated. My legion of Spiders first weaves a divergent framework between the top of the brushwood placed at the emigrants' disposal and the edge of the table. Five or six hundred wee beasties swarm all over this work-yard.

While this little world is busily fussing, making its arrangements for departure, I make my own. Every aperture in the room is closed, so as to obtain as calm an atmosphere as possible. A small chafing-dish is lit at the foot of the table. My hands cannot feel the heat of it at the level of the web whereon my Spiders are weaving. This is the very modest fire which, with its column of rising air, shall unwind the threads and carry them on high.

Let us first enquire the direction and strength of the current. Dandelion- plumes, made lighter by the removal of their seeds, serve as my guides. Released above the chafing-dish, on the level of the table, they float slowly upwards and, for the most part, reach the ceiling. The emigrants' lines should rise in the same way and even better.

The thing is done: with the aid of nothing that is visible to the three of us looking on, a Spider makes her ascent. She ambles with her eight legs through the air; she mounts, gently swaying. The others, in ever- increasing numbers, follow, sometimes by different roads, sometimes by the same road. Any one who did not possess the secret would stand amazed at this magic ascent without a ladder. In a few minutes, most of them are up, clinging to the ceiling.

Not all of them reach it. I see some who, on attaining a certain height, cease to go up and even lose ground, although moving their legs forward with all the nimbleness of which they are capable. The more they struggle upwards, the faster they come down. This drifting, which neutralizes the distance covered and even converts it into a retrogression, is easily explained.

The thread has not reached the platform; it floats, it is fixed only at the lower end. As long as it is of a fair length, it is able, although moving, to bear the minute animal's weight. But, as the Spider climbs, the float becomes shorter in proportion; and the time comes when a balance is struck between the ascensional force of the thread and the weight carried. Then the beastie remains stationary, although continuing to climb.

Presently, the weight becomes too much for the shorter and shorter float; and the Spider slips down, in spite of her persistent, forward striving. She is at last brought back to the branch by the falling threads. Here, the ascent is soon renewed, either on a fresh thread, if the supply of silk be not yet exhausted, or on a strange thread, the work, of those who have gone before.

As a rule, the ceiling is reached. It is twelve feet high. The little Spider is able, therefore, as the first product of her spinning-mill, before taking any refreshment, to obtain a line fully twelve feet in length. And all this, the rope-maker and her rope, was contained in the egg, a particle of no size at all. To what a degree of fineness can the silky matter be wrought wherewith the young Spider is provided! Our manufacturers are able to turn out platinum-wire that can only be seen when it is made red-hot. With much simpler means, the Spiderling draws from her wire-mill threads so delicate that, even the brilliant light of the sun does not always enable us to discern them.

We must not let all the climbers be stranded on the ceiling, an inhospitable region where most of them will doubtless perish, being unable to produce a second thread before they have had a meal. I open the window. A current of lukewarm air, coming from the chafing-dish, escapes through the top. Dandelion-plumes, taking that direction, tell me so. The wafting threads cannot fail to be carried by this flow of air and to lengthen out in the open, where a light breeze is blowing.

I take a pair of sharp scissors and, without shaking the threads, cut a few that are just visible at the base, where they are thickened with an added strand. The result of this operation is marvellous. Hanging to the flying-rope, which is borne on the wind outside, the Spider passes through the window, suddenly flies off and disappears. An easy way of travelling, if the conveyance possessed a rudder that allowed the passenger to land where he pleases! But the little things are at the mercy of the winds: where will they alight? Hundreds, thousands of yards away, perhaps. Let us wish them a prosperous journey.

The problem of dissemination is now solved. What would happen if matters, instead of being brought about by my wiles, took place in the open fields? The answer is obvious. The young Spiders, born acrobats and rope-walkers, climb to the top of a branch so as to find sufficient space below them to unfurl their apparatus. Here, each draws from her rope-factory a thread which she abandons to the eddies of the air. Gently raised by the currents that ascend from the ground warmed by the sun, this thread wafts upwards, floats, undulates, makes for its point of contact. At last, it breaks and vanishes in the distance, carrying the spinstress hanging to it.

The Epeira with the three white crosses, the Spider who has supplied us with these first data concerning the process of dissemination, is endowed with a moderate maternal industry. As a receptacle for the eggs, she weaves a mere pill of silk. Her work is modest indeed beside the Banded Epeira's balloons. I looked to these to supply me with fuller documents. I had laid up a store by rearing some mothers during the autumn. So that nothing of importance might escape me, I divided my stock of balloons, most of which were woven before my eyes, into two sections. One half remained in my study, under a wire-gauze cover, with, small bunches of brushwood as supports; the other half were experiencing the vicissitudes of open-air life on the rosemaries in the enclosure.

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