The Life of the Spider
by J. Henri Fabre
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Transcribed from the 1912 Hodder and Stoughton edition by David Price, email



The Spider has a bad name: to most of us, she represents an odious, noxious animal, which every one hastens to crush under foot. Against this summary verdict the observer sets the beast's industry, its talent as a weaver, its wiliness in the chase, its tragic nuptials and other characteristics of great interest. Yes, the Spider is well worth studying, apart from any scientific reasons; but she is said to be poisonous and that is her crime and the primary cause of the repugnance wherewith she inspires us. Poisonous, I agree, if by that we understand that the animal is armed with two fangs which cause the immediate death of the little victims which it catches; but there is a wide difference between killing a Midge and harming a man. However immediate in its effects upon the insect entangled in the fatal web, the Spider's poison is not serious for us and causes less inconvenience than a Gnat-bite. That, at least, is what we can safely say as regards the great majority of the Spiders of our regions.

Nevertheless, a few are to be feared; and foremost among these is the Malmignatte, the terror of the Corsican peasantry. I have seen her settle in the furrows, lay out her web and rush boldly at insects larger than herself; I have admired her garb of black velvet speckled with carmine-red; above all, I have heard most disquieting stories told about her. Around Ajaccio and Bonifacio, her bite is reputed very dangerous, sometimes mortal. The countryman declares this for a fact and the doctor does not always dare deny it. In the neighbourhood of Pujaud, not far from Avignon, the harvesters speak with dread of Theridion lugubre, {1} first observed by Leon Dufour in the Catalonian mountains; according to them, her bite would lead to serious accidents. The Italians have bestowed a bad reputation on the Tarantula, who produces convulsions and frenzied dances in the person stung by her. To cope with 'tarantism,' the name given to the disease that follows on the bite of the Italian Spider, you must have recourse to music, the only efficacious remedy, so they tell us. Special tunes have been noted, those quickest to afford relief. There is medical choreography, medical music. And have we not the tarentella, a lively and nimble dance, bequeathed to us perhaps by the healing art of the Calabrian peasant?

Must we take these queer things seriously or laugh at them? From the little that I have seen, I hesitate to pronounce an opinion. Nothing tells us that the bite of the Tarantula may not provoke, in weak and very impressionable people, a nervous disorder which music will relieve; nothing tells us that a profuse perspiration, resulting from a very energetic dance, is not likely to diminish the discomfort by diminishing the cause of the ailment. So far from laughing, I reflect and enquire, when the Calabrian peasant talks to me of his Tarantula, the Pujaud reaper of his Theridion lugubre, the Corsican husbandman of his Malmignatte. Those Spiders might easily deserve, at least partly, their terrible reputation.

The most powerful Spider in my district, the Black-bellied Tarantula, will presently give us something to think about, in this connection. It is not my business to discuss a medical point, I interest myself especially in matters of instinct; but, as the poison-fangs play a leading part in the huntress' manoeuvres of war, I shall speak of their effects by the way. The habits of the Tarantula, her ambushes, her artifices, her methods of killing her prey: these constitute my subject. I will preface it with an account by Leon Dufour, {2} one of those accounts in which I used to delight and which did much to bring me into closer touch with the insect. The Wizard of the Landes tells us of the ordinary Tarantula, that of the Calabrias, observed by him in Spain:

'Lycosa tarantula by preference inhabits open places, dry, arid, uncultivated places, exposed to the sun. She lives generally—at least when full-grown—in underground passages, regular burrows, which she digs for herself. These burrows are cylindrical; they are often an inch in diameter and run into the ground to a depth of more than a foot; but they are not perpendicular. The inhabitant of this gut proves that she is at the same time a skilful hunter and an able engineer. It was a question for her not only of constructing a deep retreat that could hide her from the pursuit of her foes: she also had to set up her observatory whence to watch for her prey and dart out upon it. The Tarantula provides for every contingency: the underground passage, in fact, begins by being vertical, but, at four or five inches from the surface, it bends at an obtuse angle, forms a horizontal turning and then becomes perpendicular once more. It is at the elbow of this tunnel that the Tarantula posts herself as a vigilant sentry and does not for a moment lose sight of the door of her dwelling; it was there that, at the period when I was hunting her, I used to see those eyes gleaming like diamonds, bright as a cat's eyes in the dark.

'The outer orifice of the Tarantula's burrow is usually surmounted by a shaft constructed throughout by herself. It is a genuine work of architecture, standing as much as an inch above the ground and sometimes two inches in diameter, so that it is wider than the burrow itself. This last circumstance, which seems to have been calculated by the industrious Spider, lends itself admirably to the necessary extension of the legs at the moment when the prey is to be seized. The shaft is composed mainly of bits of dry wood joined by a little clay and so artistically laid, one above the other, that they form the scaffolding of a straight column, the inside of which is a hollow cylinder. The solidity of this tubular building, of this outwork, is ensured above all by the fact that it is lined, upholstered within, with a texture woven by the Lycosa's {3} spinnerets and continued throughout the interior of the burrow. It is easy to imagine how useful this cleverly-manufactured lining must be for preventing landslip or warping, for maintaining cleanliness and for helping her claws to scale the fortress.

'I hinted that this outwork of the burrow was not there invariably; as a matter of fact, I have often come across Tarantulas' holes without a trace of it, perhaps because it had been accidentally destroyed by the weather, or because the Lycosa may not always light upon the proper building-materials, or, lastly, because architectural talent is possibly declared only in individuals that have reached the final stage, the period of perfection of their physical and intellectual development.

'One thing is certain, that I have had numerous opportunities of seeing these shafts, these out-works of the Tarantula's abode; they remind me, on a larger scale, of the tubes of certain Caddis-worms. The Arachnid had more than one object in view in constructing them: she shelters her retreat from the floods; she protects it from the fall of foreign bodies which, swept by the wind, might end by obstructing it; lastly, she uses it as a snare by offering the Flies and other insects whereon she feeds a projecting point to settle on. Who shall tell us all the wiles employed by this clever and daring huntress?

'Let us now say something about my rather diverting Tarantula-hunts. The best season for them is the months of May and June. The first time that I lighted on this Spider's burrows and discovered that they were inhabited by seeing her come to a point on the first floor of her dwelling—the elbow which I have mentioned—I thought that I must attack her by main force and pursue her relentlessly in order to capture her; I spent whole hours in opening up the trench with a knife a foot long by two inches wide, without meeting the Tarantula. I renewed the operation in other burrows, always with the same want of success; I really wanted a pickaxe to achieve my object, but I was too far from any kind of house. I was obliged to change my plan of attack and I resorted to craft. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.

'It occurred to me to take a stalk, topped with its spikelet, by way of a bait, and to rub and move it gently at the orifice of the burrow. I soon saw that the Lycosa's attention and desires were roused. Attracted by the bait, she came with measured steps towards the spikelet. I withdrew it in good time a little outside the hole, so as not to leave the animal time for reflexion; and the Spider suddenly, with a rush, darted out of her dwelling, of which I hastened to close the entrance. The Tarantula, bewildered by her unaccustomed liberty, was very awkward in evading my attempts at capture; and I compelled her to enter a paper bag, which I closed without delay.

'Sometimes, suspecting the trap, or perhaps less pressed by hunger, she would remain coy and motionless, at a slight distance from the threshold, which she did not think it opportune to cross. Her patience outlasted mine. In that case, I employed the following tactics: after making sure of the Lycosa's position and the direction of the tunnel, I drove a knife into it on the slant, so as to take the animal in the rear and cut off its retreat by stopping up the burrow. I seldom failed in my attempt, especially in soil that was not stony. In these critical circumstances, either the Tarantula took fright and deserted her lair for the open, or else she stubbornly remained with her back to the blade. I would then give a sudden jerk to the knife, which flung both the earth and the Lycosa to a distance, enabling me to capture her. By employing this hunting-method, I sometimes caught as many as fifteen Tarantulae within the space of an hour.

'In a few cases, in which the Tarantula was under no misapprehension as to the trap which I was setting for her, I was not a little surprised, when I pushed the stalk far enough down to twist it round her hiding-place, to see her play with the spikelet more or less contemptuously and push it away with her legs, without troubling to retreat to the back of her lair.

'The Apulian peasants, according to Baglivi's {4} account, also hunt the Tarantula by imitating the humming of an insect with an oat-stalk at the entrance to her burrow. I quote the passage:

'"Ruricolae nostri quando eas captare volunt, ad illorum latibula accedunt, tenuisque avenacae fistulae sonum, apum murmuri non absimilem, modulantur. Quo audito, ferox exit Tarentula ut muscas vel alia hujus modi insecta, quorum murmur esse putat, captat; captatur tamen ista a rustico insidiatore." {5}

'The Tarantula, so dreadful at first sight, especially when we are filled with the idea that her bite is dangerous, so fierce in appearance, is nevertheless quite easy to tame, as I have often found by experiment.

'On the 7th of May 1812, while at Valencia, in Spain, I caught a fair- sized male Tarantula, without hurting him, and imprisoned him in a glass jar, with a paper cover in which I cut a trap-door. At the bottom of the jar I put a paper bag, to serve as his habitual residence. I placed the jar on a table in my bedroom, so as to have him under frequent observation. He soon grew accustomed to captivity and ended by becoming so familiar that he would come and take from my fingers the live Fly which I gave him. After killing his victim with the fangs of his mandibles, he was not satisfied, like most Spiders, to suck her head: he chewed her whole body, shoving it piecemeal into his mouth with his palpi, after which he threw up the masticated teguments and swept them away from his lodging.

'Having finished his meal, he nearly always made his toilet, which consisted in brushing his palpi and mandibles, both inside and out, with his front tarsi. After that, he resumed his air of motionless gravity. The evening and the night were his time for taking his walks abroad. I often heard him scratching the paper of the bag. These habits confirm the opinion, which I have already expressed elsewhere, that most Spiders have the faculty of seeing by day and night, like cats.

'On the 28th of June, my Tarantula cast his skin. It was his last moult and did not perceptibly alter either the colour of his attire or the dimensions of his body. On the 14th of July, I had to leave Valencia; and I stayed away until the 23rd. During this time, the Tarantula fasted; I found him looking quite well on my return. On the 20th of August, I again left for a nine days' absence, which my prisoner bore without food and without detriment to his health. On the 1st of October, I once more deserted the Tarantula, leaving him without provisions. On the 21st, I was fifty miles from Valencia and, as I intended to remain there, I sent a servant to fetch him. I was sorry to learn that he was not found in the jar, and I never heard what became of him.

'I will end my observations on the Tarantulae with a short description of a curious fight between those animals. One day, when I had had a successful hunt after these Lycosae, I picked out two full-grown and very powerful males and brought them together in a wide jar, in order to enjoy the sight of a combat to the death. After walking round the arena several times, to try and avoid each other, they were not slow in placing themselves in a warlike attitude, as though at a given signal. I saw them, to my surprise, take their distances and sit up solemnly on their hind-legs, so as mutually to present the shield of their chests to each other. After watching them face to face like that for two minutes, during which they had doubtless provoked each other by glances that escaped my own, I saw them fling themselves upon each other at the same time, twisting their legs round each other and obstinately struggling to bite each other with the fangs of the mandibles. Whether from fatigue or from convention, the combat was suspended; there was a few seconds' truce; and each athlete moved away and resumed his threatening posture. This circumstance reminded me that, in the strange fights between cats, there are also suspensions of hostilities. But the contest was soon renewed between my two Tarantulae with increased fierceness. One of them, after holding victory in the balance for a while, was at last thrown and received a mortal wound in the head. He became the prey of the conqueror, who tore open his skull and devoured it. After this curious duel, I kept the victorious Tarantula alive for several weeks.'

My district does not boast the ordinary Tarantula, the Spider whose habits have been described above by the Wizard of the Landes; but it possesses an equivalent in the shape of the Black-bellied Tarantula, or Narbonne Lycosa, half the size of the other, clad in black velvet on the lower surface, especially under the belly, with brown chevrons on the abdomen and grey and white rings around the legs. Her favourite home is the dry, pebbly ground, covered with sun-scorched thyme. In my harmas {6} laboratory there are quite twenty of this Spider's burrows. Rarely do I pass by one of these haunts without giving a glance down the pit where gleam, like diamonds, the four great eyes, the four telescopes, of the hermit. The four others, which are much smaller, are not visible at that depth.

Would I have greater riches, I have but to walk a hundred yards from my house, on the neighbouring plateau, once a shady forest, to-day a dreary solitude where the Cricket browses and the Wheat-ear flits from stone to stone. The love of lucre has laid waste the land. Because wine paid handsomely, they pulled up the forest to plant the vine. Then came the Phylloxera, the vine-stocks perished and the once green table-land is now no more than a desolate stretch where a few tufts of hardy grasses sprout among the pebbles. This waste-land is the Lycosa's paradise: in an hour's time, if need were, I should discover a hundred burrows within a limited range.

These dwellings are pits about a foot deep, perpendicular at first and then bent elbow-wise. The average diameter is an inch. On the edge of the hole stands a kerb, formed of straw, bits and scraps of all sorts and even small pebbles, the size of a hazel-nut. The whole is kept in place and cemented with silk. Often, the Spider confines herself to drawing together the dry blades of the nearest grass, which she ties down with the straps from her spinnerets, without removing the blades from the stems; often, also, she rejects this scaffolding in favour of a masonry constructed of small stones. The nature of the kerb is decided by the nature of the materials within the Lycosa's reach, in the close neighbourhood of the building-yard. There is no selection: everything meets with approval, provided that it be near at hand.

Economy of time, therefore, causes the defensive wall to vary greatly as regards its constituent elements. The height varies also. One enclosure is a turret an inch high; another amounts to a mere rim. All have their parts bound firmly together with silk; and all have the same width as the subterranean channel, of which they are the extension. There is here no difference in diameter between the underground manor and its outwork, nor do we behold, at the opening, the platform which the turret leaves to give free play to the Italian Tarantula's legs. The Black-bellied Tarantula's work takes the form of a well surmounted by its kerb.

When the soil is earthy and homogeneous, the architectural type is free from obstructions and the Spider's dwelling is a cylindrical tube; but, when the site is pebbly, the shape is modified according to the exigencies of the digging. In the second case, the lair is often a rough, winding cave, at intervals along whose inner wall stick blocks of stone avoided in the process of excavation. Whether regular or irregular, the house is plastered to a certain depth with a coat of silk, which prevents earth-slips and facilitates scaling when a prompt exit is required.

Baglivi, in his unsophisticated Latin, teaches us how to catch the Tarantula. I became his rusticus insidiator; I waved a spikelet at the entrance of the burrow to imitate the humming of a Bee and attract the attention of the Lycosa, who rushes out, thinking that she is capturing a prey. This method did not succeed with me. The Spider, it is true, leaves her remote apartments and comes a little way up the vertical tube to enquire into the sounds at her door; but the wily animal soon scents a trap; it remains motionless at mid-height and, at the least alarm, goes down again to the branch gallery, where it is invisible.

Leon Dufour's appears to me a better method if it were only practicable in the conditions wherein I find myself. To drive a knife quickly into the ground, across the burrow, so as to cut off the Tarantula's retreat when she is attracted by the spikelet and standing on the upper floor, would be a manoeuvre certain of success, if the soil were favourable. Unfortunately, this is not so in my case: you might as well try to dig a knife into a block of tufa.

Other stratagems become necessary. Here are two which were successful: I recommend them to future Tarantula-hunters. I insert into the burrow, as far down as I can, a stalk with a fleshy spikelet, which the Spider can bite into. I move and turn and twist my bait. The Tarantula, when touched by the intruding body, contemplates self-defence and bites the spikelet. A slight resistance informs my fingers that the animal has fallen into the trap and seized the tip of the stalk in its fangs. I draw it to me, slowly, carefully; the Spider hauls from below, planting her legs against the wall. It comes, it rises. I hide as best I may, when the Spider enters the perpendicular tunnel: if she saw me, she would let go the bait and slip down again. I thus bring her, by degrees, to the orifice. This is the difficult moment. If I continue the gentle movement, the Spider, feeling herself dragged out of her home, would at once run back indoors. It is impossible to get the suspicious animal out by this means. Therefore, when it appears at the level of the ground, I give a sudden pull. Surprised by this foul play, the Tarantula has no time to release her hold; gripping the spikelet, she is thrown some inches away from the burrow. Her capture now becomes an easy matter. Outside her own house, the Lycosa is timid, as though scared, and hardly capable of running away. To push her with a straw into a paper bag is the affair of a second.

It requires some patience to bring the Tarantula who has bitten into the insidious spikelet to the entrance of the burrow. The following method is quicker: I procure a supply of live Bumble-bees. I put one into a little bottle with a mouth just wide enough to cover the opening of the burrow; and I turn the apparatus thus baited over the said opening. The powerful Bee at first flutters and hums about her glass prison; then, perceiving a burrow similar to that of her family, she enters it without much hesitation. She is extremely ill-advised: while she goes down, the Spider comes up; and the meeting takes place in the perpendicular passage. For a few moments, the ear perceives a sort of death-song: it is the humming of the Bumble-bee, protesting against the reception given her. This is followed by a long silence. Then I remove the bottle and dip a long-jawed forceps into the pit. I withdraw the Bumble-bee, motionless, dead, with hanging proboscis. A terrible tragedy must have happened. The Spider follows, refusing to let go so rich a booty. Game and huntress are brought to the orifice. Sometimes, mistrustful, the Lycosa goes in again; but we have only to leave the Bumble-bee on the threshold of the door, or even a few inches away, to see her reappear, issue from her fortress and daringly recapture her prey. This is the moment: the house is closed with the finger, or a pebble and, as Baglivi says, 'captatur tamen ista a rustico insidiatore,' to which I will add, 'adjuvante Bombo.' {7}

The object of these hunting methods was not exactly to obtain Tarantulae; I had not the least wish to rear the Spider in a bottle. I was interested in a different matter. Here, thought I, is an ardent huntress, living solely by her trade. She does not prepare preserved foodstuffs for her offspring; {8} she herself feeds on the prey which she catches. She is not a 'paralyzer,' {9} who cleverly spares her quarry so as to leave it a glimmer of life and keep it fresh for weeks at a time; she is a killer, who makes a meal off her capture on the spot. With her, there is no methodical vivisection, which destroys movement without entirely destroying life, but absolute death, as sudden as possible, which protects the assailant from the counter-attacks of the assailed.

Her game, moreover, is essentially bulky and not always of the most peaceful character. This Diana, ambushed in her tower, needs a prey worthy of her prowess. The big Grasshopper, with the powerful jaws; the irascible Wasp; the Bee, the Bumble-bee and other wearers of poisoned daggers must fall into the ambuscade from time to time. The duel is nearly equal in point of weapons. To the venomous fangs of the Lycosa the Wasp opposes her venomous stiletto. Which of the two bandits shall have the best of it? The struggle is a hand-to-hand one. The Tarantula has no secondary means of defence, no cord to bind her victim, no trap to subdue her. When the Epeira, or Garden Spider, sees an insect entangled in her great upright web, she hastens up and covers the captive with corded meshes and silk ribbons by the armful, making all resistance impossible. When the prey is solidly bound, a prick is carefully administered with the poison-fangs; then the Spider retires, waiting for the death-throes to calm down, after which the huntress comes back to the game. In these conditions, there is no serious danger.

In the case of the Lycosa, the job is riskier. She has naught to serve her but her courage and her fangs and is obliged to leap upon the formidable prey, to master it by her dexterity, to annihilate it, in a measure, by her swift-slaying talent.

Annihilate is the word: the Bumble-bees whom I draw from the fatal hole are a sufficient proof. As soon as that shrill buzzing, which I called the death-song, ceases, in vain I hasten to insert my forceps: I always bring out the insect dead, with slack proboscis and limp legs. Scarce a few quivers of those legs tell me that it is a quite recent corpse. The Bumble-bee's death is instantaneous. Each time that I take a fresh victim from the terrible slaughter-house, my surprise is renewed at the sight of its sudden immobility.

Nevertheless, both animals have very nearly the same strength; for I choose my Bumble-bees from among the largest (Bombus hortorum and B. terrestris). Their weapons are almost equal: the Bee's dart can bear comparison with the Spider's fangs; the sting of the first seems to me as formidable as the bite of the second. How comes it that the Tarantula always has the upper hand and this moreover in a very short conflict, whence she emerges unscathed? There must certainly be some cunning strategy on her part. Subtle though her poison may be, I cannot believe that its mere injection, at any point whatever of the victim, is enough to produce so prompt a catastrophe. The ill-famed rattlesnake does not kill so quickly, takes hours to achieve that for which the Tarantula does not require a second. We must, therefore, look for an explanation of this sudden death to the vital importance of the point attacked by the Spider, rather than to the virulence of the poison.

What is this point? It is impossible to recognize it on the Bumble-bees. They enter the burrow; and the murder is committed far from sight. Nor does the lens discover any wound upon the corpse, so delicate are the weapons that produce it. One would have to see the two adversaries engage in a direct contest. I have often tried to place a Tarantula and a Bumble-bee face to face in the same bottle. The two animals mutually flee each other, each being as much upset as the other at its captivity. I have kept them together for twenty-four hours, without aggressive display on either side. Thinking more of their prison than of attacking each other, they temporize, as though indifferent. The experiment has always been fruitless. I have succeeded with Bees and Wasps, but the murder has been committed at night and has taught me nothing. I would find both insects, next morning, reduced to a jelly under the Spider's mandibles. A weak prey is a mouthful which the Spider reserves for the calm of the night. A prey capable of resistance is not attacked in captivity. The prisoner's anxiety cools the hunter's ardour.

The arena of a large bottle enables each athlete to keep out of the other's way, respected by her adversary, who is respected in her turn. Let us reduce the lists, diminish the enclosure. I put Bumble-bee and Tarantula into a test-tube that has only room for one at the bottom. A lively brawl ensues, without serious results. If the Bumble-bee be underneath, she lies down on her back and with her legs wards off the other as much as she can. I do not see her draw her sting. The Spider, meanwhile, embracing the whole circumference of the enclosure with her long legs, hoists herself a little upon the slippery surface and removes herself as far as possible from her adversary. There, motionless, she awaits events, which are soon disturbed by the fussy Bumble-bee. Should the latter occupy the upper position, the Tarantula protects herself by drawing up her legs, which keep the enemy at a distance. In short, save for sharp scuffles when the two champions are in touch, nothing happens that deserves attention. There is no duel to the death in the narrow arena of the test-tube, any more than in the wider lists afforded by the bottle. Utterly timid once she is away from home, the Spider obstinately refuses the battle; nor will the Bumble-bee, giddy though she be, think of striking the first blow. I abandon experiments in my study.

We must go direct to the spot and force the duel upon the Tarantula, who is full of pluck in her own stronghold. Only, instead of the Bumble-bee, who enters the burrow and conceals her death from our eyes, it is necessary to substitute another adversary, less inclined to penetrate underground. There abounds in the garden, at this moment, on the flowers of the common clary, one of the largest and most powerful Bees that haunt my district, the Carpenter-bee (Xylocopa violacea), clad in black velvet, with wings of purple gauze. Her size, which is nearly an inch, exceeds that of the Bumble-bee. Her sting is excruciating and produces a swelling that long continues painful. I have very exact memories on this subject, memories that have cost me dear. Here indeed is an antagonist worthy of the Tarantula, if I succeed in inducing the Spider to accept her. I place a certain number, one by one, in bottles small in capacity, but having a wide neck capable of surrounding the entrance to the burrow.

As the prey which I am about to offer is capable of overawing the huntress, I select from among the Tarantulae the lustiest, the boldest, those most stimulated by hunger. The spikeleted stalk is pushed into the burrow. When the Spider hastens up at once, when she is of a good size, when she climbs boldly to the aperture of her dwelling, she is admitted to the tourney; otherwise, she is refused. The bottle, baited with a Carpenter-bee, is placed upside down over the door of one of the elect. The Bee buzzes gravely in her glass bell; the huntress mounts from the recesses of the cave; she is on the threshold, but inside; she looks; she waits. I also wait. The quarters, the half-hours pass: nothing. The Spider goes down again: she has probably judged the attempt too dangerous. I move to a second, a third, a fourth burrow: still nothing; the huntress refuses to leave her lair.

Fortune at last smiles upon my patience, which has been heavily tried by all these prudent retreats and particularly by the fierce heat of the dog- days. A Spider suddenly rushes from her hole: she has been rendered warlike, doubtless, by prolonged abstinence. The tragedy that happens under the cover of the bottle lasts for but the twinkling of an eye. It is over: the sturdy Carpenter-bee is dead. Where did the murderess strike her? That is easily ascertained: the Tarantula has not let go; and her fangs are planted in the nape of the neck. The assassin has the knowledge which I suspected: she has made for the essentially vital centre, she has stung the insect's cervical ganglia with her poison-fangs. In short, she has bitten the only point a lesion in which produces sudden death. I was delighted with this murderous skill, which made amends for the blistering which my skin received in the sun.

Once is not custom: one swallow does not make a summer. Is what I have just seen due to accident or to premeditation? I turn to other Lycosae. Many, a deal too many for my patience, stubbornly refuse to dart from their haunts in order to attack the Carpenter-bee. The formidable quarry is too much for their daring. Shall not hunger, which brings the wolf from the wood, also bring the Tarantula out of her hole? Two, apparently more famished than the rest, do at last pounce upon the Bee and repeat the scene of murder before my eyes. The prey, again bitten in the neck, exclusively in the neck, dies on the instant. Three murders, perpetrated in my presence under identical conditions, represent the fruits of my experiment pursued, on two occasions, from eight o'clock in the morning until twelve midday.

I had seen enough. The quick insect-killer had taught me her trade as had the paralyzer {10} before her: she had shown me that she is thoroughly versed in the art of the butcher of the Pampas. {11} The Tarantula is an accomplished desnucador. It remained to me to confirm the open-air experiment with experiments in the privacy of my study. I therefore got together a menagerie of these poisonous Spiders, so as to judge of the virulence of their venom and its effect according to the part of the body injured by the fangs. A dozen bottles and test-tubes received the prisoners, whom I captured by the methods known to the reader. To one inclined to scream at the sight of a Spider, my study, filled with odious Lycosae, would have presented a very uncanny appearance.

Though the Tarantula scorns or rather fears to attack an adversary placed in her presence in a bottle, she scarcely hesitates to bite what is thrust beneath her fangs. I take her by the thorax with my forceps and present to her mouth the animal which I wish stung. Forthwith, if the Spider be not already tired by experiments, the fangs are raised and inserted. I first tried the effects of the bite upon the Carpenter-bee. When struck in the neck, the Bee succumbs at once. It was the lightning death which I witnessed on the threshold of the burrows. When struck in the abdomen and then placed in a large bottle that leaves its movements free, the insect seems, at first, to have suffered no serious injury. It flutters about and buzzes. But half an hour has not elapsed before death is imminent. The insect lies motionless upon its back or side. At most, a few movements of the legs, a slight pulsation of the belly, continuing till the morrow, proclaim that life has not yet entirely departed. Then everything ceases: the Carpenter-bee is a corpse.

The importance of this experiment compels our attention. When stung in the neck, the powerful Bee dies on the spot; and the Spider has not to fear the dangers of a desperate struggle. Stung elsewhere, in the abdomen, the insect is capable, for nearly half an hour, of making use of its dart, its mandibles, its legs; and woe to the Lycosa whom the stiletto reaches. I have seen some who, stabbed in the mouth while biting close to the sting, died of the wound within the twenty-four hours. That dangerous prey, therefore, requires instantaneous death, produced by the injury to the nerve-centres of the neck; otherwise, the hunter's life would often be in jeopardy.

The Grasshopper order supplied me with a second series of victims: Green Grasshoppers as long as one's finger, large-headed Locusts, Ephippigerae. {12} The same result follows when these are bitten in the neck: lightning death. When injured elsewhere, notably in the abdomen, the subject of the experiment resists for some time. I have seen a Grasshopper, bitten in the belly, cling firmly for fifteen hours to the smooth, upright wall of the glass bell that constituted his prison. At last, he dropped off and died. Where the Bee, that delicate organism, succumbs in less than half an hour, the Grasshopper, coarse ruminant that he is, resists for a whole day. Put aside these differences, caused by unequal degrees of organic sensitiveness, and we sum up as follows: when bitten by the Tarantula in the neck, an insect, chosen from among the largest, dies on the spot; when bitten elsewhere, it perishes also, but after a lapse of time which varies considerably in the different entomological orders.

This explains the long hesitation of the Tarantula, so wearisome to the experimenter when he presents to her, at the entrance to the burrow, a rich, but dangerous prey. The majority refuse to fling themselves upon the Carpenter-bee. The fact is that a quarry of this kind cannot be seized recklessly: the huntress who missed her stroke by biting at random would do so at the risk of her life. The nape of the neck alone possesses the desired vulnerability. The adversary must be nipped there and no elsewhere. Not to floor her at once would mean to irritate her and make her more dangerous than ever. The Spider is well aware of this. In the safe shelter of her threshold, therefore, prepared to beat a quick retreat if necessary, she watches for the favourable moment; she waits for the big Bee to face her, when the neck is easily grabbed. If this condition of success offer, she leaps out and acts; if not, weary of the violent evolutions of the quarry, she retires indoors. And that, no doubt, is why it took me two sittings of four hours apiece to witness three assassinations.

Formerly, instructed by the paralysing Wasps, I had myself tried to produce paralysis by injecting a drop of ammonia into the thorax of those insects, such as Weevils, Buprestes, {13} and Dung-beetles, whose compact nervous system assists this physiological operation. I showed myself a ready pupil to my masters' teaching and used to paralyze a Buprestis or a Weevil almost as well as a Cerceris {14} could have done. Why should I not to-day imitate that expert butcher, the Tarantula? With the point of a fine needle, I inject a tiny drop of ammonia at the base of the skull of a Carpenter-bee or a Grasshopper. The insect succumbs then and there, without any other movement than wild convulsions. When attacked by the acrid fluid, the cervical ganglia cease to do their work; and death ensues. Nevertheless, this death is not immediate; the throes last for some time. The experiment is not wholly satisfactory as regards suddenness. Why? Because the liquid which I employ, ammonia, cannot be compared, for deadly efficacy, with the Lycosa's poison, a pretty formidable poison, as we shall see.

I make a Tarantula bite the leg of a young, well-fledged Sparrow, ready to leave the nest. A drop of blood flows; the wounded spot is surrounded by a reddish circle, changing to purple. The bird almost immediately loses the use of its leg, which drags, with the toes doubled in; it hops upon the other. Apart from this, the patient does not seem to trouble much about his hurt; his appetite is good. My daughters feed him on Flies, bread-crumb, apricot-pulp. He is sure to get well, he will recover his strength; the poor victim of the curiosity of science will be restored to liberty. This is the wish, the intention of us all. Twelve hours later, the hope of a cure increases; the invalid takes nourishment readily; he clamours for it, if we keep him waiting. But the leg still drags. I set this down to a temporary paralysis which will soon disappear. Two days after, he refuses his food. Wrapping himself in his stoicism and his rumpled feathers, the Sparrow hunches into a ball, now motionless, now twitching. My girls take him in the hollow of their hands and warm him with their breath. The spasms become more frequent. A gasp proclaims that all is over. The bird is dead.

There was a certain coolness among us at the evening-meal. I read mute reproaches, because of my experiment, in the eyes of my home-circle; I read an unspoken accusation of cruelty all around me. The death of the unfortunate Sparrow had saddened the whole family. I myself was not without some remorse of conscience: the poor result achieved seemed to me too dearly bought. I am not made of the stuff of those who, without turning a hair, rip up live Dogs to find out nothing in particular.

Nevertheless, I had the courage to start afresh, this time on a Mole caught ravaging a bed of lettuces. There was a danger lest my captive, with his famished stomach, should leave things in doubt, if we had to keep him for a few days. He might die not of his wound, but of inanition, if I did not succeed in giving him suitable food, fairly plentiful and dispensed at fairly frequent intervals. In that case, I ran a risk of ascribing to the poison what might well be the result of starvation. I must therefore begin by finding out if it was possible for me to keep the Mole alive in captivity. The animal was put into a large receptacle from which it could not get out and fed on a varied diet of insects—Beetles, Grasshoppers, especially Cicadae {15}—which it crunched up with an excellent appetite. Twenty-four hours of this regimen convinced me that the Mole was making the best of the bill of fare and taking kindly to his captivity.

I make the Tarantula bite him at the tip of the snout. When replaced in his cage, the Mole keeps on scratching his nose with his broad paws. The thing seems to burn, to itch. Henceforth, less and less of the provision of Cicadae is consumed; on the evening of the following day, it is refused altogether. About thirty-six hours after being bitten, the Mole dies during the night and certainly not from inanition, for there are still half a dozen live Cicadae in the receptacle, as well as a few Beetles.

The bite of the Black-bellied Tarantula is therefore dangerous to other animals than insects: it is fatal to the Sparrow, it is fatal to the Mole. Up to what point are we to generalize? I do not know, because my enquiries extended no further. Nevertheless, judging from the little that I saw, it appears to me that the bite of this Spider is not an accident which man can afford to treat lightly. This is all that I have to say to the doctors.

To the philosophical entomologists I have something else to say: I have to call their attention to the consummate knowledge of the insect-killers, which vies with that of the paralyzers. I speak of insect-killers in the plural, for the Tarantula must share her deadly art with a host of other Spiders, especially with those who hunt without nets. These insect-killers, who live on their prey, strike the game dead instantaneously by stinging the nerve-centres of the neck; the paralyzers, on the other hand, who wish to keep the food fresh for their larvae, destroy the power of movement by stinging the game in the other nerve-centres. Both of them attack the nervous chain, but they select the point according to the object to be attained. If death be desired, sudden death, free from danger to the huntress, the insect is attacked in the neck; if mere paralysis be required, the neck is respected and the lower segments—sometimes one alone, sometimes three, sometimes all or nearly all, according to the special organization of the victim—receive the dagger-thrust.

Even the paralyzers, at least some of them, are acquainted with the immense vital importance of the nerve-centres of the neck. We have seen the Hairy Ammophila munching the caterpillar's brain, the Languedocian Sphex munching the brain of the Ephippigera, with the object of inducing a passing torpor. But they simply squeeze the brain and do even this with a wise discretion; they are careful not to drive their sting into this fundamental centre of life; not one of them ever thinks of doing so, for the result would be a corpse which the larva would despise. The Spider, on the other hand, inserts her double dirk there and there alone; any elsewhere it would inflict a wound likely to increase resistance through irritation. She wants a venison for consumption without delay and brutally thrusts her fangs into the spot which the others so conscientiously respect.

If the instinct of these scientific murderers is not, in both cases, an inborn predisposition, inseparable from the animal, but an acquired habit, then I rack my brain in vain to understand how that habit can have been acquired. Shroud these facts in theoretic mists as much as you will, you shall never succeed in veiling the glaring evidence which they afford of a pre-established order of things.


In the inclement season of the year, when the insect has nothing to do and retires to winter quarters, the observer profits by the mildness of the sunny nooks and grubs in the sand, lifts the stones, searches the brushwood; and often he is stirred with a pleasurable excitement, when he lights upon some ingenious work of art, discovered unawares. Happy are the simple of heart whose ambition is satisfied with such treasure-trove! I wish them all the joys which it has brought me and which it will continue to bring me, despite the vexations of life, which grow ever more bitter as the years follow their swift downward course.

Should the seekers rummage among the wild grasses in the osier-beds and copses, I wish them the delight of finding the wonderful object that, at this moment, lies before my eyes. It is the work of a Spider, the nest of the Banded Epeira (Epeira fasciata, LATR.).

A Spider is not an insect, according to the rules of classification; and as such the Epeira seems out of place here. {16} A fig for systems! It is immaterial to the student of instinct whether the animal have eight legs instead of six, or pulmonary sacs instead of air-tubes. Besides, the Araneida belong to the group of segmented animals, organized in sections placed end to end, a structure to which the terms 'insect' and 'entomology' both refer.

Formerly, to describe this group, people said 'articulate animals,' an expression which possessed the drawback of not jarring on the ear and of being understood by all. This is out of date. Nowadays, they use the euphonious term 'Arthropoda.' And to think that there are men who question the existence of progress! Infidels! Say, 'articulate,' first; then roll out, 'Arthropoda;' and you shall see whether zoological science is not progressing!

In bearing and colouring, Epeira fasciata is the handsomest of the Spiders of the South. On her fat belly, a mighty silk-warehouse nearly as large as a hazel-nut, are alternate yellow, black and silver sashes, to which she owes her epithet of Banded. Around that portly abdomen, the eight long legs, with their dark- and pale-brown rings, radiate like spokes.

Any small prey suits her; and, as long as she can find supports for her web, she settles wherever the Locust hops, wherever the Fly hovers, wherever the Dragon-fly dances or the Butterfly flits. As a rule, because of the greater abundance of game, she spreads her toils across some brooklet, from bank to bank among the rushes. She also stretches them, but not assiduously, in the thickets of evergreen oak, on the slopes with the scrubby greenswards, dear to the Grasshoppers.

Her hunting-weapon is a large upright web, whose outer boundary, which varies according to the disposition of the ground, is fastened to the neighbouring branches by a number of moorings. The structure is that adopted by the other weaving Spiders. Straight threads radiate at equal intervals from a central point. Over this framework runs a continuous spiral thread, forming chords, or cross-bars, from the centre to the circumference. It is magnificently large and magnificently symmetrical.

In the lower part of the web, starting from the centre, a wide opaque ribbon descends zigzag-wise across the radii. This is the Epeira's trade- mark, the flourish of an artist initialling his creation. 'Fecit So- and-so,' she seems to say, when giving the last throw of the shuttle to her handiwork.

That the Spider feels satisfied when, after passing and repassing from spoke to spoke, she finishes her spiral, is beyond a doubt: the work achieved ensures her food for a few days to come. But, in this particular case, the vanity of the spinstress has naught to say to the matter: the strong silk zigzag is added to impart greater firmness to the web.

Increased resistance is not superfluous, for the net is sometimes exposed to severe tests. The Epeira cannot pick and choose her prizes. Seated motionless in the centre of her web, her eight legs wide-spread to feel the shaking of the network in any direction, she waits for what luck will bring her: now some giddy weakling unable to control its flight, anon some powerful prey rushing headlong with a reckless bound.

The Locust in particular, the fiery Locust, who releases the spring of his long shanks at random, often falls into the trap. One imagines that his strength ought to frighten the Spider; the kick of his spurred levers should enable him to make a hole, then and there, in the web and to get away. But not at all. If he does not free himself at the first effort, the Locust is lost.

Turning her back on the game, the Epeira works all her spinnerets, pierced like the rose of a watering-pot, at one and the same time. The silky spray is gathered by the hind-legs, which are longer than the others and open into a wide arc to allow the stream to spread. Thanks to this artifice, the Epeira this time obtains not a thread, but an iridescent sheet, a sort of clouded fan wherein the component threads are kept almost separate. The two hind-legs fling this shroud gradually, by rapid alternate armfuls, while, at the same time, they turn the prey over and over, swathing it completely.

The ancient retiarius, when pitted against a powerful wild beast, appeared in the arena with a rope-net folded over his left shoulder. The animal made its spring. The man, with a sudden movement of his right arm, cast the net after the manner of the fishermen; he covered the beast and tangled it in the meshes. A thrust of the trident gave the quietus to the vanquished foe.

The Epeira acts in like fashion, with this advantage, that she is able to renew her armful of fetters. Should the first not suffice, a second instantly follows and another and yet another, until the reserves of silk become exhausted.

When all movement ceases under the snowy winding-sheet, the Spider goes up to her bound prisoner. She has a better weapon than the bestiarius' trident: she has her poison-fangs. She gnaws at the Locust, without undue persistence, and then withdraws, leaving the torpid patient to pine away.

Soon she comes back to her motionless head of game: she sucks it, drains it, repeatedly changing her point of attack. At last, the clean-bled remains are flung out of the net and the Spider returns to her ambush in the centre of the web.

What the Epeira sucks is not a corpse, but a numbed body. If I remove the Locust immediately after he has been bitten and release him from the silken sheath, the patient recovers his strength to such an extent that he seems, at first, to have suffered no injury. The Spider, therefore, does not kill her capture before sucking its juices; she is content to deprive it of the power of motion by producing a state of torpor. Perhaps this kindlier bite gives her greater facility in working her pump. The humours, if stagnant, in a corpse, would not respond so readily to the action of the sucker; they are more easily extracted from a live body, in which they move about.

The Epeira, therefore, being a drinker of blood, moderates the virulence of her sting, even with victims of appalling size, so sure is she of her retiarian art. The long-legged Tryxalis, {17} the corpulent Grey Locust, the largest of our Grasshoppers are accepted without hesitation and sucked dry as soon as numbed. Those giants, capable of making a hole in the net and passing through it in their impetuous onrush, can be but rarely caught. I myself place them on the web. The Spider does the rest. Lavishing her silky spray, she swathes them and then sucks the body at her ease. With an increased expenditure of the spinnerets, the very biggest game is mastered as successfully as the everyday prey.

I have seen even better than that. This time, my subject is the Silky Epeira (Epeira sericea, OLIV.), with a broad, festooned, silvery abdomen. Like that of the other, her web is large, upright and 'signed' with a zigzag ribbon. I place upon it a Praying Mantis, {18} a well-developed specimen, quite capable of changing roles, should circumstances permit, and herself making a meal off her assailant. It is a question no longer of capturing a peaceful Locust, but a fierce and powerful ogre, who would rip open the Epeira's paunch with one blow of her harpoons.

Will the Spider dare? Not immediately. Motionless in the centre of her net, she consults her strength before attacking the formidable quarry; she waits until the struggling prey has its claws more thickly entangled. At last, she approaches. The Mantis curls her belly; lifts her wings like vertical sails; opens her saw-toothed arm-pieces; in short, adopts the spectral attitude which she employs when delivering battle.

The Spider disregards these menaces. Spreading wide her spinnerets, she pumps out sheets of silk which the hind-legs draw out, expand and fling without stint in alternate armfuls. Under this shower of threads, the Mantis' terrible saws, the lethal legs, quickly disappear from sight, as do the wings, still erected in the spectral posture.

Meanwhile, the swathed one gives sudden jerks, which make the Spider fall out of her web. The accident is provided for. A safety-cord, emitted at the same instant by the spinnerets, keeps the Epeira hanging, swinging in space. When calm is restored, she packs her cord and climbs up again. The heavy paunch and the hind-legs are now bound. The flow slackens, the silk comes only in thin sheets. Fortunately, the business is done. The prey is invisible under the thick shroud.

The Spider retires without giving a bite. To master the terrible quarry, she has spent the whole reserves of her spinning-mill, enough to weave many good-sized webs. With this heap of shackles, further precautions are superfluous.

After a short rest in the centre of the net, she comes down to dinner. Slight incisions are made in different parts of the prize, now here, now there; and the Spider puts her mouth to each and sucks the blood of her prey. The meal is long protracted, so rich is the dish. For ten hours, I watch the insatiable glutton, who changes her point of attack as each wound sucked dries up. Night comes and robs me of the finish of the unbridled debauch. Next morning, the drained Mantis lies upon the ground. The Ants are eagerly devouring the remains.

The eminent talents of the Epeirae are displayed to even better purpose in the industrial business of motherhood than in the art of the chase. The silk bag, the nest, in which the Banded Epeira houses her eggs, is a much greater marvel than the bird's nest. In shape, it is an inverted balloon, nearly the size of a Pigeon's egg. The top tapers like a pear and is cut short and crowned with a scalloped rim, the corners of which are lengthened by means of moorings that fasten the object to the adjoining twigs. The whole, a graceful ovoid, hangs straight down, amid a few threads that steady it.

The top is hollowed into a crater closed with a silky padding. Every other part is contained in the general wrapper, formed of thick, compact white satin, difficult to break and impervious to moisture. Brown and even black silk, laid out in abroad ribbons, in spindle-shaped patterns, in fanciful meridian waves, adorns the upper portion of the exterior. The part played by this fabric is self-evident: it is a waterproof cover which neither dew nor rain can penetrate.

Exposed to all the inclemencies of the weather, among the dead grasses, close to the ground, the Epeira's nest has also to protect its contents from the winter cold. Let us cut the wrapper with our scissors. Underneath, we find a thick layer of reddish-brown silk, not worked into a fabric this time, but puffed into an extra-fine wadding. It is a fleecy cloud, an incomparable quilt, softer than any swan's-down. This is the screen set up against loss of heat.

And what does this cosy mass protect? See: in the middle of the eiderdown hangs a cylindrical pocket, round at the bottom, cut square at the top and closed with a padded lid. It is made of extremely fine satin; it contains the Epeira's eggs, pretty little orange-coloured beads, which, glued together, form a globule the size of a pea. This is the treasure to be defended against the asperities of the winter.

Now that we know the structure of the work, let us try to see in what manner the spinstress sets about it. The observation is not an easy one, for the Banded Epeira is a night-worker. She needs nocturnal quiet in order not to go astray amid the complicated rules that guide her industry. Now and again, at very early hours in the morning, I have happened to catch her working, which enables me to sum up the progress of the operations.

My subjects are busy in their bell-shaped cages, at about the middle of August. A scaffolding is first run up, at the top of the dome; it consists of a few stretched threads. The wire trellis represents the twigs and the blades of grass which the Spider, if at liberty, would have used as suspension-points. The loom works on this shaky support. The Epeira does not see what she is doing; she turns her back on her task. The machinery is so well put together that the whole thing goes automatically.

The tip of the abdomen sways, a little to the right, a little to the left, rises and falls, while the Spider moves slowly round and round. The thread paid out is single. The hind-legs draw it out and place it in position on that which is already done. Thus is formed a satin receptacle the rim of which is gradually raised until it becomes a bag about a centimetre deep. {19} The texture is of the daintiest. Guy-ropes bind it to the nearest threads and keep it stretched, especially at the mouth.

Then the spinnerets take a rest and the turn of the ovaries comes. A continuous shower of eggs falls into the bag, which is filled to the top. The capacity of the receptacle has been so nicely calculated that there is room for all the eggs, without leaving any space unoccupied. When the Spider has finished and retires, I catch a momentary glimpse of the heap of orange-coloured eggs; but the work of the spinnerets is at once resumed.

The next business is to close the bag. The machinery works a little differently. The tip of the belly no longer sways from side to side. It sinks and touches a point; it retreats, sinks again and touches another point, first here, then there, describing inextricable zigzags. At the same time, the hind-legs tread the material emitted. The result is no longer a stuff, but a felt, a blanketing.

Around the satin capsule, which contains the eggs, is the eiderdown destined to keep out the cold. The youngsters will bide for some time in this soft shelter, to strengthen their joints and prepare for the final exodus. It does not take long to make. The spinning-mill suddenly alters the raw material: it was turning out white silk; it now furnishes reddish-brown silk, finer than the other and issuing in clouds which the hind-legs, those dexterous carders, beat into a sort of froth. The egg- pocket disappears, drowned in this exquisite wadding.

The balloon-shape is already outlined; the top of the work tapers to a neck. The Spider, moving up and down, tacking first to one side and then to the other, from the very first spray marks out the graceful form as accurately as though she carried a compass in her abdomen.

Then, once again, with the same suddenness, the material changes. The white silk reappears, wrought into thread. This is the moment to weave the outer wrapper. Because of the thickness of the stuff and the density of its texture, this operation is the longest of the series.

First, a few threads are flung out, hither and thither, to keep the layer of wadding in position. The Epeira takes special pains with the edge of the neck, where she fashions an indented border, the angles of which, prolonged with cords or lines, form the main support of the building. The spinnerets never touch this part without giving it, each time, until the end of the work, a certain added solidity, necessary to secure the stability of the balloon. The suspensory indentations soon outline a crater which needs plugging. The Spider closes the bag with a padded stopper similar to that with which she sealed the egg-pocket.

When these arrangements are made, the real manufacture of the wrapper begins. The Spider goes backwards and forwards, turns and turns again. The spinnerets do not touch the fabric. With a rhythmical, alternate movement, the hind-legs, the sole implements employed, draw the thread, seize it in their combs and apply it to the work, while the tip of the abdomen sways methodically to and fro.

In this way, the silken fibre is distributed in an even zigzag, of almost geometrical precision and comparable with that of the cotton thread which the machines in our factories roll so neatly into balls. And this is repeated all over the surface of the work, for the Spider shifts her position a little at every moment.

At fairly frequent intervals, the tip of the abdomen is lifted to the mouth of the balloon; and then the spinnerets really touch the fringed edge. The length of contact is even considerable. We find, therefore, that the thread is stuck in this star-shaped fringe, the foundation of the building and the crux of the whole, while every elsewhere it is simply laid on, in a manner determined by the movements of the hind-legs. If we wished to unwind the work, the thread would break at the margin; at any other point, it would unroll.

The Epeira ends her web with a dead-white, angular flourish; she ends her nest with brown mouldings, which run down, irregularly, from the marginal junction to the bulging middle. For this purpose, she makes use, for the third time, of a different silk; she now produces silk of a dark hue, varying from russet to black. The spinnerets distribute the material with a wide longitudinal swing, from pole to pole; and the hind-legs apply it in capricious ribbons. When this is done, the work is finished. The Spider moves away with slow strides, without giving a glance at the bag. The rest does not interest her: time and the sun will see to it.

She felt her hour at hand and came down from her web. Near by, in the rank grass, she wove the tabernacle of her offspring and, in so doing, drained her resources. To resume her hunting-post, to return to her web would be useless to her: she has not the wherewithal to bind the prey. Besides, the fine appetite of former days has gone. Withered and languid, she drags out her existence for a few days and, at last, dies. This is how things happen in my cages; this is how they must happen in the brushwood.

The Silky Epeira (Epeira sericea, OLIV.) excels the Banded Epeira in the manufacture of big hunting-nets, but she is less gifted in the art of nest-building. She gives her nest the inelegant form of an obtuse cone. The opening of this pocket is very wide and is scalloped into lobes by which the edifice is slung. It is closed with a large lid, half satin, half swan's-down. The rest is a stout white fabric, frequently covered with irregular brown streaks.

The difference between the work of the two Epeirae does not extend beyond the wrapper, which is an obtuse cone in the one case and a balloon in the other. The same internal arrangements prevail behind this frontage: first, a flossy quilt; next, a little keg in which the eggs are packed. Though the two Spiders build the outer wall according to special architectural rules, they both employ the same means as a protection against the cold.

As we see, the egg-bag of the Epeirae, particularly that of the Banded Epeira, is an important and complex work. Various materials enter into its composition: white silk, red silk, brown silk; moreover, these materials are worked into dissimilar products: stout cloth, soft eiderdown, dainty satinette, porous felt. And all of this comes from the same workshop that weaves the hunting-net, warps the zigzag ribbon-band and casts an entangling shroud over the prey.

What a wonderful silk-factory it is! With a very simple and never-varying plant, consisting of the hind-legs and the spinnerets, it produces, by turns, rope-maker's, spinner's, weaver's, ribbon-maker's and fuller's work. How does the Spider direct an establishment of this kind? How does she obtain, at will, skeins of diverse hues and grades? How does she turn them out, first in this fashion, then in that? I see the results, but I do not understand the machinery and still less the process. It beats me altogether.

The Spider also sometimes loses her head in her difficult trade, when some trouble disturbs the peace of her nocturnal labours. I do not provoke this trouble myself, for I am not present at those unseasonable hours. It is simply due to the conditions prevailing in my menagerie.

In their natural state, the Epeirae settle separately, at long distances from one another. Each has her own hunting-grounds, where there is no reason to fear the competition that would result from the close proximity of the nets. In my cages, on the other hand, there is cohabitation. In order to save space, I lodge two or three Epeirae in the same cage. My easy-going captives live together in peace. There is no strife between them, no encroaching on the neighbour's property. Each of them weaves herself a rudimentary web, as far from the rest as possible, and here, rapt in contemplation, as though indifferent to what the others are doing, she awaits the hop of the Locust.

Nevertheless, these close quarters have their drawbacks when laying-time arrives. The cords by which the different establishments are hung interlace and criss-cross in a confused network. When one of them shakes, all the others are more or less affected. This is enough to distract the layer from her business and to make her do silly things. Here are two instances.

A bag has been woven during the night. I find it, when I visit the cage in the morning, hanging from the trellis-work and completed. It is perfect, as regards structure; it is decorated with the regulation black meridian curves. There is nothing missing, nothing except the essential thing, the eggs, for which the spinstress has gone to such expense in the matter of silks. Where are the eggs? They are not in the bag, which I open and find empty. They are lying on the ground below, on the sand in the pan, utterly unprotected.

Disturbed at the moment of discharging them, the mother has missed the mouth of the little bag and dropped them on the floor. Perhaps even, in her excitement, she came down from above and, compelled by the exigencies of the ovaries, laid her eggs on the first support that offered. No matter: if her Spider brain contains the least gleam of sense, she must be aware of the disaster and is therefore bound at once to abandon the elaborate manufacture of a now superfluous nest.

Not at all: the bag is woven around nothing, as accurate in shape, as finished in structure as under normal conditions. The absurd perseverance displayed by certain Bees, whose egg and provisions I used to remove, {20} is here repeated without the slightest interference from me. My victims used scrupulously to seal up their empty cells. In the same way, the Epeira puts the eiderdown quilting and the taffeta wrapper round a capsule that contains nothing.

Another, distracted from her work by some startling vibration, leaves her nest at the moment when the layer of red-brown wadding is being completed. She flees to the dome, at a few inches above her unfinished work, and spends upon a shapeless mattress, of no use whatever, all the silk with which she would have woven the outer wrapper if nothing had come to disturb her.

Poor fool! You upholster the wires of your cage with swan's-down and you leave the eggs imperfectly protected. The absence of the work already executed and the hardness of the metal do not warn you that you are now engaged upon a senseless task. You remind me of the Pelopaeus, {21} who used to coat with mud the place on the wall whence her nest had been removed. You speak to me, in your own fashion, of a strange psychology which is able to reconcile the wonders of a master craftsmanship with aberrations due to unfathomable stupidity.

Let us compare the work of the Banded Epeira with that of the Penduline Titmouse, the cleverest of our small birds in the art of nest-building. This Tit haunts the osier-beds of the lower reaches of the Rhone. Rocking gently in the river breeze, his nest sways pendent over the peaceful backwaters, at some distance from the too-impetuous current. It hangs from the drooping end of the branch of a poplar, an old willow or an alder, all of them tall trees, favouring the banks of streams.

It consists of a cotton bag, closed all round, save for a small opening at the side, just sufficient to allow of the mother's passage. In shape, it resembles the body of an alembic, a chemist's retort with a short lateral neck, or, better still, the foot of a stocking, with the edges brought together, but for a little round hole left at one side. The outward appearances increase the likeness: one can almost see the traces of a knitting-needle working with coarse stitches. That is why, struck by this shape, the Provencal peasant, in his expressive language, calls the Penduline lou Debassaire, the Stocking-knitter.

The early-ripening seedlets of the widows and poplars furnish the materials for the work. There breaks from them, in May, a sort of vernal snow, a fine down, which the eddies of the air heap in the crevices of the ground. It is a cotton similar to that of our manufactures, but of very short staple. It comes from an inexhaustible warehouse: the tree is bountiful; and the wind from the osier-beds gathers the tiny flocks as they pour from the seeds. They are easy to pick up.

The difficulty is to set to work. How does the bird proceed, in order to knit its stocking? How, with such simple implements as its beak and claws, does it manage to produce a fabric which our skilled fingers would fail to achieve? An examination of the nest will inform us, to a certain extent.

The cotton of the poplar cannot, of itself, supply a hanging pocket capable of supporting the weight of the brood and resisting the buffeting of the wind. Rammed, entangled and packed together, the flocks, similar to those which ordinary wadding would give if chopped up very fine, would produce only an agglomeration devoid of cohesion and liable to be dispelled by the first breath of air. They require a canvas, a warp, to keep them in position.

Tiny dead stalks, with fibrous barks, well softened by the action of moisture and the air, furnish the Penduline with a coarse tow, not unlike that of hemp. With these ligaments, purged of every woody particle and tested for flexibility and tenacity, he winds a number of loops round the end of the branch which he has selected as a support for his structure.

It is not a very accurate piece of work. The loops run clumsily and anyhow: some are slacker, others tighter; but, when all is said, it is solid, which is the main point. Also, this fibrous sheath, the keystone of the edifice, occupies a fair length of branch, which enables the fastenings for the net to be multiplied.

The several straps, after describing a certain number of turns, ravel out at the ends and hang loose. After them come interlaced threads, greater in number and finer in texture. In the tangled jumble occur what might almost be described as weaver's knots. As far as one can judge by the result alone, without having seen the bird at work, this is how the canvas, the support of the cotton wall, is obtained.

This warp, this inner framework, is obviously not constructed in its entirety from the start; it goes on gradually, as the bird stuffs the part above it with cotton. The wadding, picked up bit by bit from the ground, is teazled by the bird's claws and inserted, all fleecy, into the meshes of the canvas. The beak pushes it, the breast presses it, both inside and out. The result is a soft felt a couple of inches thick.

Near the top of the pouch, on one side, is contrived a narrow orifice, tapering into a short neck. This is the kitchen-door. In order to pass through it, the Penduline, small though he be, has to force the elastic partition, which yields slightly and then contracts. Lastly, the house is furnished with a mattress of first-quality cotton. Here lie from six to eight white eggs, the size of a cherry-stone.

Well, this wonderful nest is a barbarous casemate compared with that of the Banded Epeira. As regards shape, this stocking-foot cannot be mentioned in the same breath with the Spider's elegant and faultlessly- rounded balloon. The fabric of mixed cotton and tow is a rustic frieze beside the spinstress' satin; the suspension-straps are clumsy cables compared with her delicate silk fastenings. Where shall we find in the Penduline's mattress aught to vie with the Epeira's eiderdown, that teazled russet gossamer? The Spider is superior to the bird in every way, in so far as concerns her work.

But, on her side, the Penduline is a more devoted mother. For weeks on end, squatting at the bottom of her purse, she presses to her heart the eggs, those little white pebbles from which the warmth of her body will bring forth life. The Epeira knows not these softer passions. Without bestowing a second glance an it, she abandons her nest to its fate, be it good or ill.


The Epeira, who displays such astonishing industry to give her eggs a dwelling-house of incomparable perfection, becomes, after that, careless of her family. For what reason? She lacks the time. She has to die when the first cold comes, whereas the eggs are destined to pass the winter in their downy snuggery. The desertion of the nest is inevitable, owing to the very force of things. But, if the hatching were earlier and took place in the Epeira's lifetime, I imagine that she would rival the bird in devotion.

So I gather from the, analogy of Thomisus onustus, WALCK., a shapely Spider who weaves no web, lies in wait for her prey and walks sideways, after the manner of the Crab. I have spoken elsewhere {22} of her encounters with the Domestic Bee, whom she jugulates by biting her in the neck.

Skilful in the prompt despatch of her prey, the little Crab Spider is no less well-versed in the nesting art. I find her settled on a privet in the enclosure. Here, in the heart of a cluster of flowers, the luxurious creature plaits a little pocket of white satin, shaped like a wee thimble. It is the receptacle for the eggs. A round, flat lid, of a felted fabric, closes the mouth.

Above this ceiling rises a dome of stretched threads and faded flowerets which have fallen from the cluster. This is the watcher's belvedere, her conning-tower. An opening, which is always free, gives access to this post.

Here the Spider remains on constant duty. She has thinned greatly since she laid her eggs, has almost lost her corporation. At the least alarm, she sallies forth, waves a threatening limb at the passing stranger and invites him, with a gesture, to keep his distance. Having put the intruder to flight, she quickly returns indoors.

And what does she do in there, under her arch of withered flowers and silk? Night and day, she shields the precious eggs with her poor body spread out flat. Eating is neglected. No more lying in wait, no more Bees drained to the last drop of blood. Motionless, rapt in meditation, the Spider is in an incubating posture, in other words, she is sitting on her eggs. Strictly speaking, the word 'incubating' means that and nothing else.

The brooding Hen is no more assiduous, but she is also a heating-apparatus and, with the gentle warmth of her body, awakens the germs to life. For the Spider, the heat of the sun suffices; and this alone keeps me from saying that she 'broods.'

For two or three weeks, more and more wrinkled by abstinence, the little Spider never relaxes her position. Then comes the hatching. The youngsters stretch a few threads in swing-like curves from twig to twig. The tiny rope-dancers practise for some days in the sun; then they disperse, each intent upon his own affairs.

Let us now look at the watch-tower of the nest. The mother is still there, but this time lifeless. The devoted creature has known the delight of seeing her family born; she has assisted the weaklings through the trap-door; and, when her duty was done, very gently she died. The Hen does not reach this height of self-abnegation.

Other Spiders do better still, as, for instance, the Narbonne Lycosa, or Black-bellied Tarantula (Lycosa narbonnensis, WALCK.), whose prowess has been described in an earlier chapter. The reader will remember her burrow, her pit of a bottle-neck's width, dug in the pebbly soil beloved by the lavender and the thyme. The mouth is rimmed by a bastion of gravel and bits of wood cemented with silk. There is nothing else around her dwelling: no web, no snares of any kind.

From her inch-high turret, the Lycosa lies in wait for the passing Locust. She gives a bound, pursues the prey and suddenly deprives it of motion with a bite in the neck. The game is consumed on the spot, or else in the lair; the insect's tough hide arouses no disgust. The sturdy huntress is not a drinker of blood, like the Epeira; she needs solid food, food that crackles between the jaws. She is like a Dog devouring his bone.

Would you care to bring her to the light of day from the depths of her well? Insert a thin straw into the burrow and move it about. Uneasy as to what is happening above, the recluse hastens to climb up and stops, in a threatening attitude, at some distance from the orifice. You see her eight eyes gleaming like diamonds in the dark; you see her powerful poison-fangs yawning, ready to bite. He who is not accustomed to the sight of this horror, rising from under the ground, cannot suppress a shiver. B-r-r-r-r! Let us leave the beast alone.

Chance, a poor stand-by, sometimes contrives very well. At the beginning of the month of August, the children call me to the far side of the enclosure, rejoicing in a find which they have made under the rosemary- bushes. It is a magnificent Lycosa, with an enormous belly, the sign of an impending delivery.

The obese Spider is gravely devouring something in the midst of a circle of onlookers. And what? The remains of a Lycosa a little smaller than herself, the remains of her male. It is the end of the tragedy that concludes the nuptials. The sweetheart is eating her lover. I allow the matrimonial rites to be fulfilled in all their horror; and, when the last morsel of the unhappy wretch has been scrunched up, I incarcerate the terrible matron under a cage standing in an earthen pan filled with sand.

Early one morning, ten days later, I find her preparing for her confinement. A silk network is first spun on the ground, covering an extent about equal to the palm of one's hand. It is coarse and shapeless, but firmly fixed. This is the floor on which the Spider means to operate.

On this foundation, which acts as a protection from the sand, the Lycosa fashions a round mat, the size of a two-franc piece and made of superb white silk. With a gentle, uniform movement, which might be regulated by the wheels of a delicate piece of clockwork, the tip of the abdomen rises and falls, each time touching the supporting base a little farther away, until the extreme scope of the mechanism is attained.

Then, without the Spider's moving her position, the oscillation is resumed in the opposite direction. By means of this alternate motion, interspersed with numerous contacts, a segment of the sheet is obtained, of a very accurate texture. When this is done, the Spider moves a little along a circular line and the loom works in the same manner on another segment.

The silk disk, a sort of hardly concave paten, now no longer receives aught from the spinnerets in its centre; the marginal belt alone increases in thickness. The piece thus becomes a bowl-shaped porringer, surrounded by a wide, flat edge.

The time for the laying has come. With one quick emission, the viscous, pale-yellow eggs are laid in the basin, where they heap together in the shape of a globe which projects largely outside the cavity. The spinnerets are once more set going. With short movements, as the tip of the abdomen rises and falls to weave the round mat, they cover up the exposed hemisphere. The result is a pill set in the middle of a circular carpet.

The legs, hitherto idle, are now working. They take up and break off one by one the threads that keep the round mat stretched on the coarse supporting network. At the same time, the fangs grip this sheet, lift it by degrees, tear it from its base and fold it over upon the globe of eggs. It is a laborious operation. The whole edifice totters, the floor collapses, fouled with sand. By a movement of the legs, those soiled shreds are cast aside. Briefly, by means of violent tugs of the fangs, which pull, and broom-like efforts of the legs, which clear away, the Lycosa extricates the bag of eggs and removes it as a clear-cut mass, free from any adhesion.

It is a white-silk pill, soft to the touch and glutinous. Its size is that of an average cherry. An observant eye will notice, running horizontally around the middle, a fold which a needle is able to raise without breaking it. This hem, generally undistinguishable from the rest of the surface, is none other than the edge of the circular mat, drawn over the lower hemisphere. The other hemisphere, through which the youngsters will go out, is less well fortified: its only wrapper is the texture spun over the eggs immediately after they were laid.

Inside, there is nothing but the eggs: no mattress, no soft eiderdown, like that of the Epeirae. The Lycosa, indeed, has no need to guard her eggs against the inclemencies of the winter, for the hatching will take place long before the cold weather comes. Similarly, the Thomisus, with her early brood, takes good care not to incur useless expenditure: she gives her eggs, for their protection, a simple purse of satin.

The work of spinning, followed by that of tearing, is continued for a whole morning, from five to nine o'clock. Worn out with fatigue, the mother embraces her dear pill and remains motionless. I shall see no more to-day. Next morning, I find the Spider carrying the bag of eggs slung from her stern.

Henceforth, until the hatching, she does not leave go of the precious burden, which, fastened to the spinnerets by a short ligament, drags and bumps along the ground. With this load banging against her heels, she goes about her business; she walks or rests, she seeks her prey, attacks it and devours it. Should some accident cause the wallet to drop off, it is soon replaced. The spinnerets touch it somewhere, anywhere, and that is enough: adhesion is at once restored.

The Lycosa is a stay-at-home. She never goes out except to snap up some game passing within her hunting-domains, near the burrow. At the end of August, however, it is not unusual to meet her roaming about, dragging her wallet behind her. Her hesitations make one think that she is looking for her home, which she has left for the moment and has a difficulty in finding.

Why these rambles? There are two reasons: first the pairing and then the making of the pill. There is a lack of space in the burrow, which provides only room enough for the Spider engaged in long contemplation. Now the preparations for the egg-bag require an extensive flooring, a supporting framework about the size of one's hand, as my caged prisoner has shown us. The Lycosa has not so much space at her disposal, in her well; hence the necessity for coming out and working at her wallet in the open air, doubtless in the quiet hours of the night.

The meeting with the male seems likewise to demand an excursion. Running the risk of being eaten alive, will he venture to plunge into his lady's cave, into a lair whence flight would be impossible? It is very doubtful. Prudence demands that matters should take place outside. Here at least there is some chance of beating a hasty retreat which will enable the rash swain to escape the attacks of his horrible bride.

The interview in the open air lessens the danger without removing it entirely. We had proof of this when we caught the Lycosa in the act of devouring her lover aboveground, in a part of the enclosure which had been broken for planting and which was therefore not suitable for the Spider's establishment. The burrow must have been some way off; and the meeting of the pair took place at the very spot of the tragic catastrophe. Although he had a clear road, the male was not quick enough in getting away and was duly eaten.

After this cannibal orgy, does the Lycosa go back home? Perhaps not, for a while. Besides, she would have to go out a second time, to manufacture her pill on a level space of sufficient extent.

When the work is done, some of them emancipate themselves, think they will have a look at the country before retiring for good and all. It is these whom we sometimes meet wandering aimlessly and dragging their bag behind them. Sooner or later, however, the vagrants return home; and the month of August is not over before a straw rustled in any burrow will bring the mother up, with her wallet slung behind her. I am able to procure as many as I want and, with them, to indulge in certain experiments of the highest interest.

It is a sight worth seeing, that of the Lycosa dragging her treasure after her, never leaving it, day or night, sleeping or waking, and defending it with a courage that strikes the beholder with awe. If I try to take the bag from her, she presses it to her breast in despair, hangs on to my pincers, bites them with her poison-fangs. I can hear the daggers grating on the steel. No, she would not allow herself to be robbed of the wallet with impunity, if my fingers were not supplied with an implement.

By dint of pulling and shaking the pill with the forceps, I take it from the Lycosa, who protests furiously. I fling her in exchange a pill taken from another Lycosa. It is at once seized in the fangs, embraced by the legs and hung on to the spinneret. Her own or another's: it is all one to the Spider, who walks away proudly with the alien wallet. This was to be expected, in view of the similarity of the pills exchanged.

A test of another kind, with a second subject, renders the mistake more striking. I substitute, in the place of the lawful bag which I have removed, the work of the Silky Epeira. The colour and softness of the material are the same in both cases; but the shape is quite different. The stolen object is a globe; the object presented in exchange is an elliptical conoid studded with angular projections along the edge of the base. The Spider takes no account of this dissimilarity. She promptly glues the queer bag to her spinnerets and is as pleased as though she were in possession of her real pill. My experimental villainies have no other consequences beyond an ephemeral carting. When hatching-time arrives, early in the case of the Lycosa, late in that of the Epeira, the gulled Spider abandons the strange bag and pays it no further attention.

Let us penetrate yet deeper into the wallet-bearer's stupidity. After depriving the Lycosa of her eggs, I throw her a ball of cork, roughly polished with a file and of the same size as the stolen pill. She accepts the corky substance, so different from the silk purse, without the least demur. One would have thought that she would recognize her mistake with those eight eyes of hers, which gleam like precious stones. The silly creature pays no attention. Lovingly she embraces the cork ball, fondles it with her palpi, fastens it to her spinnerets and thenceforth drags it after her as though she were dragging her own bag.

Let us give another the choice between the imitation and the real. The rightful pill and the cork ball are placed together on the floor of the jar. Will the Spider be able to know the one that belongs to her? The fool is incapable of doing so. She makes a wild rush and seizes haphazard at one time her property, at another my sham product. Whatever is first touched becomes a good capture and is forthwith hung up.

If I increase the number of cork balls, if I put in four or five of them, with the real pill among them, it is seldom that the Lycosa recovers her own property. Attempts at enquiry, attempts at selection there are none. Whatever she snaps up at random she sticks to, be it good or bad. As there are more of the sham pills of cork, these are the most often seized by the Spider.

This obtuseness baffles me. Can the animal be deceived by the soft contact of the cork? I replace the cork balls by pellets of cotton or paper, kept in their round shape with a few bands of thread. Both are very readily accepted instead of the real bag that has been removed.

Can the illusion be due to the colouring, which is light in the cork and not unlike the tint of the silk globe when soiled with a little earth, while it is white in the paper and the cotton, when it is identical with that of the original pill? I give the Lycosa, in exchange for her work, a pellet of silk thread, chosen of a fine red, the brightest of all colours. The uncommon pill is as readily accepted and as jealously guarded as the others.

We will leave the wallet-bearer alone; we know all that we want to know about her poverty of intellect. Let us wait for the hatching, which takes place in the first fortnight in September. As they come out of the pill, the youngsters, to the number of about a couple of hundred, clamber on the Spider's back and there sit motionless, jammed close together, forming a sort of bark of mingled legs and paunches. The mother is unrecognizable under this live mantilla. When the hatching is over, the wallet is loosened from the spinnerets and cast aside as a worthless rag.

The little ones are very good: none stirs none tries to get more room for himself at his neighbours' expense. What are they doing there, so quietly? They allow themselves to be carted about, like the young of the Opossum. Whether she sit in long meditation at the bottom of her den, or come to the orifice, in mild weather, to bask in the sun, the Lycosa never throws off her great-coat of swarming youngsters until the fine season comes.

If, in the middle of winter, in January or February, I happen, out in the fields, to ransack the Spider's dwelling, after the rain, snow and frost have battered it and, as a rule, dismantled the bastion at the entrance, I always find her at home, still full of vigour, still carrying her family. This vehicular upbringing lasts five or six months at least, without interruption. The celebrated American carrier, the Opossum, who emancipates her offspring after a few weeks' carting, cuts a poor figure beside the Lycosa.

What do the little ones eat, on the maternal spine? Nothing, so far as I know. I do not see them grow larger. I find them, at the tardy period of their emancipation, just as they were when they left the bag.

During the bad season, the mother herself is extremely abstemious. At long intervals, she accepts, in my jars, a belated Locust, whom I have captured, for her benefit, in the sunnier nooks. In order to keep herself in condition, as when she is dug up in the course of my winter excavations, she must therefore sometimes break her fast and come out in search of prey, without, of course, discarding her live mantilla.

The expedition has its dangers. The youngsters may be brushed off by a blade of grass. What becomes of them when they have a fall? Does the mother give them a thought? Does she come to their assistance and help them to regain their place on her back? Not at all. The affection of a Spider's heart, divided among some hundreds, can spare but a very feeble portion to each. The Lycosa hardly troubles, whether one youngster fall from his place, or six, or all of them. She waits impassively for the victims of the mishap to get out of their own difficulty, which they do, for that matter, and very nimbly.

I sweep the whole family from the back of one of my boarders with a hair- pencil. Not a sign of emotion, not an attempt at search on the part of the denuded one. After trotting about a little on the sand, the dislodged youngsters find, these here, those there, one or other of the mother's legs, spread wide in a circle. By means of these climbing-poles, they swarm to the top and soon the dorsal group resumes its original form. Not one of the lot is missing. The Lycosa's sons know their trade as acrobats to perfection: the mother need not trouble her head about their fall.

With a sweep of the pencil, I make the family of one Spider fall around another laden with her own family. The dislodged ones nimbly scramble up the legs and climb on the back of their new mother, who kindly allows them to behave as though they belonged to her. There is no room on the abdomen, the regulation resting-place, which is already occupied by the real sons. The invaders thereupon encamp on the front part, beset the thorax and change the carrier into a horrible pin-cushion that no longer bears the least resemblance to a Spider form. Meanwhile, the sufferer raises no sort of protest against this access of family. She placidly accepts them all and walks them all about.

The youngsters, on their side, are unable to distinguish between what is permitted and forbidden. Remarkable acrobats that they are, they climb on the first Spider that comes along, even when of a different species, provided that she be of a fair size. I place them in the presence of a big Epeira marked with a white cross on a pale-orange ground (Epeira pallida, OLIV.). The little ones, as soon as they are dislodged from the back of the Lycosa their mother, clamber up the stranger without hesitation.

Intolerant of these familiarities, the Spider shakes the leg encroached upon and flings the intruders to a distance. The assault is doggedly resumed, to such good purpose that a dozen succeed in hoisting themselves to the top. The Epeira, who is not accustomed to the tickling of such a load, turns over on her back and rolls on the ground in the manner of a donkey when his hide is itching. Some are lamed, some are even crushed. This does not deter the others, who repeat the escalade as soon as the Epeira is on her legs again. Then come more somersaults, more rollings on the back, until the giddy swarm are all discomfited and leave the Spider in peace.


Michelet {23} has told us how, as a printer's apprentice in a cellar, he established amicable relations with a Spider. At a certain hour of the day, a ray of sunlight would glint through the window of the gloomy workshop and light up the little compositor's case. Then his eight-legged neighbour would come down from her web and take her share of the sunshine on the edge of the case. The boy did not interfere with her; he welcomed the trusting visitor as a friend and as a pleasant diversion from the long monotony. When we lack the society of our fellow- men, we take refuge in that of animals, without always losing by the change.

I do not, thank God, suffer from the melancholy of a cellar: my solitude is gay with light and verdure; I attend, whenever I please, the fields' high festival, the Thrushes' concert, the Crickets' symphony; and yet my friendly commerce with the Spider is marked by an even greater devotion than the young typesetter's. I admit her to the intimacy of my study, I make room for her among my books, I set her in the sun on my window-ledge, I visit her assiduously at her home, in the country. The object of our relations is not to create a means of escape from the petty worries of life, pin-pricks whereof I have my share like other men, a very large share, indeed; I propose to submit to the Spider a host of questions whereto, at times, she condescends to reply.

To what fair problems does not the habit of frequenting her give rise! To set them forth worthily, the marvellous art which the little printer was to acquire were not too much. One needs the pen of a Michelet; and I have but a rough, blunt pencil. Let us try, nevertheless: even when poorly clad, truth is still beautiful.

I will therefore once more take up the story of the Spider's instinct, a story of which the preceding chapters have given but a very rough idea. Since I wrote those earlier essays, my field of observation has been greatly extended. My notes have been enriched by new and most remarkable facts. It is right that I should employ them for the purpose of a more detailed biography.

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