Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sue Weaver: Yikes, Spiders! (Part One)

One day when I was 4 years old and playing in the sand along our lakefront home, my much-older brother, who was watching me while our mother worked, approached with a shovel and a mischievous grin on his face. Little sisters are wired to react when they see that expression, so I threw down my little shovel and bucket and leaped to my feet. On the shovel was the biggest, brownest, hairiest spider I’d ever seen. My brother’s grin said he was going to throw it at me. I whirled, shrieking, and sprinted to the house with my brother and the spider right behind me. I flew up the steps, through the mudroom and kitchen and slammed my bedroom door. From that day forth I feared spiders.

Fast forward to age 11. I’m diligently picking wild blackberries that I will peddle to neighbors around the lake in my attempt to earn enough to buy a horse. I have almost enough money, after a long year of cutting lawns, babysitting, and picking berries, so I’m off in another world, daydreaming about my lovely horse, when a cautionary voice whispered in my mind, “Look up.” I did, and inches from my face was the hugest, fiercest-looking yellow garden spider in God’s creation. Had I taken another step, he’d have been smack-dab in my face. My bloodcurdling screech was probably heard around the lake (the nearest neighbor, in fact, came running); berries flew in all directions. Ever since then, just looking at a garden spider makes me shake and the hair on my arms stand on end.

Yellow garden spider

I am an arachnophobiac; a mostly recovered one but an arachnophobiac nevertheless. And I am not alone. According to a study conducted by Alexandra L. Wagener and Robert D. Zettle of Wichita State University, “One of the more prevalent forms of small animal phobia in Western societies involves fear of spiders, with as many as 55% of females and 18% of males estimated to experience arachnophobia.”

Years passed, and gradually, I made my peace with the eight-legged clan. It’s hard to spend time in barns, woods, and meadows when you’re deathly afraid of spiders. But two kinds still terrified me: hairy ones (especially hairy spiders that jump) and yellow garden spiders.

So I was horrified to discover that the southern Ozarks are home to tarantulas. The Oklahoma brown tarantula, to be exact. Knowing I had to do something to cope, I got online before we left Minnesota and learned all I could about tarantulas (knowledge is power). I surfed pet-spider sites (tarantulas seem to be favorite pets among spider enthusiasts) and joined a spider list at YahooGroups, where the other members assured me I had nothing to fear: tarantulas don’t jump, they’re very fragile, they don’t attack, their bite feels like a bumblebee sting, and unless they feel threatened tarantulas move at a leisurely pace. And the spider people were right. Except for their size, the local tarantulas don’t bother me much at all. They lumber along, and I keep my distance. It’s a shaky peace, but peace.

Yellow garden spiders and their orb-weaving kin are another story. This time of year they grow to immense proportions and live in exactly the type of places I like to be. Hiking through the woods, watch out! There’s a spider (shiver). Strolling through the garden picking tomatoes; watch where you’re reaching every time. And turn on a flashlight when checking sheep at night to avoid orb-weaver webs stretched from tree limbs to ground. Yikes, they’re everywhere! So this year I’ve set out to duplicate my tarantula experiment and learn all I can about garden spiders. Stay tuned, and I’ll share what I learn with you.

Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including the Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, the Appaloosa News, the Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and the Brayer. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and The Backyard Goat. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.


Anonymous said...

Sue, I am still laughing and had to calm down before writing this. I have a healthy respect for spiders and teach care to childcare Pre-k. How if we didn't have spiders we would be over run by insects. All wolf spiders are named Nikita and when the spiderlings are born they hitch a ride on mom. She carries her egg sac under her belly with her fangs and doesn't eat again until the eggs hatch. Jumping spiders are cool to watch cuz sometimes they really have to work at jumping on a fly. Many times the fly moves before the spider gets close enuf and the children will cheer the spider on. However, by far, my personal favorite is the garden spider. Affectionately name GG, for Garden Guardian. Her web was from the chain link to the tomato stalk. Always, at least one that sets up camp in my yard where you can get right up nose to pedipalp, so to speak. Their markings are nature's art. I would demonstrate what she would do with an insect, narrating the procedure or when a little leaf falls on the web how she cuts it out, lets it drop, then patches the hole. When picking vegs in the garden she usually ran to one end of her web away from me until I was done. I even posted a closeup of GG on my facebook page. She laid 3 egg sacs and I brought one to school (in a jar) for the science table so the children could observe the spiderlings when they hatched. I would NEVER hold a spider in my hand but I have a deep abiding respect for them. That's when I am in their house (the outdoors). When they are in MY house I tend to spray them with stiff drying hairspray. Don't judge me. lol

Sue said...

Your friends Nikita tend to live under my washing machine and freezer. They scare the bejeebers out of me when I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and they're doing pushups in the middle of the floor.

I would package them up and send them to you but I don't think they'd care for your hair spray treatment. I might be tempted to do that too, but John catches them and takes them outdoors (though they just come back again).

Oddly enough, what don't scare me much are the oodles of black widows we have around here, often including in the house. They're almost...pretty. But I catch them in a jar and take them outside, just in case.