Spider Woman Replies!

I had to pull Leslie's response to my Dictionary post out of the comments file to share it with everyone who might not see that section, because her information about the spider webs in the garden is fascinating. All my friends up here are seeing the same veils thrown over their plants. I grew up having a horror of spiders. I even tacked a small sign up at the bottom edge of my bedroom door that read: Attention Spiders! Do Not Enter! Victim of Arachnophobia. So I find it strange that I am now intrigued by these little creatures--or at least by their handiwork (Though I think I have a nasty spider bite on the palm of my hand right now, and it aches...did it get me while I was sleeping? The sign goes back up.)

Leslie is the author of Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating. Here is her comment: 

Beautiful post. As an inveterate dictionary reader (who grew up on American Heritage, in a house up the road from Mike Pender's pheasant farm), I've often dug out from under, word by word.

I'm not sure taking active measures counts, but if you can coax one of the tiny spiders off the miniature sheets in your garden and onto your hand, your mood might brighten because, according to English superstition, you're sure to come in to good fortune. Your weavers are known there as money spiders. (All us writers should come and lie flat in your garden and hope for the best.) They belong to the family Linyphiidae, one of the numerically largest spider families. Webs like these are probably in your garden every morning, but the fog settling on them brought them into view. What I find most interesting about the linyphiids is that their webs evolved after the orb web, after the kind of web you posted back on June 4.

If you go out tomorrow morning and spray an ultrafine mist over your garden, the webs will probably reappear, as if from nothing. I almost guarantee that if you get out there with a blade of grass and a magnifying glass and try to tickle a linyphiid out into its web, you'll have a better day--even if all you get is a closer view of the web.

Best wishes,
Leslie Brunetta


CK said...

I am largely OK with house spiders and leave them be. I don't like big scary spiders although I admit I find it hard to kill them (so many legs.....)

What is the beautiful five leaved plant in among your ajuga? I have a tough shady spot that ajuga loves, and I am looking to insert some foliage variety.

Julianne Fuchs-Musgrave said...

great post--looking forward to your lecture in DC!

Sarah said...

I am going to find my old copy of Charlotte's Web, right now.

Ashling said...

I've been wondering about the preponderance of these webs this Summer. Have to admit that to me, the best good-luckness from spiders comes from not encountering them at all. Fascinating info, though--fascinating from afar. VERY afar....
Thank you!

CHC said...

Please have a doctor check that bite immediately...was bitten by a Brown Reclusive spider,on my hand.This bad spider dude bit me when my hand was under my pillow.I live in the Boston area and never knew we had badass spiders.

These bites can be deadly - they hurt,inflammed and look nasty.My doctor id'ed it immediately.

Hostas, astilbes, and spiders, oh

Anonymous said...

Interesting, I have those all over my eugenia bushes in the morning.

joan mckniff said...

my thanks to leslie and you for a beautiful mix of nature and science. I first fell in love with the webs while living in Madagascar where the webs would shimmer in early morning sun and stretch from one stream bank over to the other. Here in Florida I'm grateful and admiring of the one by front door, bringing me beauty, luck while keeping some bugs out of the house

Anonymous said...

I was heartbroken when House and Garden ceased publication, because I had become totally addicted to your essays. When I saw and read the excerpt from your new book in the Sunday Times, I was so happy to find you. I immediately ordered the book. When it arrived, I only allowed myself to read one chapter each evening, because I could not bear the idea of living without your writing in my future. I have read and loved all three books and have sent copies to my dearest friends. I now look forward to reading your blog, and your column for the Environmental Defense Fund. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful writing with us!

Bruce Barone said...

Great post. Great ideas!

Dominique said...

Thank you all so much for the kind words; I miss House and Garden, and this blog is the closest thing I have to keeping my column going. But I must say, I love being online, and love the immediacy of the response!

And re the spider bite, that was indeed a nasty thing. And my capacities for denial are such that I didn't even think of showing anyone until the pain was quite bad. My hand and wrist became swollen, I was exhausted, and red streaks began to climb up my arm....blood poisoning. Judy and Nicole, my doctor friends, took a good look, and told me that if it got worse, I'd have to get on antibiotics. Luckily, that evening things turned around, and now there is only a very nasty red and yellow splotch on the palm of my hand. I'm going to have to do a thorough bedroom vacuum.

And then yes, Sarah, some time with Charlotte's Web. I can imagine all the spiders setting up a little housekeeping in the vacuum cleaner bag.

Leslie, any natural remedies for bites--and any natural ways (not poison sprays) to keep spiders out from under the pillow?

CK said...

Dear Dominque--can you tell me what that pretty 5-pointed leaf plant is?

Feel better--even fairly innocuous spiders can cause serious bites. I'm glad you're on the mend.

Dominique said...

The five-pointed leaf is that of a simple strawberry plant. I don't think it produces fruit, but it is rampant, which is just fine, there is so much ground to cover. d

Leslie Brunetta said...

Dear Dominique,

I'm so glad to hear your hand is getting better. Did you actually see the spider you think bit you? I ask, because spiders are frequently blamed for wounds they did not actually cause.

It seems that we often blame mystery bites and skin infections on spiders, when in fact there are loads of stinging and biting arthropods that are stealthier and have more interest in us than spiders do. Also, the most common culprits in presumed spider bites (as usually proved by pathologists) are staph infections, so you were smart to see your doctor friends. There was a horrible case just a few weeks ago in Pomona, CA: a teenager was brought to the hospital with what his family thought were complications of a spider bite. He died--every family's nightmare. A series of newspaper and TV reports about his illness and death all blamed a spider for the tragedy. But the autopsy showed that he had actually had a pimple on his leg that staph bacteria had invaded.

Many doctors will look at a red bump or a small but worrisome wound and assume it's a spider bite. But unless you've seen the spider bite you (unlikely, unless your curiosity about an agitated spider far outweighs your self-preservation instinct) or found it squashed in the long-unworn boot into which you've rashly inserted your foot, you should think about other possibilities first. You're then more likely to get proper treatment and faster relief.

Bed is actually a pretty unlikely place to get a spider bite. (CHC must have seen the Brown Recluse under the pillow, or he/she couldn't be so positive about the identification.) Do you actually see spiders in your bed? If not, I wouldn't try too hard to get rid of them. It's not the kind of place spiders usually like: too much unpredictable upheaval and light, too little prey. However, the thing about bed is that you're pretty much unconscious for a good stretch of time--enough time, in fact, for something that happened to you yesterday, something that didn't seem so terrible at the time, to manifest its aftereffects. A few weeks ago, a bee stung my eyebrow. It's a long story, and it was really my fault, not the bee's. I was surprised at how little the sting hurt and how small the bump was. By that night, no one seeing me noticed the bump. But about 24 hours later, my eye started to look like the eye of one of those weird creatures in Avatar. Twenty-four hours after that, the right side of my face looked like the right side of George Shultz's face. (He looks great for 90; I did not look great for 49.) It took more than a week before I started looking normal. Places where the skin is tight, like the eyebrow or the palm of the hand, allow little room for swelling, so fluid collects over a large area, and if blood or lymph circulation is restricted, the effects can be nasty. Dominique, do you think it possible a mosquito or gnat bit you, or that you got a tiny cut in the house or garden and that this break in the skin got infected? Lest you think this araneophile is just making excuses for her project pet, see the Merck Manual, and don't ignore your hand unless it's steadily improving and you also feel hale and hearty in general: http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec24/ch298/ch298f.html

If you have more questions about spiders--in many ways, the gardener's best friends--Cay and I would be happy to take them at www.lesliebrunetta.com. (And, speaking of Charlotte, did you know about real-life writing spiders? E. B. White did a lot of great research before writing his great novel.)

Best wishes for your speedy recovery,
Leslie Brunetta

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Anonymous said...

Man, really want to know how can you be that smart, lol...great read, thanks.