Friday, July 31, 2015

Argiope aurantia

Yesterday, one of my colleagues brought me a big box of cow bones. Of course, this delights me... bones make EXCELLENT drawing subjects in art class.

But the big box had apparently been sitting out in her barn, because it also houses a lovely Argiope aurantia:

I'm delighted by her presence; tomorrow I plan to catch a fat, juicy grasshopper and pitch it into her web. These lovely black-and-yellow ladies are some of our very best outdoor friends. She's not interested in biting you; not in the least. Obviously, if someone were to grab her, she'd probably defensively bite, but her venom is less harmful to a human than a bee's.

I used to be as terrified as could be of all spiders. I really did. Even seeing a tiny spider sent me into extreme anxiety. But in my thirties, I was hanging out at a friend's house while our young children were playing together, and she spotted one of those little black fuzzy jumping spiders (you know, the ones with white spots and bright green eyes) (Phidippus audax, to be precise), and she offhandedly mentioned how cute they were and how much she liked them. At the time, I didn't want to shriek or make a scene because my kids were there and because I was at her house. But the entire scenario made me think... maybe I really didn't need to be violently afraid of something so small... so I decided that the thing I feared most about spiders was that I didn't UNDERSTAND them well enough.

I studied online diagrams of spiders. I read articles and books about them. And I gradually found that I didn't react irrationally about them anymore. Sure, there are some spiders that are very dangerous... and I studied them, too. Enough that I knew what to look for and how to identify them, and then how to eradicate them from my house. But I also grew to understand that not all spiders are dangerous, and that, in fact, most of them serve a very valuable purpose.

So now, whenever I find a new one I don't recognize, I try to identify it and find out about it instead of reflexively smooshing it first. Sometimes they need to get smooshed... but more often than not, they're marvelous creatures who keep the nasty bug population in check for me. Argiope aurantia is one of the most marvelous ones living in our midst.

[editor's note on the next day: I caught a couple of small grasshoppers and dropped them into her web; she seemed rather pleased. I shall continue to contribute to her food stores, since I'd really like to encourage more of her offspring to take up residence here next season]

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