“I’m really starting to like tarantulas.”

June 21, 2012 @ 8:37 pm | Filed under: ,

So says Rilla. Her father does not approve. Her father is not a fan of tarantulas.

But he’ll forgive me, because he knew what he was getting into when he married me—the runaway train of my enthusiasm. How did we get on to spiders this morning? Rose said something about liking them; I think that was it. Beanie shuddered; she sides with her daddy on this one. Rose and I had a sudden impulse to go outside and see how many different kinds of spider we could count. Oddly, the pickings were slim: we only found two. Usually, they’re everywhere you look, causing some small child or other to shriek and run away. But there were two tiny ones of a species we’ve yet to identify, teensy oblong things with thin stripes of brown and tan, poised on webs stretched between the stems of the rose bush. Look, said Rose, I found this out yesterday: if you put a bit of twig in the web, the spider will come and snip it out. We waited, but the spider was on to us, frozen, silently glaring. Ten minutes later, after we’d roamed the yard in search of others, the twig was gone.

By chance—or maybe this is what put spiders on Rose’s mind this morning?—I’d pulled Fabre’s Life of the Spider off the shelf a day or two ago, thinking it might make a nice nature-study read for the summer, and added it to the high-tide stack in the living room. At the time, I wasn’t at all sure it would grab my girls—read-alouds are a challenge, these days, with one sweet boy endlessly butting in with questions, and the other impish one endlessly butting you with his head. But they were interested, so I gave it a try. Note to writers: If you want to hook an audience of 6-13-year-olds, “Chapter 1, The Black-Bellied Tarantula” is a sure-fire way to begin.

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.

Well played, Monsieur Fabre.

Of course we had to look up these twin terrors, the malmignatte with her thirteen red spots, and the tarantula, about whom Fabre’s predecessor, Leon Dufour, waxes quite lyrical: “…when I was hunting her, I used to see those eyes gleaming like diamonds, bright as a cat’s eyes in the dark.” Off we trotted to Wikipedia, for pictures, and YouTube, for pictures that move.

After which appetizing display it was time for lunch.

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11 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Sandra says:

    Thank you for sharing this piece of your day. I’m wanting to do something with spiders to try and help my Miss 11 with her paranoia about them. Might be best to skip this section of Fabre though!

  2. Charlotte says:

    Right on Miss Beanie! I’m firmly planted in the Shudderer’s camp especially if we start talking about the big furry ones.

  3. sarah says:

    Yeah, no. Just no. I’m not scared of spiders, I’m the one people ask to clear them from the bathroom or bedroom – even my macho brother – but I was bitten once, on the palm of my hand, and I’ve never experienced so much pain. And I’ve had gallstones and 36 hours of unrelieved labour ending in a C-section, is that enough of a qualifier? I thought I was going to die. And we don’t even have fatally poisonous spiders here, although the whitetail (which is probably what bit me) is exceedingly nasty. Since then, haven’t been a big fan of spiders. So you can just go away with your weirdo enthusiasm.


  4. Navhelowife says:

    You should try to find a picture of a crab spider. They are wonderful to look at. I like spiders…outside. I’m not so excited when they are indoors, and while tarantulas don’t scare me, I HATE black widow spiders. Ugh.

  5. Melissa Wiley says:

    @Sarah, LOL, you and Scott are kindred spirits in this. His response to Rilla’s comment in the title of this post: “Parenting: you’re doing it wrong.” 😉

    Navhelowife, ooh, crab spiders, I think I’ve seen a pic of those and you’re right, they are fascinating!

    Black widows, now—they freak. me. out. And brown widows, which we have here by the zillions. Or so I’ve been told. I’ve never seen one, just the egg sacs all around our yard. I think egg sacs freak me out more than spiders.

  6. mamacrow says:

    I rather like spiders, as I really REALLY dislike having flies in the house, so I leave spiders alone, mostly. Only big ones that scare my husband get removed. And living in the UK, they’re mostly all harmless to humans, and interesting fact being that ALL spiders are poisonousness, just most cant penetrate the human skin.

    We saw a zebra jumping spider in the front room a little while ago, that was VERY exciting!

    there’s a FANTASTIC picture book about a spider (i think called Sophie) who weaves her beautiful webs & is never appreciated, and ends up in the top of the boarding house, and as her final master work weaves a magnificent baby blanket for the newborn child of the gentle single mother who lives there and is the one person who doesn’t turn her out.
    Of course, I can’t remember the title…

  7. mamacrow says:

    HOORAH found it! It’s called Sophie’s Masterpiece, and it’s by Eileen Spinelli and Jane Dyer


  8. maria says:

    Oh what a delicious read! So glad you shared this as it is perfect timing with our having a “Charlotte” in our kitchen window over the sink right now. Outside that is. She currently has two egg sacks. We watch her suck the life out of her prey as we wash dishes, prepare meals, get a snack or drink of water. She is quite facinating. 😀
    Very much looking forward to sharing this book as a read aloud. We may have to read it in the kitchen so our Charlotte can listen in too. 😉

  9. MelanieB says:

    Oh adding that to my list of future read alouds. I think Bella will enjoy.

  10. mamacrow says:

    Hang on, my brain just did a double take there – Fabre’s life of Spiders? The Fabre? Wasn’t it Fabre books that Gerald Durrell memorably gave him?

  11. TCI bits says:

    there’s a FANTASTIC picture book about a spider (i think called Sophie) who weaves her beautiful webs & is never appreciated, and ends up in the top of the boarding house, and as her final master work weaves a magnificent baby blanket for the newborn child of the gentle single mother who lives there and is the one person who doesn’t turn her out.