"Oh look," a member of my family said the other day, "a Charlotte."
Charlotte, my foot. The monster in the middle of the web across my picture window looked more like, well, Godzilla.
I'm not wild about spiders.
Sometimes I think that's why every year around this time they start enwebbing my house.
Because since that first Charlotte was spotted last week, we've gotten at least two dozen variously sized golden garden spiders spinning outside curtains for almost every window in my house.
I don't remember what kind of spider E.B. White's Charlotte was, but if our first one was Charlotte, we've now got son of Charlotte, daughter of Charlotte, mother of Charlotte, sisters and cousins and aunts of Charlotte . . .
A lot of spiders.
"Well," says Kay Weisberg, resident entomologist at the Smithsonian's Insect Zoo, "this is peak insect time and so naturally . . ."
Everybody shuddered when I told them all about my spiders.
"Now, now," says Weisberg, "spiders are good. They're eating up all your mosquitoes and all your houseflies . . ."
I know. I know.
The problem is, my feelings about spiders are deep and basic and primeval.
Maybe I was a praying mantis in a previous life.
Praying mantises are supposed to eat spiders, but these monster, striped argiopinae (a.k.a. golden garden spiders) eat the mantises. At least two, so far this week, have fallen victim to the greedy creepies. "When one stumbles into a web," says Weisberg, "what do you expect?" It is, she agrees, a bug-eat-bug world.
"I'm not wild about spiders either," says Donald Messersmith, professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, "but I use the striped argiopes in class by the pintful. People don't like them, I guess, because they're hairy and they move so quickly."
The spiders are equipped with eight eyes, but don't see very well, Weisberg says. They sit, hanging upside-down in the center of their delicate, symmetrical webs -- some of which have been knitted to four feet in diameter -- with their eight legs splayed out, ready to detect the merest hint of pull on the silken strand. And skitter, skitter, they are, in their delicate predatory way, upon their victim almost instantaneously.
Birds eat spiders so I never, never spray a spider with insecticide outside my house.
Inside is something else. We get enormous, black, furry wolf (I think) spiders from our woodpile. Weisberg says that in the relative scheme of spider intelligence, the wolves, which are hunters, rank higher than the golden garden spiders, which are orb spinners. But the wolves are not smart enough to stay in the woodpile where they can hunt to their hearts' content. And the striped argiopinae, the subfamily of our Charlottes, are smart enough to know their places -- in the middle of their incredible webs on the outside.
Weisberg doesn't like people to put down spiders, especially with a can of Raid.
"They're very cosmopolitan and very widespread. And they're very beneficial. They eat all the bad insects. I tell people to let them be a learning experience . . . Just because it crawls doesn't mean you have to smash it . . ."
Scientists have estimated that there can be something like 2,250,000 spiders in an acre of grass. Now let's see. We have 10,000 square feet, so that means, subtracting the ground covered by the house . . . but adding the windows, we have . . . Well, you figure it out.
On the other hand, I haven't seen a mosquito all season.