The Strange and Brutally Short Life Cycle of Spiders

I first spotted Crystal while mowing the grass on the west side of the house. She had made a web up against the side of the house and attached it to a tall weed in the grass. I spoke to her and told her she was welcome and warned her of the danger of praying mantises and to run if she encountered one and not stay and defend her web as Odette had done the year before (when she was ruthelessly beheaded and eaten alive one bite at a time). She sat still in her web and seemed to be listening. I mowed around her, leaving the grass tall where her web was. I began visiting and chatting with her daily. I would scour the grass around her web and if i saw a praying mantis i would kill it and feed it to the chickens. One day she was gone. I was in such despair. I had Odette, Piper, Wilma, Ruby, and Charlotte last year but this year Crystal was the only female orb weaver i could find. I was devastated at her disappearance. Then one morning i opened the front door and there she was, sitting on the door. She was looking at me; she scared the **** out of me. Without my glasses all i could see was a dark mass and my first thought was that the wasps i had been battling in the well house were here for retribution for their fallen brothers. As soon as i realized it was Crystal i breathed a sigh of relief. I put my hand on my chest and spoke to her, “There you are my lovely girl. Don’t do that to me! I nearly had a heart attack! I thought you were a wasp!” She stared at me, unmoving. She twitched a leg. I stepped out onto the porch to see what she had been working on. She had built a web encompassing half the porch. I marveled at what had happened. Each time i had met an orb weaver on my land i had chatted with them and offered them the porch light as a hunting place for bugs, telling them i’d leave the porch light on for an hour or so each night and they could have anything that was drawn to it for dinner. Each time, the orb weaver i had spoken to had taken down their web and moved onto my porch, re-erecting it near the porch light. It was almost as if they understood my invitation. I knew people would think i was crazy if i told them i had spoken to spiders but the results were so compelling, i kept on with our conversations. I told Crystal she could have the porch but not the door or the area directly in front of it, as i would need to walk through there regularly. All was going well until the dogs got curious about one day after her move to our porch. They stuck their noses in her web. I knew this because suddenly Crystal’s web was not there and she was nowhere to be found. I located her on the underside of the porch railing, hiding. I looked all over for what had caused this behavior in her, where her web had gone to…as i turned i noticed the dogs standing behind the fence. Somehow they had done it on their way to the dog run. They were now gated in but the evidence of their momentary deed was plastered all over their faces; the sticky remnants of Crystal’s smooshed and folded web. I chastised the dogs, pulling the webbing off their faces and swatting them each on the butt once as i communicated my displeasure with what they’d done. They were just doing what dogs did. They were curious and so they investigated and the webbing came away with them. All of her hard work, dashed in an instant. I presented the slobbery sticky mess that was once her web, wiping it on the railing, unsure if she could reuse any of it or would even want to. I promised her it was not purposeful and that they didn’t mean anything by it and were just being dogs and doing what dogs tend to do…investigate. I told her that the other side of the porch, behind the potted plant gate, would be undisturbed and unreachable by the dogs, and maybe she would like to put a web there. The next day, she had re-erected a smaller web just where i’d suggested. There she stayed. I said good morning to her daily and left the porch light on for a time each night to draw her dinner in. In total 8 praying mantises tried to approach her while i was home. I killed all but two of them. With my ankle and my broken toes i was no longer quick and i couldn’t leap over the porch railing at a moment’s notice to go after them, so two of them slipped between the porch floor boards and were gone. I knew they’d be back. Once they knew where a spider was, they would always come back until the meal was obtained. I told Crystal this. I told her it had gotten away and she needed to be vigilant and keep an eye out. It was as if the praying mantises spoke to one another and shared Crystal’s location. They just kept coming!

One morning, in the pre-dawn hours, i stepped onto the porch with my lunch and water bottle, ready for work. To my great excitement, Crystal was working on something. She was making a white tear-drop shaped egg sac! There were to be babies!!!! i immediately phoned my brother in law so i could tell him the news! He was the only person in our family that appreciated such informational updates on the arachnids that frequented the land. When i came home Crystal was gone and the egg sac appeared finished. It looked like hard work had gone into it. I wondered if she’d popped out to get a bite to eat. Days went by and i still didn’t see her.

One day i was watering the plants and i noticed those familiar slender black legs peeking out from behind the chair, but something was wrong. They were curled and upturned instead of spread wide and straight. It was Crystal all right. She was dead. I had to know if one of the two praying mantises i had let escape had done her in. I quickly flipped her over. Her head was still there. Couldn’t have been a praying mantis. I knew the females ate the males following coitus, which i thought rather barbaric, but, at least they didn’t eat them alive one bite at a time like the praying mantises. I wondered if the females also succumbed to death following coitus. I did some research and found it was true. Crystal had died of natural causes; procreation. I suddenly realized she had trusted me quite a bit in leaving her egg sac exposed hanging from the ceiling next to the porch light. The bugs at the porch light attracted other predators, including praying mantises. The egg sac wasnt tucked under a leaf somewhere. It was totally visible and in the open. I felt a great sense of duty to her and promised her corpse that i would do my best to see her babies into next year when they would emerge from the egg sac if still alive. I killed praying mantis after praying mantis. They were all on the porch wall directly near the egg sac. I wanted to bury Crystal but lacked the physical ability to climb over the porch railing to get to where she was behind the chair and potted plants. A week later her body was in front of the door minus a head. Handiwork of a praying mantis. They always left the spider’s headless corpse on my welcome mat. It was as if they knew they were important to me. This one didn’t hurt like last year’s loss. The fact that she was already dead when the mantis ate her brains was very comforting. It was the eaten alive bit that i had so much difficulty with. I didn’t want to think of my beloved friends suffering. I didn’t bury this body, mostly because i knew Crystal was no longer in it, and because i was in no condition to dig through the limestone with a shovel. I let the ants carry the rest of her away. Crystal wasn’t there. She was in heaven.

Crystal’s egg sac turned medium brown. I checked on it several times daily and killed any mantises i found inching near to it. They were nasty buggers and put up quite the fight, jumping all over me, flying at me, and pinching my clothing with rapid jerky movements in those horrible iron-grip arms. I fed them all to the chickens who often finished the job for me. I just had to smoosh them a bit and the chickens would rip them limb from limb. The chickens were helping me keep Crystal’s babies alive.

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  1. What a lovely tale. Did the babies hatch? I used to be scared of spiders but after five years living in the countryside, I now respect these guys and often save them from buckets, cats, bigger predators.

    1. Well, if they survive, the babies won’t be due to hatch until the spring, so i guess i’ll have to wait and see if they emerge. Last year Ruby made an egg sac but nothing ever hatched from it. I’m remaining optimistic about Crystal’s.

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