When Spiders Write


I don’t often encounter the fancy web decorations of Argiope aurantia, the so-called ‘writing spider,’ but when I do, they always transport me back to penmanship classes in grade school: hours of Palmer Method exercises that eventually resulted in legible cursive writing.

An example of a first Palmer exercise from Boston public schools

Unlike our horizontal scribblings, the web decorations of the writing spiders are vertical. (Other spiders create different shapes, such as circles, and the image at the top has been rotated ninety degrees.) Known as stabilimenta, their purpose isn’t well understood. As the name suggests, they may contribute to increased web stability. Other researchers suggest prey attraction, defense, and the expulsion of excess silk as possibilities.

Piney Woods Native Plant Center, Nacogdoches, Texas

Despite their size and somewhat fearsome appearance, these orb-weavers aren’t harmful to humans.

Here, the attractive yellow and black pattern of the spider’s body competes with the stabilimentum for attention.

Waiting for dinner at Armand Bayou

I used to assume the black and white spiders that look so much like the yellow and black Argiope aurantia were another species. Not so — they’re youngsters who managed to survive predation and other ills of spider life.

This juvenile A. aurantia clearly has graduated from web-weaving school

Like all spiders, these delightful orb weavers have had some bad publicity over the years. One of the first nursery rhymes I learned — long before I could write — still may be a childhood staple:

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet
Eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

After years of disdain, it may be time for spiders to be honored with a different kind of verse: particularly when they can be so obviously creative.

Little Miss Muffet,
bemused on her tuffet,
had no way a message to send.
Along came a spider —
an old-fashioned writer —
who spun her words into a web.


Comments always are welcome.


Spring, On The Wing

A Halloween pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) clasps the tip of a plant known as rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) on the Nash prairie


Today I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.
                                “The Dragon-Fly” ~ Alfred Lord Tennyson (1833)


Comments always are welcome.


Working On Easter

Bluebonnets at work


My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird –
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished —
the phoebe, the delphinium,
the sheep in the pasture, and the pasture —
which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
                                               “Messenger” ~ Mary Oliver


Comments always are welcome.