Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Some Funny Cobwebs

            Everyland is an interesting magazine, written as a missionary publication for boys and girls, it actually contains some interesting stories from all over the world.
            This story is very similar to Cobs and Cobwebs published in June 1899 Popular Science magazine. Some of the graphics may be the same, also.
Some Funny Cobwebs
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Everyland magazine and the column ‘Everyland Nature Club’, Dec. 1916. Digitized by Doug Frizzle Jan. 2012.

OF course you have all seen cobwebs and every reader of Everyland knows they are built by spiders, but did you ever wonder how the spiders made their webs or have you ever noticed how many different kinds of webs there are?
If you should examine a spider under a magnifying glass or a microscope, you would find a number of little projections on the under side of its body. These are the "spinnerets" with which the spider spins its web, and a very remarkable process it is. Within the spider's body the silk is in the form of a liquid and each of the tiny spinnerets is a tube through which the liquid silk flows, and just as soon as it reaches the air it hardens and the several streams from the spinnerets run together to form a single thread of finest silk. If the spider wishes a very fine thread he places his spinnerets close together, while, if he wishes a thick thread, or a broad band of silk, he spreads his spinnerets wide apart.
Still more wonderful is the fact that the spider can spin hard, dry silk or soft, sticky silk at will and each size of thread and each kind of silk is used for some special purpose. The dry, hard threads are always used when a spider wishes to drop from one place to another, for making silk bridges and for making the first part or framework of the webs. The elastic, sticky threads are used for catching the spider's prey and for wrapping around and around the fly or other insect after it is captured.
You may often find spiders' webs with both kinds of silk used in them, for spiders plan and build their webs very carefully and use the sort of silk best suited to every purpose, and each kind of spider always builds the same sort of a web. Thus, the big wheellike, nets which you find among bushes and trees, are built by certain kinds of spiders, and the flat carpet-like webs which glisten like silver in the grass, are made by very different kinds of spiders, and as there are many thousands of species of spiders and every one builds a different sort of web, you can understand what a great variety of webs there are, and naturalists who study spiders can tell just what kind of a spider built a certain web by looking at it.
Some of these webs are really very wonderful, but the most wonderful of the common webs is one built by a little spider that lives among evergreen trees, and if you look carefully you can usually find these webs stretched between the twigs. At first sight you will think them very simple and not at all interesting, as they are just four or five straight threads in the form of a triangle crossed by some coarser threads and fastened by a single thread at one end. But if you watch carefully you will soon learn what a very clever and ingenious sort of a spider built the web and how remarkable it is.
When the little spider is hungry,— and spiders are always hungry,—he stations himself upon the single thread and gathers up the slack between his feet and draws the whole web very tight. Presently along comes a buzzing fly and bumps into the net, and instantly, the spider releases the loose silk and the net springs forward and snares the fly.
Again and again, the spider draws up the web and snaps it back until his prey is hopelessly entangled and the little lasso-thrower can devour the fly at leisure.
Strange as it seems that a spider should capture his prey with a lasso, it is even funnier to think of spiders building balloons and flying, but nevertheless, spiders do build balloons and travel for hundreds of miles through the air.
When a spider aeronaut wishes to fly he climbs to the highest spot he can find, such as a fence post, a bush, or even a tall blade of grass, and holding securely with his front feet, he raises his body in the air and spins out yard after yard of loose thread. When enough silk has been spun to lift the spider's weight, he releases his hold on the post or bush and goes sailing off.
Perhaps you may not think this simple breeze-borne silk should be called a balloon, but the spider aeronaut can regulate his speed, or the distance he travels far better than can human balloonists. If the wind increases, he merely gathers in some loose thread, while, if the wind falls, he spins out more, and if he wishes to ascend or to land he gathers in or spins out thread to suit his needs.
These flying spiders are not one special kind, but are the young of many common spiders, and if you look on fences and bushes on sunny autumn days you will often find dozens of the threads streaming up into the air from little spiders who are getting ready for a flight.
Sometimes these spider balloonists travel long distances, and they have been seen floating safely through the air hundreds of miles out at sea.
Most of our spiders are very small, which is very fortunate for us, for spiders are among the most ferocious and bloodthirsty of creatures.
In the tropics they grow to quite large size, and the big hairy tarantulas and mygales are so strong and powerful that they feed upon birds, pouncing on them and piercing them with their great pointed jaws. If such spiders were as large as wolves, we can imagine what enemies they would be to human beings!
Of all interesting spiders' nests, perhaps the most interesting is the one built by a cousin of the big tarantulas and which is known as the trap-door spider. These fellows live in sandy places in the Western United States and make a burrow in the ground which they line with silk. Then at the top they build a close-fitting door which is covered with earth, so that when it is shut you would never guess it was there. One kind of trap-door spider is not satisfied with a single door to his home, but in addition, burrows one or more side tunnels, each of which is fitted with a trapdoor where it opens into the main hole. When an enemy pursues this spider he darts into his hole and closes the door after him, holding it tightly closed with his feet, which grasp little silken handles made for the purpose. Then, if his enemy succeeds in forcing the door, the spider hurries into a side room and closes that door behind him and holds it shut. If his enemy still tries to force a way into this new retreat, the spider hurries to the end of the chamber, digs rapidly through the thin layer of earth above, and is some distance away while his pursuer is still hunting about in the dark hole from which the spider has fled.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.