I am a “live and let live” type of gardener although I have many times in these pages described how my backyard is trying to kill me with snakes and heavy machinery and a sharp, unfurled palm frond to the old eyeball that made me leak orbital fluid and caused me to sit up all night reordering my life as a half-blind person. Missed some of that? That’s fine. I’m back to tell you about the spiders.
Since Hurricane Irma, or so it seems to me, the spinybacked orbweaver spiders in my yard have been infected with super spidey powers. First, the storm didn’t kill them; and second, after-effects of the storm on this spider’s fertility is nil. Nada. Those things are ALL OVER my yard. There are many, many spiders in my yard and I do not think I had that many before.
I am willing to concede that I might not have been paying much attention, because even the University of Florida Extension Service describes them as “one of the most conspicuous of spiders.” Okay, fine, they are shaped like crabs, so yes, we tend to notice them.
But here’s the thing — they are jerks. According to Orkin, the pest exterminators, these spiders put their webs, “in shrubs, trees, and the corners of windows and doors and on porches and patios.” This sentence suggests the spiders build in out of the way places. Yeah, no. My spiders are not satisfied until they’ve caught your face.
Have you ever brushed up against a spiderweb with your knee? Of course not. And yet, have you ever had, say, a mosquito bite on your ankle? Of course you have. But do spiders ever consider going after the ankle-level bugs or are they determined to stretch a web where the average person will walk into it face first? The latter, of course.
For months now, I have been carefully un-attaching two or three of the web tethers to gently move the webs out of my way causing the webs to float up and away. I was encouraging the spiders to move on. Scoot. But I was doing it in a genteel, Southern lady style.
When the spiders persisted, continuing to build their webs in even more a**holic locales, I resorted to the stick method. For weeks, I looked like a deranged water diviner, walking through my yard with a stick held face-height in front of me. I wave it up and down to catch the spider web before it catches my face. The neighbors think it’s hilarious. Or would, if they could see past the opaque layers and layers of head-height spider webs and see me acting like an idiot.
It also seems to me, using the most unscientific measure available to me, commonly called opinion, that the special post-Irma spidey power has infused their webs with extra strength. On the main tethers of the web, there seems to be an extra “bead” of superglue every inch or so. Again, University of Florida informs me this is nothing new: “Conspicuous tufts of silk occur on the web, primarily on the foundation lines … one hypothesis suggests that the tufts make the webs more conspicuous to birds (Eisner and Nowicki 1983), preventing the birds from flying into and destroying the webs.”
First, they are kind of conspicuous, but not super conspicuous. For example, they are less visible when the subject is carrying a load of clean laundry from the outdoor facility to the inside; when that person is calmly walking along and inhaling the “fresh linen” scent, minding their own business, on a path they’ve traversed three times today already. And then boom! — spiderweb to the face. I tried rubbing my face against my shoulders to remove the spider web, while simultaneously trying to see if there’s an actual spider on my person. It’s hard to see both the front and sides and back of your torso — all at once — without some extra eyeballs. I was also making a weird screaming/moaning noise with a twisted face — sort of like catching Sylvester Stallone on a really bad day.
Second, and here comes the other super spidey part, these webs are really strong. That’s not to say I’m hitting them like a trampoline and then being catapulted backward. But you know how the usual spidey dance lasts about five seconds and then you forget all about the skin-crawling event completely? Well, that happens. But then a minute or five later, I find that my car keys are wrapped in spiderwebs, or I find a loose tendril or two just hanging off a forearm instead of dissolving like a regular spiderweb. It’s usually a two-for-one, now-AND-later skin crawling experience with these super spiders.
According to Orkin, “Crab Spiders” do have one thing going from them. “The bite of this common species is not known to cause serious effects to humans.” And yet, after the laundry episode, I’m not so sure I’m willing to coexist — safe or no. I am welcoming, however, birds that are especially trained to dive bomb spinybacked orbweaver webs. It’s war now.