THE NARBONNE LYCOSA: THE CLIMBING-INSTINCT





The month of March comes to an end; and the departure of the youngsters

begins, in glorious weather, during the hottest hours of the morning.

Laden with her swarming burden, the mother Lycosa is outside her burrow,

squatting on the parapet at the entrance. She lets them do as they

please; as though indifferent to what is happening, she exhibits neither

encouragement nor regret. Whoso will goes; whoso will remains behind.



First these, then those, according as they feel themselves duly soaked

with sunshine, the little ones leave the mother in batches, run about for

a moment on the ground and then quickly reach the trellis-work of the

cage, which they climb with surprising alacrity. They pass through the

meshes, they clamber right to the top of the citadel. All, with not one

exception, make for the heights, instead of roaming on the ground, as

might reasonably be expected from the eminently earthly habits of the

Lycosae; all ascend the dome, a strange procedure whereof I do not yet

guess the object.



I receive a hint from the upright ring that finishes the top of the cage.

The youngsters hurry to it. It represents the porch of their gymnasium.

They hang out threads across the opening; they stretch others from the

ring to the nearest points of the trellis-work. On these foot-bridges,

they perform slack-rope exercises amid endless comings and goings. The

tiny legs open out from time to time and straddle as though to reach the

most distant points. I begin to realize that they are acrobats aiming at

loftier heights than those of the dome.



I top the trellis with a branch that doubles the attainable height. The

bustling crowd hastily scrambles up it, reaches the tip of the topmost

twigs and thence sends out threads that attach themselves to every

surrounding object. These form so many suspension-bridges; and my

beasties nimbly run along them, incessantly passing to and fro. One

would say that they wished to climb higher still. I will endeavour to

satisfy their desires.



I take a nine-foot reed, with tiny branches spreading right up to the

top, and place it above the cage. The little Lycosae clamber to the very

summit. Here, longer threads are produced from the rope-yard and are now

left to float, anon converted into bridges by the mere contact of the

free end with the neighbouring supports. The rope-dancers embark upon

them and form garlands which the least breath of air swings daintily. The

thread is invisible when it does not come between the eyes and the sun;

and the whole suggests rows of Gnats dancing an aerial ballet.



Then, suddenly, teased by the air-currents, the delicate mooring breaks

and flies through space. Behold the emigrants off and away, clinging to

their thread. If the wind be favourable, they can land at great

distances. Their departure is thus continued for a week or two, in bands

more or less numerous, according to the temperature and the brightness of

the day. If the sky be overcast, none dreams of leaving. The travellers

need the kisses of the sun, which give energy and vigour.



At last, the whole family has disappeared, carried afar by its flying-

ropes. The mother remains alone. The loss of her offspring hardly seems

to distress her. She retains her usual colour and plumpness, which is a

sign that the maternal exertions have not been too much for her.



I also notice an increased fervour in the chase. While burdened with her

family, she was remarkably abstemious, accepting only with great reserve

the game placed at her disposal. The coldness of the season may have

militated against copious refections; perhaps also the weight of the

little ones hampered her movements and made her more discreet in

attacking the prey.



To-day, cheered by the fine weather and able to move freely, she hurries

up from her lair each time I set a tit-bit to her liking buzzing at the

entrance to her burrow; she comes and takes from my fingers the savoury

Locust, the portly Anoxia; {26} and this performance is repeated daily,

whenever I have the leisure to devote to it. After a frugal winter, the

time has come for plentiful repasts.



This appetite tells us that the animal is not at the point of death; one

does not feast in this way with a played-out stomach. My boarders are

entering in full vigour upon their fourth year. In the winter, in the

fields, I used to find large mothers, carting their young, and others not

much more than half their size. The whole series, therefore, represented

three generations. And now, in my earthenware pans, after the departure

of the family, the old matrons still carry on and continue as strong as

ever. Every outward appearance tells us that, after becoming

great-grandmothers, they still keep themselves fit for propagating their

species.



The facts correspond with these anticipations. When September returns,

my captives are dragging a bag as bulky as that of last year. For a long

time, even when the eggs of the others have been hatched for some weeks

past, the mothers come daily to the threshold of the burrow and hold out

their wallets for incubation by the sun. Their perseverance is not

rewarded: nothing issues from the satin purse; nothing stirs within. Why?

Because, in the prison of my cages, the eggs have had no father. Tired

of waiting and at last recognizing the barrenness of their produce, they

push the bag of eggs outside the burrow and trouble about it no more. At

the return of spring, by which time the family, if developed according to

rule, would have been emancipated, they die. The mighty Spider of the

waste-lands, therefore, attains to an even more patriarchal age than her

neighbour the Sacred Beetle: {27} she lives for five years at the very

least.



Let us leave the mothers to their business and return to the youngsters.

It is not without a certain surprise that we see the little Lycosae, at

the first moment of their emancipation, hasten to ascend the heights.

Destined to live on the ground, amidst the short grass, and afterwards to

settle in the permanent abode, a pit, they start by being enthusiastic

acrobats. Before descending to the low levels, their normal dwelling-

place, they affect lofty altitudes.



To rise higher and ever higher is their first need. I have not, it

seems, exhausted the limit of their climbing-instinct even with a nine-

foot pole, suitably furnished with branches to facilitate the escalade.

Those who have eagerly reached the very top wave their legs, fumble in

space as though for yet higher stalks. It behoves us to begin again and

under better conditions.



Although the Narbonne Lycosa, with her temporary yearning for the

heights, is more interesting than other Spiders, by reason of the fact

that her usual habitation is underground, she is not so striking at

swarming-time, because the youngsters, instead of all migrating at once,

leave the mother at different periods and in small batches. The sight

will be a finer one with the common Garden or Cross Spider, the Diadem

Epeira (_Epeira diadema_, LIN.), decorated with three white crosses on

her back.



She lays her eggs in November and dies with the first cold snap. She is

denied the Lycosa's longevity. She leaves the natal wallet early one

spring and never sees the following spring. This wallet, which contains

the eggs, has none of the ingenious structure which we admired in the

Banded and in the Silky Epeira. No longer do we see a graceful balloon-

shape nor yet a paraboloid with a starry base; no longer a tough,

waterproof satin stuff; no longer a swan's-down resembling a fleecy,

russet cloud; no longer an inner keg in which the eggs are packed. The

art of stout fabrics and of walls within walls is unknown here.



The work of the Cross Spider is a pill of white silk, wrought into a

yielding felt, through which the new-born Spiders will easily work their

way, without the aid of the mother, long since dead, and without having

to rely upon its bursting at the given hour. It is about the size of a

damson.



We can judge the method of manufacture from the structure. Like the

Lycosa, whom we saw, in Chapter III., at work in one of my earthenware

pans, the Cross Spider, on the support supplied by a few threads

stretched between the nearest objects, begins by making a shallow saucer

of sufficient thickness to dispense with subsequent corrections. The

process is easily guessed. The tip of the abdomen goes up and down, down

and up with an even beat, while the worker shifts her place a little.

Each time, the spinnerets add a bit of thread to the carpet already made.



When the requisite thickness is obtained, the mother empties her ovaries,

in one continuous flow, into the centre of the bowl. Glued together by

their inherent moisture, the eggs, of a handsome orange-yellow, form a

ball-shaped heap. The work of the spinnerets is resumed. The ball of

germs is covered with a silk cap, fashioned in the same way as the

saucer. The two halves of the work are so well joined that the whole

constitutes an unbroken sphere.



The Banded Epeira and the Silky Epeira, those experts in the manufacture

of rainproof textures, lay their eggs high up, on brushwood and bramble,

without shelter of any kind. The thick material of the wallets is enough

to protect the eggs from the inclemencies of the winter, especially from

damp. The Diadem Epeira, or Cross Spider, needs a cranny for hers, which

is contained in a non-waterproof felt. In a heap of stones, well exposed

to the sun, she will choose a large slab to serve as a roof. She lodges

her pill underneath it, in the company of the hibernating Snail.



More often still, she prefers the thick tangle of some dwarf shrub,

standing eight or nine inches high and retaining its leaves in winter. In

the absence of anything better, a tuft of grass answers the purpose.

Whatever the hiding-place, the bag of eggs is always near the ground,

tucked away as well as may be, amid the surrounding twigs.



Save in the case of the roof supplied by a large stone, we see that the

site selected hardly satisfies proper hygienic needs. The Epeira seems

to realize this fact. By way of an additional protection, even under a

stone, she never fails to make a thatched roof for her eggs. She builds

them a covering with bits of fine, dry grass, joined together with a

little silk. The abode of the eggs becomes a straw wigwam.



Good luck procures me two Cross Spiders' nests, on the edge of one of the

paths in the enclosure, among some tufts of ground-cypress, or lavender-

cotton. This is just what I wanted for my plans. The find is all the

more valuable as the period of the exodus is near at hand.



I prepare two lengths of bamboo, standing about fifteen feet high and

clustered with little twigs from top to bottom. I plant one of them

straight up in the tuft, beside the first nest. I clear the surrounding

ground, because the bushy vegetation might easily, thanks to threads

carried by the wind, divert the emigrants from the road which I have laid

out for them. The other bamboo I set up in the middle of the yard, all

by itself, some few steps from any outstanding object. The second nest

is removed as it is, shrub and all, and placed at the bottom of the tall,

ragged distaff.



The events expected are not long in coming. In the first fortnight in

May, a little earlier in one case, a little later in the other, the two

families, each presented with a bamboo climbing-pole, leave their

respective wallets. There is nothing remarkable about the mode of

egress. The precincts to be crossed consist of a very slack net-work,

through which the outcomers wriggle: weak little orange-yellow beasties,

with a triangular black patch upon their sterns. One morning is long

enough for the whole family to make its appearance.



By degrees, the emancipated youngsters climb the nearest twigs, clamber

to the top, and spread a few threads. Soon, they gather in a compact,

ball-shaped cluster, the size of a walnut. They remain motionless. With

their heads plunged into the heap and their sterns projecting, they doze

gently, mellowing under the kisses of the sun. Rich in the possession of

a thread in their belly as their sole inheritance, they prepare to

disperse over the wide world.



Let us create a disturbance among the globular group by stirring it with

a straw. All wake up at once. The cluster softly dilates and spreads,

as though set in motion by some centrifugal force; it becomes a

transparent orb wherein thousands and thousands of tiny legs quiver and

shake, while threads are extended along the way to be followed. The

whole work resolves itself into a delicate veil which swallows up the

scattered family. We then see an exquisite nebula against whose

opalescent tapestry the tiny animals gleam like twinkling orange stars.



This straggling state, though it last for hours, is but temporary. If

the air grow cooler, if rain threaten, the spherical group reforms at

once. This is a protective measure. On the morning after a shower, I

find the families on either bamboo in as good condition as on the day

before. The silk veil and the pill formation have sheltered them well

enough from the downpour. Even so do Sheep, when caught in a storm in

the pastures, gather close, huddle together and make a common rampart of

their backs.



The assembly into a ball-shaped mass is also the rule in calm, bright

weather, after the morning's exertions. In the afternoon, the climbers

collect at a higher point, where they weave a wide, conical tent, with

the end of a shoot for its top, and, gathered into a compact group, spend

the night there. Next day, when the heat returns, the ascent is resumed

in long files, following the shrouds which a few pioneers have rigged and

which those who come after elaborate with their own work.



Collected nightly into a globular troop and sheltered under a fresh tent,

for three or four days, each morning, before the sun grows too hot, my

little emigrants thus raise themselves, stage by stage, on both bamboos,

until they reach the sun-unit, at fifteen feet above the ground. The

climb comes to an end for lack of foothold.



Under normal conditions, the ascent would be shorter. The young Spiders

have at their disposal the bushes, the brushwood, providing supports on

every side for the threads wafted hither and thither by the eddying air-

currents. With these rope-bridges flung across space, the dispersal

presents no difficulties. Each emigrant leaves at his own good time and

travels as suits him best.



My devices have changed these conditions somewhat. My two bristling

poles stand at a distance from the surrounding shrubs, especially the one

which I planted in the middle of the yard. Bridges are out of the

question, for the threads flung into the air are not long enough. And so

the acrobats, eager to get away, keep on climbing, never come down again,

are impelled to seek in a higher position what they have failed to find

in a lower. The top of my two bamboos probably fails to represent the

limit of what my keen climbers are capable of achieving.



We shall see, in a moment, the object of this climbing-propensity, which

is a sufficiently remarkable instinct in the Garden Spiders, who have as

their domain the low-growing brushwood wherein their nets are spread; it

becomes a still more remarkable instinct in the Lycosa, who, except at

the moment when she leaves her mother's back, never quits the ground and

yet, in the early hours of her life, shows herself as ardent a wooer of

high places as the young Garden Spiders.



Let us consider the Lycosa in particular. In her, at the moment of the

exodus, a sudden instinct arises, to disappear, as promptly and for ever,

a few hours later. This is the climbing-instinct, which is unknown to

the adult and soon forgotten by the emancipated youngling, doomed to

wander homeless, for many a long day, upon the ground. Neither of them

dreams of climbing to the top of a grass-stalk. The full-grown Spider

hunts trapper-fashion, ambushed in her tower; the young one hunts afoot

through the scrubby grass. In both cases there is no web and therefore

no need for lofty contact-points. They are not allowed to quit the

ground and climb the heights.



Yet here we have the young Lycosa, wishing to leave the maternal abode

and to travel far afield by the easiest and swiftest methods, suddenly

becoming an enthusiastic climber. Impetuously she scales the wire

trellis of the cage where she was born; hurriedly she clambers to the top

of the tall mast which I have prepared for her. In the same way, she

would make for the summit of the bushes in her waste-land.



We catch a glimpse of her object. From on high, finding a wide space

beneath her, she sends a thread floating. It is caught by the wind and

carries her hanging to it. We have our aeroplanes; she too possesses her

flying-machine. Once the journey is accomplished, naught remains of this

ingenious business. The climbing-instinct conies suddenly, at the hour

of need, and no less suddenly vanishes.





THE NARBONNE LYCOSA: THE BURROW THE NARBONNE LYCOSA: THE FAMILY facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback