Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/531

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

the building. This I surmised was a deposit of eggs, and I afterward found that I was right.

Still, I had named the animal; and, on the principle of the parson who insisted on christening the little girl John, I adhered to the original appellation. Hitherto the spider had discovered none of the attributes proverbial to her sex, and I did not feel justified in naming her Lucy or Maria.

There were warm days that year, when the air smelled of clover, and flies came out plentifully, and Esau was fed on all available insects that had wings. The house-fly was her staple food, although she regarded small moths as delicacies, and thought midges and small gnats were toothsome articles of diet; but her soul loathed blue-bottles. They were to her what caviare and absinthe are to the uneducated. If a blue-bottle was put into her net she bound it down with many strands of cobweb, and killed it, and, before the animal had ceased to quiver, cast it from her web with evident repugnance. Beetles she did not care for, as they broke her web; but money-spinners she tolerated. Daddy-long-legs fell an easy prey to her, although she did not relish them. That I know, because she never took their carcasses to her cave.

By way of a treat I once offered her a small earth-worm. It wriggled and writhed, lengthened itself and shortened itself, assumed the shape of a corkscrew, and tied itself up into knots. Esau sought refuge in her house, and stuck her head out to watch these strange manœuvres. At first, she was as still as possible; then there was an oscillatory movement of the palpi. She generally did that when she was getting up her pluck. Then she made a rapid rush to within an inch of the worm, and reconnoitred again. She was not satisfied, and retired a second time to think the matter out. The worm, in the mean time, either got tired of struggling, or else philosophically arrived at the conclusion that he could make himself as comfortable in a cobweb as in any other place. The period of rest was fatal. Esau darted on her prey and stuck her mandibles into him. Vainly did the worm try to charm the enemy by tickling her with the end of his tail. Esau held on like a vice. The worm tried to encircle her body with furtive gyrations. Esau had no inclination to play at Laocoon, and eluded the strategy of his prey. That worm gave in.

I began to get tired of my pet. She was getting fat; and the fatter she grew the more ferocious she became. I sought another spider, and found one smaller than the one I possessed. To my mind it was of the same species, but from its size I imagined it was a male. "I will be the historian of the loves of spiders," I said. "Their domestic happiness shall be a moral to mankind. Two spiders together will give me an opportunity of making fresh observations."

I was not disappointed, but my researches gave a result that I had not anticipated.