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September 5, 2012 / Rae Spencer

What the Spiders Eat (Arachnophobia Alert!)

This year the ginger lilies have sheltered and fed four enormous garden spiders. Mid-summer, this impressive quartet graduated from eating flies and began to catch moths and beetles. One of them even tried for a June bug. The June bug escaped, but the spider was in no danger of starvation.

Thanks to our mild winter and productive summer, the spiders’ webs are never empty. They eat and grow, eat and grow, molting over and over again as the summer wears on. Now they are giants, far larger than any of the yard’s June bugs.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been fascinated by the variety of prey these spiders have snared. A Cloudless Sulfur butterfly, last week. A sphinx moth and a dragonfly. Yesterday, one of the spiders managed to catch and consume a cicada.

Despite my affection for cicadas, I had to admire the spider’s audacity. And, despite my wretched arachnophobia, I softened into nostalgia over a large egg sac. (The egg sac belongs to a different spider, one of equal size and appetite.)

I remember a dark living room with an old television, where a little girl sat curled in a chair with a cat on her lap and a dog at her feet, watching a favorite movie. The movie featured a pig named Wilbur and a spider named Charlotte. I remember my tears, when Charlotte died, and my delight when her daughters emerged from their silken nursery.

So this year, late in November, I’ll cut back the ginger lilies and weave their stalks into a frost-protective blanket over the bulbs. In the process, I’ll tuck this egg sac into a safe corner of the flower bed, cringing a little as I imagine the multitudes within. Then, thanks to a lovely book and heartwarming movie, I’ll remember that these spiders aren’t quite horrible. In fact, they are almost charming. Especially when they say “Salutations!”

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