April 05, 2015

A mother's love

It's the Easter bank holiday weekend, and a trip to the shed for gardening equipment reveals that a very large spider has taken up residence in my tools trug, where, going by the somewhat dessicated evidence, it has spent the winter eating many other spiders of various kinds.

I think it is a female Amaurobius similis, or lace-webbed spider – though people who know more about bugs than I do have suggested it's a house spider (Tegenaria domestica). She looks larger, to me, than the house spiders we regularly see at home, and moves more slowly.

If she is a lace-webbed spider her days may be numbered, for although I have put her safely back into the shed this is a species that practices something called matriphagy. After mating, the female lays up to 40 eggs in a silk chamber, which she guards; when they hatch, the spiderlings eat their mother – something she apparently submits to.

It's a reminder that to project human thoughts and feelings onto animals is a fallacy, for their lives are not lived in ways we can understand. Sometimes their instincts seem to mirror ours, so that we approve of them; but what does that mean for those whose processes are so far removed from humans' that we can see nothing of ourselves in them? Because of their strangeness they become easier to condemn or ignore.

Nature isn't a mirror into which we can peer and see ourselves smiling back. Human behaviour is not what everything should be measured against. Far from it.