Saturday, August 1, 2009

Arachnid Peek-a-boo

Charismatic megafauna get all the attention. You know, panda bears and their ilk; cuddly with big brown eyes and human-like traits. They're the poster children of wildlife conservation. Here on the Osa, monkeys and such fill the bill. Or macaws; big and colorful, squabbling raucously like a quarrelsome old couple, they even form life-long pair bonds. Biologists have a word for critters that embody a collection of human-endearing characteristics: fubsy.

Spiders are not fubsy. But they are no less interesting for the lack. They inspire phobic fits in many, which is understandable since most are venomous, some spectacularly so. But they are best known for their unique method of hunting: the web with which they ensnare their prey (later to deliver the coup de grace--a toxic bite).

The Golden Orb Weaver (so called because of the color of its spider silk) is big, up to 3 inches across or more, and beautiful, with jewel-like dots and patterns. They're also prodigious web builders, capable of throwing up an astonishing amount of spider silk, literally overnight. Which is why you want to keep a weather eye out for webs on morning jungle jaunts.

When hiking the trail early one morning, I immediately knew I'd walked into a web. Stop, back up, and kind of corkscrew yourself away from anchoring vegetation, raising your arms and shaking your hands to lift the threads and shake them off. Clear of the hazard, I continued on my way, quickly forgetting the incident.

Imagine my astonishment when, 15 minutes later, the owner of the forgotten web decided to rappel off the bill of my cap and position himself an inch in front of my right eye. Yikes!

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