Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Enraptured by Spiders

I've recently been reading a book called Life of the Spider by John Crompton and it's really quite an enthralling read. You see we look down upon these tiny creatures in our oh-so-human way, but really they are cunning and capable beyond anything we can imagine. The author has a whimsical (albeit old-school misogynistic) tone which is quite funny and delightful. The most truly amazing thing about this book (spiders aside) is the amount of time and energy that went into making it. You see in our current day and age we are so hyper-connected that all research has already been done for us, and the multitude of experiments that are going on are going on in thousands of places simultaneously and have all been done before, new ground is seldom tread. However, when this book was written (1950) there was still so much to learn from hands on research. So what do you have: a small community of dudes who love to sit around look at spiders in jars for hours on end. In one particularly case the author sites another author who had his son stay up all night watching one particular spider to finally figure out its late-night eating habits. Thats what makes the book so interesting, it's intrinsically tied to a world which barely exists anymore. A world which necessitated hands-on experimentation, where people as individuals still made meaningful discoveries and contributions.

Besides the interesting dichotomy that one can draw between that era and our present times, the spiders themselves prove to be inspiring beyond all measure. The things they do to survive and procreate are simply astounding. One character in particular who I was fond of was the Tube spider who burrows into the ground and lives inside a small tunnel which he covers over. The end of the tunnel protrudes above the ground and is a cause for much curiosity amongst other local insects and when they start to snoop around he bursts out of the ground, snatches the insect, and runs back inside to feast. Thats it, thats pretty much the entire life of this spider, sitting in wait at the bottom of a quarter inch wide tube. And to think, he doesn't even have a cellphone down there.

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