every life lesson can be learned

A Spider in a Tupperware

It’s unlikely you have a spider the size of a penny prisoner in a Tupperware container on your kitchen counter.  Why do I?  We are holding the arachnid hostage until we know my daughter doesn’t have any reactions to its’ bite.  So far, there isn’t any inflammation around the two little pinpricks on the back of our youngest daughter’s leg.  Why the extra caution?  We live in Texas, which is home to the black widow and brown recluse.  Everybody who lives in the southern states knows the image of these poisonous spiders and thankfully this spider doesn’t fit their description.  There’s neither a red hourglass marking on its belly nor a dark violin-shaped marking on its head.  But, knowing deadly spiders lurk in the dark corners of Texas makes you suspicious of every spider you come across.  Some of you are so fearful of spiders that you won’t even the write the word spider on a piece of paper let alone capture and release or even kill one.  Even me writing “spider, spider, spider” irritates you and makes your skin crawl like there are hundreds of ‘em all over you.  I was once like you.  I could not have handled all of my spider experiences in Texas without having spent a summer with fellow undergraduate biology majors at a research station in the Rocky Mountains.  Willing to do anything to keep my 4.0 grade point average that summer, I volunteered when a professor needed help researching the mating behavior of Sierra Dome spiders in nature.  It turns out that the Sierra Dome lady spider is very smart, only choosing a mate that has proven himself to be a strong and vigorous fighter before her.  Boy spiders actually progress through a series of fighting stages with the final one being a full-on brawl, sometimes to the death of the weaker contestant.  I didn’t believe it at first myself.  But, I spent that summer alone in the forest with male spiders in petri dishes as my hiking companions searching for the dome-shaped webs built by the lady spiders.  Creating a rivalrous love triangle, I’d carefully position two Romeos on opposite sides of the web, pitting them against the other to battle for the chance at procreation.  If you think that the Mayweather vs Pacquiao was the “fight of the century” (before it actually happened, of course), then witnessing the incredibly entertaining fighting behavior of two Sierra Dome male spiders would be the “fight of at least two centuries.”   And, this one’s free – well, other than a plane ticket to Montana and some hiking books.  Having handled so many spiders in the lab and in the field so many summers ago, I can still now find the courage to capture and release and sometimes kill the spiders that trespass on the franch.  Most of the time, I let the spiders live as we all know the benefits of a spider’s life, even if we don’t want to admit it.  But, I’ve come face to face with creepy tarantulas and although I know they’re harmless, I still kill ‘em because I don’t want them making a home in our kids’ muck boots left outside the back door.  I wish I could say I never came across the dreaded black widow spider on the franch.  But, one evening late at night, I went out to the barn to check on all the animals with a flashlight.  Opening the gate to the cow pen, I decided to straighten their feeder, and as I approached it, the beam of my flashlight illuminated a black spider hanging upside down with a shiny red belly, on a thick, erratically built web between the feeder and the side of the pen.  I froze, staring at that hourglass like it was going to tell time.  Oh my goodness, it’s the black widow. “Don’t think, don’t think…” I repeated in my mind, as I knew what I had to do.  I grabbed a dusty bottle of insecticide from the barn shelf and turned on the outside barn lights.  Inches from the plump spider, I held my breath and started squirting it like crazy.  It fell to the ground.  And then, I anticlimactically finished it off with the heel of my cowboy boot.  One last squirt to its lifeless body and I started to breathe again.  Then, I screamed.  So, with that, you now understand why it’s no big deal for me to have a spider trying to crawl up the slippery sides of the Tupperware next to me as I prepare lunch.  Hours later, the pinpricks have disappeared on my daughter’s leg.  She asks me to let the spider go, outside.  It’s been forgiven.  The itsy bitsy spider is now free to go up the spout again.

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1 Comment

  1. Seth

    Wait a minute. You mean to tell us you spent a summer as a spider pimp? How did I not know this? What else haven’t you told us?

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