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The Inkblot Spider and Her Prey

The Inkblot Spider and Her Prey

The blasted acoustic recorder is non-functioning, and so we are unable to bring to you a new edition of Field Sounds this week.   The device is with Master Periat and I will not shed a tear if he is unable to bring the infernal contraption back to life.  To fill the time this week, I continue my informal dissertation on the faerie predators of City Park.  This week, I have pulled an older photonic capture from my archives to share with you.

Also known as the gardener’s friend, it is considered good luck for an inkblot spider to set up her web in a  garden by the City’s residents.  They feast on the more noxious pests that can spoil a garden, such as the moth pixies which bring with them the aphid analogues that make short work of an herb garden or even a small vegetable garden.  I’m certain that the inkblot spider’s ancestors were brought to the City by the Englunders, if not purposefully, then accidentally, hitching a ride among seed stock as so many invaders do.

I say ancestor because the inkblot spider has adapted to the local ecosystem and is clearly now a fundamental part of it, and one of its unusual traits could only evolve in the rarified environment of this world.  I speak of course of its namesake, the ever-shifting pattern markings so reminiscent of blots of ink.    It is not uncommon for gardeners to take their tea beneath the spiders web to watch the patterns shift, and calling out amongst themselves, as a kind of inkblot charades, what each thinks the spots resemble.   I have often said that the game reveals more about the players than it does about the spider.  It’s a curious thing, the spider’s markings.  Also of interest to the naturalist is the spider’s web.

The web is of a spiral structure, created from sticky capture silk.    A key feature of the web is the stabilimentum, the crisscross of silk through he web.  Dr. Argiopes, renown expert on arachnids, has hypothesized that the stabilimentum is created to increase the visual profile of the web so as to ward off birds and other larger winged beasts.  However, what warns a bird surely must warn a moth pixie as well, no?  It is here that I hypothesize that some fundamental aspect of  the stabilimentum attracts smaller prey while warning larger creatures.  How is this so?  What quality could be responsible for this?  I have no idea.

I have spent several afternoons watching Mrs. Dowd’s resident inkblot spider, not for the patterns, but for her method of hunting.  She rests in the center of her spiral  legs touching lines of web. Sensitive hairs on the feet detect even the smallest tug upon the web.  Like a fisherman, she waits for the action on the webbing to become frantic, signaling the difference between a breeze and a captured and struggling pixie.  Struggling only ensnares her prey more. Prey that tires quickly, she strikes immediately, injecting with her fangs.  Prey with more fight in it, she wraps with further silk, binding it to the center of the web, illustrated above by the poor, half-devoured moth pixie.

But I’d like to return before ending this missive to the matter of the inkblot spider’s markings.  What benefit do they provide?  Camoflage?  Attraction?  Or something else?  I have my own personal theories, but this week I would like to read your own.  It will give me something to take my mind away from the dreariness of the Autumn rains.

Sincerely, Julius T. Roundbottom

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