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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Amazing Mother Nature! (Good And Bad)

(If you must have politics, please scroll down)

Spiders apparently know how to harness the power of music. Spider silk transmits vibrations across a wide range of frequencies so that, when plucked like a guitar string, its sound carries information about prey, mates, and even the structural integrity of a web. (Photo : Pixabay)
At this time of year here in the D.C. area, we are nearly overrun with spiders.

I don't suffer from arachnophobia, but I don't like spiders, either.  Still, in many ways, they are amazing creatures.

Over on Dr. Oliver Sacks's Facebook page last summer, I found the following fascinating information about spiders:
Spiders Harness the Power of Music

Spiders apparently know how to harness the power of music. Spider silk transmits vibrations across a wide range of frequencies so that, when plucked like a guitar string, its sound carries information about prey, mates, and even the structural integrity of a web.

Researchers from the Universities of Oxford, Strathclyde, and Sheffield interested in the fine tuning of spider webs fired bullets and lasers at spider silk to study how it vibrates. They found that it is unique in its ability to be tuned to a wide range of harmonics.

"Most spiders have poor eyesight and rely almost exclusively on the vibration of the silk in their web for sensory information," Beth Mortimer of the Oxford Silk Group at Oxford University, who led the research, explained in a news release. "The sound of silk can tell them what type of meal is entangled in their net and about the intentions and quality of a prospective mate. By plucking the silk like a guitar string and listening to the 'echoes' the spider can also assess the condition of its web."

And just like tuning guitar strings, spiders can tune their webs to just the right note. They are able to control and adjust both the inherent properties of the silk and the tensions and interconnectivities of the silk threads that make up the web.

To more closely observe these properties, researchers used ultra-high-speed cameras to film the threads as they responded to the impact of bullets. In addition, lasers were used to make detailed measurements of even the smallest vibration.

"These findings further demonstrate the outstanding properties of many spider silks that are able to combine exceptional toughness with the ability to transfer delicate information,' added co-author Professor Fritz Vollrath.

The findings, described in the journal Advanced Materials, not only reveal more about nature's eight-legged arachnid, but also could inspire a wide range of new technologies, such as tiny light-weight sensors.

Note: You may be familiar with some of the work of Dr. Oliver Sacks, who was portrayed by Robin Williams in the Oscar-nominated film Awakenings (1990). I highly recommend the film. Dr. Sacks is also the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, one of the most fascinating books I have ever read.

Meanwhile, in Missouri, comes the bad side of Mother Nature:


  1. ____ SPIDER AND WASP ____

    A big black spider lived in a hole;
    A terrible spider was he:
    As big as your hand, and with hairy legs,
    And a mouth as red as could be.

    The beetles and flies at the sight of him fled,
    And even the birds were afraid.
    He had two great nippers, and eight wicked eyes;
    How he ran ! and what leaps he made
    I and all who lived in the garden knew
    That terrible spider's lair,
    And told their little ones, under their breath:
    Never, 0 never go there! '

    Those who were naughty and disobeyed,
    By their mothers would not have been known,
    For the spider had sucked out their juicy parts —
    And left them as dry as a bone.

    One day when he crept quite out of his hole,
    To pounce on a passer-by,
    Buzz, buzz, came a wasp: the spider's afraid —
    A spider afraid of a fly!

    His poisoned nippers he opened wide,
    And reared himself up to fight;
    Round, round, and round, flew the wasp, then — down!
    And stung him before he could bite.

    He crumpled up, and was carried away,
    And buried alive, to feed
    The baby-wasps that were soon to be born —
    A story for bullies to heed!

    ~ A. Vine Hall - Poems from South Africa (1943)

    [NOTE: The wasp is careful to sting where it will paralyse and not kill the spider, that there may be fresh meat for the wasp-grubs when hatched.]

  2. ________ THE SPIDER AND THE FLY ________

    'Will you walk into my parlour?' said the Spider to the Fly,
    ''Tis the prettiest parlour that ever did you spy;
    The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
    And I have many curious things to show when you are there.'
    'Oh no, no,' said the little Fly, 'to ask me is in vain,
    For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again.'

    'I'm sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high;
    Will you rest upon my little bed?' said the Spider to the Fly.
    'There are pretty curtains drawn around, the sheets are fine and thin;
    And if you like to rest awhile, I'll snugly tuck you in!'
    'Oh no, no,' said the little Fly, 'for I've often heard it said,
    They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!'

    Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, 'Dear friend, what can I do,
    To prove the warm affection I've always felt for you?
    I have within my pantry good store of all that's nice;
    I'm sure you're very welcome--will you please to take a slice?'
    'Oh no, no,' said the little Fly, 'kind sir, that cannot be,
    I've heard what's in your pantry, and I do not wish to see.'

    'Sweet creature,' said the Spider, 'you're witty and you're wise;
    How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
    I have a little looking-glass upon my parlour shelf,
    If you'll step in a moment, dear, you shall behold yourself.'
    'I thank you, gentle sir,' she said, 'for what you're pleased to say,
    And bidding you good morning now, I'll call another day.'

    The Spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
    For well he knew the silly Fly would soon come back again;
    So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
    And set his table ready, to dine upon the Fly.
    Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing:
    'Come hither, hither, pretty Fly, with the pearl and silver wing;
    Your robes are green and purple--there's a crest upon your head;
    Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead.'

    Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,
    Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
    With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew,
    Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue;
    Thinking only of her crested head--poor foolish thing! At last,
    Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast.
    He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
    Within his little parlour--but she ne'er came out again!

    And now, dear little children who may this story read,
    To idle, silly, flattering words, I pray you ne'er give heed:
    Unto an evil counselor close heart, and ear, and eye,
    And take a lesson from this tale of the Spider and the Fly.

    ~ Mary Howitt


      Mary Howitt (12 March 1799 – 30 January 1888) was an English poet, and author of the famous poem The Spider and the Fly. She was born Mary Botham at Coleford, in Gloucestershire, the temporary residence of her parents, while her father, Samuel Botham, a prosperous Quaker of Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, was looking after some mining property. Samuel had married his wife Ann in South Wales in 1796 when he was 38 and she was 32. They had four children Anna, Mary, Emma and Charles. Their Queen Anne house is now known as Howitt Place.[3]

      Mary Botham was educated at home, and read widely; she commenced writing verses at a very early age.[1] Together with her husband she wrote over 180 books.[4] ...

      The rest of the article, which is well worth reading may be found by Googling Mary Howitt.

  3. Brown recluse infestation reminds me of Congress. Once you get scallywags in the House and Senate, it is near impossible to get rid of them.

  4. ______ THE SPIDER BY THE GWYDER ______

    By the sluggish river Gwyder lived a wicked red-back spider
    And he was just as vicious as could be
    And the place that he was camped in, was a rusty Jones's jam tin,
    In the paddock by the showgrounds at Moree.

    Near him lay a shearer snoozing, he'd been on the beer and boozing,
    All the night before and all the day,
    And the kooking of the kookers and the noisy showground spruikers,
    Failed to raise him from the trance in which he lay.

    When a crafty looking spieler with a dainty looking sheila,
    Came along collecting wood to make a fire,
    Said the spieler, "There's a boozer, and he's going to be a loser,
    If he isn't, you can christen me liar.

    Wriggle round a keep nit honey, while I pan the mug for money,
    And we'll have some little luxuries for tea."
    But she answered, "Don't be silly, you go back and boil the billy,
    You can safely leave the mug to little me."

    She circled ever nearer, till she reached the dopey shearer,
    With his pockets bulging, fast asleep and snug,
    But she didn't see the spider that was lurking there beside her,
    For her mind was on the money and the mug.

    Now the spider wanted dinner, he was daily growing thinner,
    He'd been fasting, was as hollow as an urn,
    She eyed the bulging pocket, he just darted like a rocket,
    And bit the sheila on the stern.

    Like a flash she raced off squealing, and her clothes began unpeeling,
    While to hear her yell would make you feel folorn,
    On the bite one hand was pressing, while the other was undressing,
    And she reached the camp the same as she was born.

    The shearer pale and haggard woke, and back to town he staggered,
    He caught the train and gave the booze a rest,
    But he'll never know a spider that was camping at the Gwyder,
    Had saved him sixty-seven of the best

    ~ from Australia

  5. Her lover sat beside her
    In the garden glider,
    Then started to deride her
    But an itsy bitsy spider
    Made a move both bold and stunning
    She bit him on the cheek
    Causing him to shriek.
    It sent him running.
    Wasn’t that cunning?

    ~ Old Artesian Folk Song

  6. The spider holds a Silver Ball
    In unperceived Hands--
    And dancing softly to Himself
    His Yarn of Pearl--unwinds--

    He plies from Nought to Nought--
    In unsubstantial Trade--
    Supplants our Tapestries with His--
    In half the period--

    An Hour to rear supreme
    His Continents of Light--
    Then dangle from the Housewife's Broom--
    His Boundaries--forgot--

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

  7. "Brown recluse infestation reminds me of Congress"

    Yes and the Black Widow reminds me of Hillary!

    1. HIllary? She's just a dreary old dyke with a voice like the Wicked Witch of the West. A One Woman Horror Show -- and she doesn't even need to use makeup. Her Heinous is a Hideous Hag.

  8. If you want to live and thrive,
    Let the spider stay alive.

    ~American Quaker Saying

    1. Pretty beneficial in keeping insect populations down.

      Can't say they bother me except for the occasional news story when
      someone finds a black widow in the grapes at the Stop & Shop.

    2. Duck,
      Pretty beneficial in keeping insect populations down.

      My outlook too.

      I also feed the birds here. A little inconvenient bird poop is a small price to pay so as to keep down the population of mosquitoes.

  9. "If you want to live and thrive"; squash Hillary!

  10. FT,
    I know that Howitt poem, of course. But until now, I was unaware of the other spider poems. Thanks for posting them.

  11. Funny, I just walked up to a friends' and told her I'd seen a quite large black spider on the sidewalk with a big red dot on its back. UGLY. I'm not fond of them.
    I will say that ANTS are little geniuses...something I learn every year in Santa Monica when it's been TOO hot and dry for FAR too long, which it certainly has been this year. Suddenly, I get them in one bathroom and, sometimes, the kitchen...looking for water. Did you know that you can kill a very large bunch of them with Windex (okay, I didn't have ant spray!) and an hour or two later, you'll go look for the bodies and they're GONE? Ants come tote them away to some ant burial ground! AMAZING...all GONE.
    And they will trot along and see your hand or a towel and run the other way, etc.....anybody who says ants are stupid hasn't watched ants for long! (WHO KNEW?)
    But I digress...............as usual!

    1. Z,
      Was that a Black Widow Spider?


      I recommend Terro for ant problems in the house. Effective and inexpensive!

    2. I thought it was but my friend (with 2 small children) had one IN her house this week and said her neighbor came and said it was a tree spider? They googled and confirmed that. TERRO, huh? Thanks!
      We finally had some professional spray outside and it worked pretty quickly.

  12. Of course spiders are smart. They have book lungs
    *sorry-couldn't resist*

  13. I don't have a lot of thoughts about spiders, but thought I'd mention that Hummingbirds use spider web strands to strenghten their nests, which are also quite ornate and small. Too small for the typical 2 offspring. One way to get them out of the house I guess.

    1. Kid,
      Hummingbirds use spider web strands to strenghten their nests.

      How about that?

      I have seen only one hummingbird nest, which was built on my cousin's window ledge; her house bordered a forest.. The nest had two tiny eggs therein.

      I'm thinking about putting up a hummingbird feeder in the spring. Apparently, those feeders almost always attract hummingbirds.

    2. AOW. Search youtube for "hand feeding hummingbirds" - Anyway, if they're in your area, just get a feeder and sugar water is all you need. Hummingbird food will add some color if you prefer.

      When I lived in Tempe, Az, there was a hummingbird nest outside my office window. Nice single level bank of suites and offices. The hummers like to build their nests on hanging vines type foliage.
      This nest was a cross hatch of brown and bright green material - like a checkerboard design. We put a big sign above it for the landscapers to not disturb.
      Then the babies were about ready to fly, they were stuck out of the nest in either direction screaming (not screaming but visual) at each other to give them some elbow room. Seriously.

      Tuscon has some good hummingbird encounters if you're ever down there.

    3. Kid,
      I will search YouTube as you indicated in your comment above. Thanks.

  14. Finally! One of my non-political posts gets several comments!

    Thanks, all.

  15. PS, I've also seen them "hunting". They'll get low to the ground where there is a collection of leaves, and drop a foot or so almost to the leaves to blow some out of the way with the air disruption from their wings. They're looking for small insects hiding under the leaves. Fascinating birds.

    1. Kid,
      They'll get low to the ground where there is a collection of leaves, and drop a foot or so almost to the leaves to blow some out of the way with the air disruption from their wings.

      Really? I'm going to look around carefully. The leaves are starting to pile up here.

  16. This was really interesting. And your picture looks much like one I took from my kitchen window. It was a year we actually had a lot of rain. And that web held up and the spider trolled all the time.

    Wonder how the hummingbirds get unstuck from web debris? I have a teeny nest in my apple tree that I can see up close, and now I understand how they can keep such a bitty thing held together. We had two in that thimble.

    1. Baysider,
      We have spider webs all over the place here -- mostly outside.

      And, yes, those webs hold up even in the rain. The wind does more damage, though.


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