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  • Writer's pictureJohn R

Bugs Buddies

Industrious creepy crawlies act as if the garden is their own private domain. Well, it is.

At our house, everything is connected. Literally. Thanks to Pholcus phalangioides.

The work ethic of Pholcus phalangioides—aka the daddy long-legs spider—is impressive, especially for those of us who aren’t big fans of work ethics (hand raised here). Like a lot of creatures with itty bitty brains (hand raised here—haha just kidding; my brain’s not that small) Pholcus phalangioides is a paragon of single-minded dedication, which in this case means building webs and then spending a lifetime eating whatever flies, crawls, and blunders into them.

Actually, “brain” might be too generous—let’s revise to simple cluster of nerve cells. But don’t be fooled: daddy long-legs has plenty of guile. In fact, at this very moment a battalion of Pholcus phalangioides is planning to enclose our entire property in sticky, stringy webs.

Daddy long-legs is a gangly critter, with legs that can be a cartoonish ten times the length of its body. Perched on its spindly supports, with its multi-eyed bod pod hunkered down in the midst of all that legginess, it’s the poster child for creepy. This is the kind of spider that lurks in shadows and nooks and crannies, the kind of spider that when you see it you go, Oh shit! Spider!

Okay, not actually sticky. The webbing of daddy long-legs doesn’t have the adhesive properties that the webbing of most other types of spiders has got. Instead, daddy long-legs creates an ungainly mess of webbing that hangs loosely from whatever it’s attached to (whether this is due to a genetic Pholcus phalangioides imperative or the fact that these particular spiders are hugely uncoordinated on account of they can’t see their feet because all eight feet are way the fuck out there, we might never know).

These goofy, haphazard webs have none of the spiral elegance of the classic spider’s web. Nevertheless, they’re effective, and prey of all kinds blunder in, no doubt stupefied by the unnatural mess. Daddy long-legs have voracious appetites for all kinds of tasty morsels, including other Pholcus phalangioides, and webs are festooned with the sucked-out husks of ants, gnats, and relatives. When disturbed they bounce up and down on their webs, nobody knows why, a tendency that earns them the nickname, “bouncing spider.”

Possibly (me thinking out loud here) they bounce around because they're excited by the prospect of copulation (fun fact: males donate sperm via the ends of their feet, and probably with not a lot of grace). Hey, are those bulges in your eight tiny Adidas or are you glad to see me?

At our property daddy long-legs are prolific, and along about mid-June our house, shed, patio furniture, bicycles, the overturned wheelbarrow (which can stay that way as far as I’m concerned because there’s probably very disturbing things going on under there), and any tools that someone neglected to put away (hand raised here) are festooned with glistening threads and flaccid webbing that undulates in passing breezes.

There’s webbing that ties the shed to the house, a span of about twelve feet. Really? How do they do that? Crawl down the side of the shed, amble across the pathway, then climb up the house siding, all the while trailing a interminable thread out their ass? Climbing just high enough so that when they reel in the slack, the resulting strand is exactly at my face level? Then do they zip line back to the starting point, still trailing ass silk, and do it all over again so that the next morning as I walk innocently between the house and the shed to search for some tool I forgot to put away I walk directly through a webbing matrix (because it’s not easy to see while you’re texting), and it wraps across my nose and ears and I have that reflexive revulsion that blundering into a web seems to universally cause especially when you get it wrapped around face parts and my hands jerk up and the phone goes twirling away and falls face-down on the one prominent pebble in the pathway and cracks the glass?

Spider, one. Homeowner, zero.

A trio fo DDLs (there's a little one toward the upper right) hanging out, literally, awaiting the next tasty bug to blunder into their corner of the universe.

Pholcidae are found throughout the world (especially our property). They are fond of dark, out-of-the-way places, a tendency that gives them yet another nickname, “cellar spider.” Whatever you call them, they can scamper with maddeningly agility when you try to swat them with an old toilet brush take it on my good authority and what in the world is this old toilet brush still doing here in the garage when it was supposed to have been thrown out like years ago?

It’s not that I have an anti-spider stance per se. I have no issue with spiders doing their spidery thing. They eat bugs; they don’t necessarily want to eat humans. I get it. In fact, the world's spiders eat up to an estimated 880 million tons or more of other bugs each year. How much of that is their cannibalized fellows is difficult to say, let's just figure that the total is about equal to a baby giraffe per year per spider. They’re beneficial. They’re our friends. Applause. But for me it’s more about with whether our property is going to look like it’s been draped in cheesecloth or have a measure of self-respect, which it certainly could use.

So about mid-June I get a broom and clean away the webs until the bristle end looks like a little tornado of white cotton candy.

Let’s get real: spiders have been around for about 380 million years—all that time to develop their sneaky little neural-cluster brains. They're well-adapted to take on just about any challenge you can throw at them, which includes a homeowner flailing around with a broom or toilet brush.

So every year about end of June they come back. Bigger, stronger, more robust than before, no doubt the sudden removal of their habitat precipitates a frantic web-manufacturing backlash. They re-spin in their favorite haunts, especially under the eaves where rafter tails meet fascia. They’re just crazy for rafter tails and fascia. They moor a bicycle, garden hose, rake, and six-foot ladder to the side of the shed. They bind overturned buckets to gas meters, chairs to outdoor tables, outdoor tables to nearby trees. They catch more bugs. They eat like medieval kings, which is to say with abandon and not a high regard for table manners. Empty bug carcasses flutter in the breezes.

DLL love hanging out in the shed rafter tails.

For now, it’s détente. I got other things to do, like get that toilet brush into the garbage and peel the webbing off the end of the broom because that stuff did not make Deb a fan of my Pholcus phalangioides removal methods. Meanwhile, our yard is relatively mosquito-free, thanks in part to the diligent work of daddy long-legs.

Soon there will be warm spring days and we'll move outside into a season yet too young for webbiness where we'll enjoy a few well-deserved moments of curb appeal.

By the way, we also have black widows. But that’s another story.

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