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Eight-Legged Friends
by [?]

In building their webs, as in many other small points, Lucy and Eliza showed from the first no inconsiderable personal differences. Lucy began hers by spinning a long line from her spinnerets, and letting the wind carry it wherever it would; while Eliza, more architectural in character, preferred to take her lines personally from point to point, and see herself to their proper fastening. In either case, however, the first thing done was to stretch some eight or ten stout threads from place to place on the outside of the future web, to act as points d’appuy for the remainder of the structure. To these outer threads, which the spiders strengthened so as to bear a considerable strain by doubling and trebling them, other thinner single threads were then carried radially at irregular distances, like the spokes of a wheel, from a point in the centre, where they were all made fast and connected together. As soon as this radiating framework or scaffolding was finished, like the woof on a loom, the industrious craftswoman started at the middle, and began the task of putting in the cross-pieces or weft which were to complete and bind together the circular pattern. These she wove round and round in a continuous spiral, setting out at the centre, and keeping on in ever-widening circlets, till she arrived at last at the exterior or foundation threads. How she fastened these cross-pieces to the ray-lines I could never quite make out, though I often followed the work closely from inside through the pane of glass with a platyscopic lens; for, strange to say, the spiders were not in the least disturbed by being watched at their work, and never took the slightest notice of anything that went on at the other side of the window. My impression is, however, that she gummed them together, letting them harden into one as they dried; for the thread itself is always semi-liquid when first exuded.

The cross-pieces, we observed from the very beginning, were invariably covered by little sparkling drops of something wet and beadlike, which at first in our ignorance we took for dew; for until I began systematically observing Lucy and Eliza, I will frankly confess I had never paid any particular attention to the spider-kind with the solitary exception of my old winter friends, the trap-door spiders of the Mediterranean shores. But, after a little experience, we soon found out that these pearly drops on the web were not dew at all, but a sticky substance, akin, to that of the web, secreted by the animals themselves from their own bodies. We also quickly discovered, coming to the observation as we did with minds unbiased by previous knowledge, that the viscid liquid in question was of the utmost importance to the spiders in securing their prey, and that unfortunate insects were not merely entangled but likewise gummed down or glued by it, like birds in bird-lime or flies in treacle. So necessary is the sticky stuff, indeed, to the success of the trap, that Lucy and Eliza used to renew the entire set of cross-pieces in the web every morning, and thus ensure from day to day a perfectly fresh supply of viscid fluid; but, so far as I could see, they only renewed the rays and the foundation-threads under stress of necessity, when the snare had been so greatly injured by large insects struggling in it, or by the wind or the gardener, as to render repairs absolutely unavoidable. The whole structure, when complete, is so beautiful and wonderful a sight, with its geometrical regularity and its beaded drops, that if it were produced by a rare creature from Madagascar or the Cape, in the insect-house at the Zoo, all the world, I’m convinced, would rush to look at it as a nine-days’ wonder. But since it’s only the trap of the common English garden spider, why, we all pass it by without deigning even to glance at it.