The scariest arachnid of them all. Winner of Your Better Nature Contest, October 2021.
A creepy-crawly for Halloween. I can think of a few but, when I see Bob’s advertisement for this contest in the Newsfeed, I am left with only one contender. It’s Bob’s spider that reminds me of the creepiest spider of all. Bear with me as I try to communicate the true horror of these terrible spiders.
It’s the name that gives the first hint of the evil aura surrounding them. The scientists call them Trichonephilia, an extension of their earlier, even more threatening name of Nephilia. It’s just a bit too close to “necrophilia” for comfort.
That would be a little unfair, since the type is not poisonous to humans, although their bite is sufficient to kill their usual insect prey. But poison is not the reason why they are so terrible. It’s their web.
Their common name is Banded or Golden Orb Weaver. Which sounds quite pleasant, I admit. Banded and golden seems rather pretty to our ears. But not so much when you realise that the bands between the gold are black. These are the colours animals choose when wanting to warn you to give them a wide berth.
And then you see the web. It is neatly circular (hence the “orb”) and yellow in colour (the “golden” of their name). Pause a moment and think about this. It’s not many spiders that are named for the qualities of their web. Usually it’s the creature itself that suggests a descriptive name for itself. What is it about this web that deserves so much attention?
To understand this, it is necessary to have some understanding of the habitat chosen by the Orb Weaver in Africa. This spider loves those narrow bands of forest that grow alongside the rivers of the savanna. The trees grow close together in these places and the spaces between the trees are perfect for the spinning of webs. And this is where the Weavers choose to build their sticky, yellow webs.
The African Weaver is a large spider and builds a suitably large web as a result. Anything seeking to enter the narrow forest is going to meet at least one of the Weaver’s webs and that is where the horror begins.
You would think that, being so yellow and large, the web would be seen quite easily and so avoided by any human blundering between the trees to get to the river. And so it would be if only we’d pause when entering the deep shade under the trees to allow our eyes to become used to the gloom.
Nobody does so, of course. The urge to sample the cool shade of the forest is just too great after the heat and brightness of the open grassland. Even those used to the dangers of the savanna forget the Orb Weaver in their haste toward relief from the heat. Everyone stumbles blindly into the darkness of the trees and there, inevitably, they come to know (or experience yet again - I’ve done it so many times) the terror and disgust of the golden web.
You know what you have done as soon as it happens. So strong is the web that you feel it impeding your progress immediately. All other webs would break as you touch them but not this one. It holds on with a strength beyond what you would think possible. And it doesn’t let go. As you start to reverse to get away from it, you become aware that it clings to you with uncommon strength, refusing to release you. And the yellow of it enters your brain and makes you dread this type of web for the rest of your days.
Even as you begin to break free of its ghastly grasp, tearing it apart with brute strength and struggling to remove the last clinging strands, you cannot shake the knowledge that somewhere on your body, thoroughly disturbed by your struggles, is a furious, striped and vengeful spider. It’s the killer blow that decides that maybe you didn’t want to see the river anyway.
So you leave the riverine forests alone for a while, preferring to visit the river in its more open phases. Until the day you forget the Orb Weaver and decide to cool off in the forest for a change, And so the pattern is repeated.
If ever there were a spider invented for Halloween, it’s the Golden Orb Weaver. A few of those horrible, sticky webs distributed about a dark, haunted house and the shrieks and screams would multiply. I shudder even to think of those clinging, yellow strands.
Tarantulas are suitably big and hairy but you can get used to them in time. Wolf spiders will make you jump and run for your life. But the Weaver will draw you into his (or more often her - the females are the really big ones) trap, and then hold you there while it decides how to torment you forever after.
Word count: 821
For Your Better Nature Contest, Special Halloween Contest, October 2021
Prompt: A true-life adventure with one of nature's creepy-crawlies..