Friday, October 03, 2008

Charlotte A. Cavatica

"And so, talking to herself, the spider worked at her difficult task. When it was completed, she felt hungry. She ate a small bug that she had been saving. Then she slept. Next morning, Wilbur arose and stood beneath the web. He breathed the morning air into his lungs. Drops of dew, catching the sun, made the web stand out clearly. When Lurvy arrived with breakfast, there was the handsome pig, and over him, woven neatly in block letters, was the word TERRIFIC. Another miracle."

Late in August, summer before last, some of you may remember, I discovered a very large spider residing in a window well outside our basement. Her huge web was a true traditional spider web round and perfect, the kind one always imagines and artists always draw. She was shy and a champion at avoiding my camera lens. Once it was determined she was not a poisonous spider, I stopped fearing her and just settled down to enjoy her work. We dubbed her Charlotte despite the fact that she turned out to be a "cat faced spider" instead of a common barn spider. We enjoyed her giant webs throughout the summer and it was with great joy we discovered our Charlotte had an egg sack tucked into one of the corrugated valleys of the window well. Our Charlotte guarded her "magnum opus" with uncommon bravery, and as the days grew shorter she could often been seen basking in the late day sun, obviously languishing as summers glory faded.

Charlotte I

Our local butterfly and insect museum said cat faced spiders were uncommon in our area, and they would love it if we would bring her in and donate her to the museum. Summer was ending, and she would die shortly anyway. We could not bear to separate Charlotte from the eggs she had guarded so fiercely all summer, and felt she deserved to live out her days free. Charlotte lived long past the expiration date given by the museum, surviving snows in October and November. The last time I'd seen her she was faded and weak, huddled in the folds of the metal. After one particularly brutal storm in late November, she simply disappeared. Her final web fell into tatters and the window well was overrun with disgusting Daddy Long Legs and other insects who no longer feared to venture there.

That was the winter of the great snow that crippled Denver for a week, and it seemed as though the snow storms would never stop coming, and we feared for the little egg sac buried so long in frozen ice. Spring came but we never saw any baby spiders, the egg sac still remained moored, dirty, gray and sadly vacant. We mourned the loss of not only Charlotte but the babies she had worked so hard to preserve.

Summer passed without the discovery of any spiders as wonderful as our Charlotte and despite some pretty terrific webs and promising spiders, nothing resembling her beauty nor the breadth of her web has ever come to grace our house again. Then in May, as Beth and I potted plants and hung baskets in the courtyard we made a discovery. A small spider and a perfectly formed round web had taken up residence in the corner of our front porch. The spider was obviously not one of the kind we typically see, and the web design looked very familiar. I was positive it was another cat face, but Beth wasn't so sure.

"It does look similar, but this spider is so small in comparison to Charlotte, she was really big."

"But, I didn't discover Charlotte until August, maybe this is a baby. It has the same brown and white striped legs and the abdomen is shaped the same. Maybe it is a male. Aren't male spiders smaller than their female counterparts?"


Well, that small spider was a baby, and she has continued to grow all summer long and her web right along with it. It is a cat faced spider and a female, as the "cat ears" soon became quite visible on the rear. Could this be our Charlotte's granddaughter? In fact, could she be her daughter? I recalled a sunny day in early spring, when I had rounded the corner past Charlotte's window well taking out the garbage, and had run smack into a thin strand of web and noticed several more in the air and on the fence. I had immediately recalled the scene in the film Charlottes Web when the baby spiders emerged and launched themselves into the air. The phenomenon is called "ballooning" and I had walked right into it. I searched, but couldn't find any spiders. I went about my business thinking about what a coincidence that it had happened on the very spot our Charlotte had laid her own eggs.

But was it a coincidence? We'd had a terrible winter that year. The following spring and summer were cold and wet. The following winter was equally bad. This spring however, had been exceptional, perfect even. Was it possible the eggs had laid there fallow, waiting all this time? The egg sac had remained glued to its spot looking exactly the same as always. Once we knew for sure that this new spider was in fact another Charlotte, Beth got curious and went to check the egg sac. It was gone, the remaining webbing empty and bedraggled. Could it be? I'd need a spider expert to say for sure.

One Half of a Web

With much more scope for the imagination than her mother had in the window well, this Charlotte spreads her webs over the entire porch corner and connects them to the hanging baskets below and on either side of her. This corner is very protected, in even the worst of winds, rain or snow, this little area surrounding our front door remains sheltered and clear. Even in the gustiest of winds, her web rocks back and forth with the baskets, but the web anchor strands remain strong. The web is always full of gnats and moths, and we have witnessed her gobbling down freshly caught fly on several occasions. No saving them up for later, this Charlotte is a vicious and bloodthirsty killer who devours these choice specimens before our eyes. She is an extraordinarily huge spider in comparison to her mother, probably due to her exceptional diet, and her abdomen is easily the size of a dime.

Photos of Charlotte II have been impossible because she prefers to stay curled up in her corner, sleeping away her days, and only venturing out in the darkness to make repairs to her web. As dusk falls she creeps out to bounce in the web's center, see the sun go down and watch us water the flowers. It has only been the lightening quick wolfing down of those fresh kills that has garnered us much of a look at her.

"Far into the night, while the other creatures slept, Charlotte worked on her web. First she ripped out a few of the orb lines near the center. She left the radial lines alone, as they were needed for support. As she worked, her eight legs were a great help to her. So were her teeth. She loved to weave and she was an expert at it. When she was finished ripping things out, her web looked something like this:"

It has become a ritual for me to check on her each morning and see her fresh web glistening in the morning sun. New and perfect, free from bugs, it sits poised for a new days catch. Each morning I expect to find "Some Pug" woven into the intricate design. Sadly, neither of our Charlotte's has been a writer.

But now it is fall, and the pots must be emptied and the fountain put to bed for the winter. I carefully and very reluctantly removed the one strand of webbing anchored to the last hanging basket so I could remove it. The web instantly collapsed and I was overcome with guilt. After a night of magic and spinning, I went to fetch the milk and looked up to see Charlotte's new web. Anchored to each side of the L shaped porch roof and eaves, it sits like a trampoline, and I can look up directly at it. Since I had the ladder out so I could reach the hanging planters, I decided it was time for Charlotte to give it up for a photo shoot.

Charlotte II

This Charlotte A. Cavatica, is unfortunately not as beautiful as her mother, Her coloring is much lighter, the exact shade of our house paint, probably a protective measure provided by nature. And because of this coloration, she lacks the definitive markings that complete the cat face on her rear. She does have the same long delicate hairy legs striped in brown and cream, and sharp beady dark eyes, and like her mother she is shy and quiet. Reclusive.

A Full Web

To date there is no egg sac, at least not one we can see tucked anywhere. Perhaps Charlotte II will die an old maid, ending her mother's legacy. I hope not. I hope that come next spring babies will once again launch into the air and when one hatchling asks what was my mother's middle initial, Wilbur can answer A for Arania and that baby will choose to stay behind, finding the porch an ideal spot for catching flies. Perhaps she will even become a writer....


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