If I see a spider in my house, I put it in a cup, and then I take it outside . . .
🌿 🌿 🌿
I head outdoors after dark. It is a fascinating time to be in the woods for one never knows what one might see or hear. During these nocturnal outings, I have had some exciting meetings. I’ve been alarmed by bear, spooked by deer, surprised by skunk, startled by mice, amused by frogs, buzzed by bats, charmed by flying squirrels, eerily eyed by a queen hornet, delighted by a screech owl, and captivated by coyote song, and the list goes on . . .
Of course, not all encounters involve big animals. Much of the time what I find are insects, especially arachnids. One I think is as creepy as it is fascinating is the ill-tempered hacklemesh weaver (Callobius bennetti), also called hackledmesh weaver, night spider or tangled nest spider. Chris and I simply call them “Big Ugly’s.”
The hacklemesh weaver is a large and fleshy, reddish-brown spider that has a leg span about the diameter of a quarter. This spider makes its home outside underneath rocks and wood debris, as well as around porch lights, door frames, and windows. In winter, they sometimes try to sneak indoors, so I am always watchful when opening doors.
The first time I saw a hacklemesh was during our years in the city where I’d find them under the rocks in our urban garden. I had no idea what kind of spider it was, except that it was big, reddish-brown, and sometimes aggressive. Females are most aggressive. When threatened or provoked, she’ll turn her body towards you, all the while watching with eight eyes arranged in a deceiving smily face fashion. She can, and will, lunge forward, and sometimes won’t back down. Her bite, so I’ve heard, is painful, but not deadly. Males are also large, but have a slimmer build, and a better temperament. Mature males are easy to recognize because of their large pedipalps that look like big fangs. The pedipalps are used for transferring sperm. After mating, the male dies—a common fate among male arachnids.
Signs of the hacklemesh are easy to recognize from the messy webs it makes. Whether on the house siding or under rocks and other debris, its web is irregular shaped, and has a poorly defined tube it uses for its retreat.
The hacklemesh has a fierce appetite. Unlike other spiders that hide when a light is on them, the hacklemesh is fearless. When hunting, it likes to ambush its prey, not sit in its designer web waiting for something to fly into it. To catch prey, the hacklemesh hides inside its tube webbing, or waits near its web ready to pounce on an unsuspecting victim. When an insect comes within striking distance, or triggers one of the silk tripwires, the hacklemesh reacts quickly.
One night, while watching the clumsy flight of a Matthew’s ghost moth (Gazoryctra mathewi), I watched it land near the porch light. All of a sudden, a hacklemesh darted from its hiding place, grabbed the moth, and swiftly pulled it into its lair. It happened so fast, had I blinked, I would have missed it.
Recently, I had the good fortune of seeing two hacklemesh weavers simultaneously ambush their prey. November is when we see an increase of harvestmen (Opiliones) an order of spider (and one of my favorites) often called daddy-long-legs; a harmless, beneficial creature that scavenge decaying plant and animal matter, and feeds on small insects. On this particular night, the air was damp and humid from rains that had fallen some days earlier; a soupy combination that harvestmen like, and they were on the move.
In the porch lights glow, I spotted a harvestman walking across the stepping-stones. The stones, once snuggly fit, now have gaps between them, and spiders live in these gaps. In summer, when I wash the stones with the hose, spiders crawl out and run as fast as their eight legs can carry them.
As the harvestman made its way across the stones, I admired the ease in which it carried itself on its long, flowing legs. It was then the unexpected happened. A hacklemesh lurched from between the stones, and seized the harvestman. There was a brief struggle at which time a second hacklemesh seized a second harvestman. It was like an instant replay. The harvestmen struggled, but were quickly subdued. They could not escape the grasp and bite of the hacklemesh weaver.
Thank you for reading Nature Chronicles.
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