The Suitcase Lady


October 11, 2016, 9:48 pm

I added a wonderful word to my vocabulary last week and simultaneously discarded a bundle of guilt. The word is subnivean which means the space in and under the snow.

I was driving home from the post office and listening to Public Radio. A short segment about spiders came on, and I, a lover of these complex little creatures, was on full alert. The speaker was a spider expert from our nearby University of Wisconsin in Green Bay.

At the same time I was getting arachnid information, my husband was up on a ladder at home washing hundreds of spider webs and egg sacs from the eaves, clapboards and windows of our house. This is an annual fall job for us, as our spider population is enormous and by autumn the results of their handiwork makes our house look haunted.

I feel sadness every time I take down the carefully wrapped egg sacs. Spiders are such diligent and skilled workers, making up to seven distinct kinds of silk for various spider jobs. However, I have also come to realize that despite our yearly cleanup, our annual spider population never seems to decline.

The spider expert on the radio explained how spiders survive the winter. Surprisingly, most egg sacs don’t make it through the winter: they freeze and turn to mush in the spring. Most of our Wisconsin spiders who live outdoors (house spiders will be a topic for another blog) make a kind of antifreeze in their tissues when the temperatures start to drop. They overwinter in tree bark, leaf litter and the subnivean space between the warmer earth and the insulating snow. Many survive to see the spring. These same spiders would die if exposed to extremely cold temperatures in summer.

I’m delighted that our fall cleanup is not hurting our spider population. Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we people species could produce our own antifreeze to ward off Arctic blasts?

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