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The house spider’s cobwebs can last for decades

Posted in Nature, Wildlife on Thursday, 27 February 2014

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This edited article about spiders first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 572 published on 30 December 1972.

Sleeping Beauty,  picture, image, illustration

House spiders had free rein in Sleeping Beauty's castle by Jesus Blasco

In the corners of a damp, dark attic which has been almost untouched by sunlight over the years, huge cobwebs stretch from the ceiling over old wooden chairs and chests, veiling them in a shroud of silken threads.

These tangled masses of threads are the work of the house spider, who sits day after day, weaving and spinning his intricate webs of silk. Inside the spider’s body are silk glands which produce a kind of glue made from the food it has eaten. The liquid glue is forced out of its body through hundreds of tiny holes and as soon as it enters the air it immediately turns to silk. As more glue comes out of the spider’s body the strand of silk grows and grows and then floats off into the air.

As the spider spins its magical web it lies in wait for its prey. As soon as an unsuspecting insect flies by and gets entangled in the web the spider pounces on it with great ferocity and bites it with its poison fangs which instantly paralyse the unfortunate victim. Then the spider drags the limp, numb body of its prey into the web tunnel and promptly starts to feast off it.

For its size, the house spider can consume an enormous quantity of food. Any surplus food which is not needed for immediate use can be stored in tubes which open out from the intestine and this enables the spider to survive for very long periods when food is scarce.

There are a few so-called spiders which are not spiders at all. One of them is the harvestman which lives in houses. Like the house spider, it has eight legs, but it has only two eyes, while the house spider has six.

Unlike the house spider, the harvestman is not a very efficient killer. It spins no webs in which to trap its prey and has no poison fangs with which to paralyse them. So it feeds mainly on dead insects which it tears apart with its jaws.

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