Our concern is with the habits and modes of life of spiders—especially of such as are most frequently met with and most easily recognised, and the reader, especially if he is fortunate enough to spend an occasional holiday in southern Europe, will find little in the following pages which he cannot verify—or disprove—by his own observations.
Indeed the hope that some of his readers may be induced to investigate on their own account has actuated the writer throughout, and has led him to lay considerable stress upon the methods of research and the ingeniously devised experiments by means of which whatever knowledge we possess has been obtained.
A Survey of the Field
There are certain days of the year when the immense wealth of spider industry going on all around us is revealed in a way calculated to strike even the least observant. We all know—and derive no peculiarly pleasant thrill from the knowledge—that we can, if so minded, find abundance of cobwebs and their occupants by visiting the cellar or the tool-house; and probably we have all at times noticed, with a languid interest, large circular webs on our favourite rose-bushes, with a spider motionless in the centre.
But some spring or autumn morning, when the night has been foggy and the sun has only just succeeded in dispersing the mists, every bush and hedge is seen to be draped, every square foot of lawn and meadow to be carpeted with spiders’ silk. There has been no special activity in the domain of these creatures, but every silken line is beaded with drops perhaps fifty times its diameter, and what yesterday required careful observation to detect is now visible yards away, and we realise for once something of the prodigious activity constantly going on though ordinarily unnoted.
And it never entirely ceases. True hibernation, if it ever occurs, is not the rule among spiders, and there is no time of the year when some species may not be found at work. Beat trees or bushes over an old umbrella, or sweep grass and herbage with a sweeping net in summer, and you will never draw a blank—some spiders are sure to be found. In winter such measures are profitless, but if you take the trouble to grub among ground vegetation, or shake fallen leaves over a newspaper, or search under stones or logs of wood you will have no difficulty in finding spiders enough, and by no means dormant. I have even seen an enthusiastic collector remove inches of snow and disinter rare species from among the roots of the grass beneath!