Arabella McIntyre-Brown watches love blossom in the garden
Over the weekend I watched a feature length spectacle of romance and murder – live, right in front of me. This was X-rated stuff; all hearts and flowers for an hour, then a short and violent sex scene, with a chilling finale.
Really…. not in a nice middle class garden, please.
I was sitting in the shade, reading Sense and Sensibility again, with a long glass of melting ice at my elbow. My garden was full of stripey orb weaver spiders, their exquisite webs strung about, waiting for lunch to buzz in. One spectacular web was a good ten inches across, the main suspension cable anchored to the wall at one end and hooked to a branch of the Japanese acer about three feet away. Its creator was a huge madam, her body fully rounded, with six long elegant legs – a bit of a spider babe, if you ask me. She’d been there for at least a week and by the look of her had picked a good strategic spot to catch lunch on the wing.
All was quiet, apart from the whizzing of insects and the chatter of my blackbirds; then on the edge of my vision was movement. My big arachnid babe had a visitor – a skinny suitor, a quarter of her size, had edged along the suspension cable to the outer ring of the web. He reached out a long striped foreleg and plucked a silk string like a harpist, but he must have struck a duff note: Madam, hanging head down in the centre of her web, twitched an angry warning. Boyfriend flinched back, but after a few seconds, tried again. Softly, softly, catchee girlfriend. Another pluck of the string, another rejecting bounce from Madam.
This went on for some minutes, until Madam got used to the idea and let the seducer creep a little closer. It must have been half an hour before the brave boy got within leg’s length of his object of desire.
I was riveted, and had left Marianne and Colonel Brandon to their own devices while I watched some live action like a perv.
Then came the first moment of truth. Spiderman reached out a foreleg and with great tenderness stroked the foot of his lady love. He got bounced, but he was nothing if not persistent, and after a few seconds, he tried again. Bounced. And again. But on the fourth stroke, she sat still, and at last it looked as though he was on a promise.
For ages he stroked gently, and she let him. He edged a fraction closer, and stroked his way up her leg. Don Juan had nothing on this. Spiderman reached closer and began to stroke her body. Madam sat still, tolerating the attention, at least; one would hope she was loving it, lucky girl.
After all this seduction and foreplay, it all happened in a trice. He pounced, and the web shook violently under the strength of their passion. After half a minute, all was still again, and they seemed to be locked in post-coital exhaustion.
But then I realised she was busy. She was wrapping her lover tightly in silk: I realised with horror that he was history. She wrapped her legs around the marital bundle and settled to her cannibalistic lunch.
I couldn’t watch any more and went to make myself a cup of tea to help get over the shock. I’d thought that such brutish behaviour was the province of Black Widow Spiders, not my pretty café au lait lodgers. But it turns out that Black Widows – three species, all in North America – don’t always eat their mates and often co-habit with them. And the male British garden spider is supposed to get a leg or three over without paying the ultimate price – in fact he can have several affairs.
So it seems that it was seriously bad luck that my skinny Don SpiderJuan fell for an unusally domineering female. Perhaps his timing was off and had caught her when she was particularly hungry; there’s nothing like convenience food, after all.
I could find no definite answers as to why a spideress eats her lover; maybe the sex act hurts, and she’s getting her own back. Maybe male spiders are particularly nutritious for gestating spiderlings. Maybe it’s a deal – I’ll not shag another spiderman if I can eat you: you die, but your genes go on, guaranteed.
Just as well this behaviour doesn’t translate into human life. Think of the implications for Saturday nights: it would do the restaurant trade no good at all if all the girls brought packed dinners. Mind you, I know some men who think they’d be better off dead than wed. Isn’t nature wonderful?
First published in The North West Enquirer 2006