Inspired by Charles Darwin

Man holding newspaper in his mouth

Newspaper delivery by Gary

What am I doing with a newspaper in my mouth? Well, let me tell you… we have a long asphalt driveway. The first 50 feet or so passes through an old-field area with a mix of native and introduced plants (then it enters the woods for the next 100 yards). My wife and I had finished watering and mulching some plants we had recently installed in the old field, and we were both returning to the house. Part way down, I remembered we had forgotten to get the paper, so I returned to the mailbox. On my way back, a large wolf spider dashed out from the old field onto the driveway. This was obviously a female spider, because it had a large egg case attached to its spinnerets. I really wanted to get some photographs of this new one. Plus it had the attached egg case!

But what was I to do? The only equipment I had with me was a newspaper and the wet gloves I was wearing. I was sure if I returned to get a camera or some equipment to capture the spider, it would be long gone when I returned, because wolf spiders can really move. I had no phone to call my wife, and she was already in the house. So I needed to figure out some way to capture it, without damaging the spider or the egg case, and take it to the house.

First I tried to get it to crawl onto one of may gloved hands so I could cup the other hand over it. I could not persuade it to cooperate. I then rolled up a flier from the paper to make a tube, but it refused to enter the newspaper tunnel. Finally, I was able to persuade it to walk onto a piece of newspaper that was placed flat on the driveway. I quickly folded the newspaper up to trap the spider, but allowing plenty of space so it would not be crushed. Now I had the spider, but I had to hold the two ends of the newspaper together to prevent its escaping. However, there was an additional gap at the top of the package, and that had to be closed also.

So I held the two ends shut with my hands and put the top of the newspaper in my mouth to seal the upper escape route. I was then able to return to the house, be photographed, and establish the spider quite unharmed in an aquarium.

A wolf spider, Rabidosa rabida

A Wolf Spider, Rabidosa rabida

Here is a photograph of this gorgeous creature in its aquarium. It is Rabidosa rabida, and it has no common name. We have decided to keep it until the baby spiders emerge from the egg case, because they will remain on the mother’s body and ride around with her for some period of time. Before they dismount, we will release the whole crew back near the place where she was captured. I hope to show some of this in a future post.

The title of this post comes from a story about Charles Darwin that everyone who sits through elementary biology or reads about Darwin’s college days will encounter. Here is a quote from his autobiography.

But no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them and rarely compared their external characters with published descriptions, but got them named anyhow. I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as well as the third one.

More about wolf spiders soon.


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