[Published in The Australian on April 16th, 2016]
On my recent road-trip down the NSW coast I camped for a couple of nights at beautiful Diamond Heads in Cowdry National Park. Arriving mid afternoon, having set up my little tent in a peaceful well protected area, I went exploring and found a spot at the end of a path. Perched 4 meters or so above the beach, an opening in the otherwise dense shrub, a perfect observatory.
At dusk I wandered back there to get another glimpse of the sea and the waves and a sense of the weather. Sitting down, taking in the scenery and serenity, right in front of my eyes a little spider appears, not much bigger than a fly, seemingly suspended in thin air.
We looked at each other for a few seconds, and then it kept going about it’s business, weaving a web to catch the feast of the night, no doubt. A spider-web under construction is a sight to behold, I watched in wonderment as the little spider kept going in wingless flight first to the shrub on the left, then to the right and back again, a span of 4 or 5 meters.
Coming back a fourth time, I thought, oh no, it’s falling, as it suddenly dropped to the ground. But no, this was clearly part of the design, a third anchor point established, up and down it went a few times, temporarily stopping to brace for a gust of wind.
All three anchor points now secured, Pete, as I decided to call him, started the intricate task of creating the actual web. Mesmerised, I watched as Pete went around, not in circles as you would expect, but rather followed an intricate path with no pattern that a mere human could make sense of, following instructions passed down through thousands or millions of generations via the Spider Guild.
Back and forth, up and down, retracing his steps, constantly checking joints and testing the strength of his web, all eight legs working in unison as he secreted many meters of what must be the most extraordinary rope ever made!
By the time I got up, dusk was about to turn to night, I wished Pete bon apetit as I made my way back to the tent. At the other end of the path I suddenly stopped, right in front of me was Pete’s (much) bigger brother, busy creating his own web, blocking my path. I stood there for a little while, I had to get past, there was no other way. Finally, I got down on all fours and quickly crawled underneath, as low as I could, hoping not to undo any part of the web above.
As I stood up and looked back I was relieved to see that my movement hadn’t done any damage. I got back into my tent, zipped up, hoping that Pete’s sister had not found her way under the mattress in my absence…