Writer E.B. White was the best press agent spiders ever had. A couple of generations of children and adults have fallen in love with Charlotte, the gentle spider of Zuckerman's barn, and mourned her death at the end of White's book, Charlotte's Web.
But White, a graceful naturalist, pulled no punches. His spider biology was impeccable. Charlotte's final weaving job was to create an egg sac with 514 eggs in it.
"I'm done for," Charlotte tells Wilbur, her pig friend. "In a day or two I'll be dead." And she was, but with hope for the future of spiders in her egg sac.
Charlotte was a typical spider in that she had a one-year life span. Most spiders overwinter as eggs, then hatch in the spring, develop through the summer, mate and lay eggs in the fall then, like Charlotte, die.
Spiders give most people the creeps, but they're a mixed bag, like human beings and most other creatures.
Most spiders are venomous, but only a couple of Missouri spiders have a venom dangerous to humans-the black widow and brown recluse. Some spiders will bite if threatened, but most are harmless to humans and are beneficial (even the venomous ones) because they eat harmful insects.
Jumping spiders, for example, prey on flies, while other spiders kill cockroaches and various mites. I like jumping spiders, pert and compact little fellows with personality.
If a human could jump proportionally to a jumping spider, he or she would be weighted down with Olympic gold medals.
Most spiders have eight eyes, and the jumping spiders have the best eyesight of all. A closeup look at one reveals a bright-eyed face. They're cute, if any spider can be called cute.
I also like wolf spiders, gray and ominous. They are predators, stalking and killing other insects, and I like to believe that some of the insects they kill are ones I don't want around, maybe even brown recluses.
I won't molest a wolf spider in our house. If there is too much unease (Oh! Get rid of that awful thing!), I'll scoop it up and dump it out the door, but I'd rather it was silently stalking unseen pests, like a tiny soldier of fortune.
Everyone knows (or should) that spiders are not insects, but are arachnids, having eight legs instead of the common six of insects. The legs are in four sets and a spider can grow a new leg if it loses one.
Missouri has many