The Ultimate Spinner - Spiders

Living in one of the biodiversity hotspots – the Western Ghats – has led its residents relish and preserve the rich ecosystems of their homes. It is here that I dwell, one among the many nature enthusiasts who wonder in awe at the rich biodiversity of this complicated and conflicted land. Out of all the varieties of mammals, birds, butterflies, beetles, ants and bees, et cetera; we have a good diversity of spiders too. Unfortunately, very few dwell in to see spiders up-close and those who do, are undeniably in love with them. Let us dive in the world of these eight legged freaks, the stars of Arachnophobia and the horrid eight eyed venomous creeps which ought to be known well to be named as these.

Spiders are small and big, much tough, hairy and just like insects so why aren’t they insects? Well, spiders have eight legs and either six or eight eyes (every eye called an ocelli). Apart from these usual traits that make up a spider – they also have venom glands & fangs and spinnerets that spin webs. All these characters are typical of spider family and no insect possess these characters wholly although Spiders are considered distant relatives of insects.

Spiders are therefore, unique and fall in the Class of Arachnida – which is shared by ten other odd creatures that roam the earth. To name a few – scorpions, harvestmen, Solifugids and Whip scorpions etc, out of which the Order of Araneae where spiders are placed is the most diverse with as many as 108 families! India has about 59 families, that’s about 54.6% of all. This diversity is undoubtedly rich and thriving. With large tarantulas such as Indian Ornamental Tarantula (Theraphosidae) to the small Tiny House Dwellers (Oceobiidae), we are lucky to share our backyards with these creatures.

Lucky?! Someone may think, but yes, fortunate – for they are very much important to us as they are to the ecosystem. They keep your surrounding clean – eating the mosquitoes and other pests – and keep their population under check. Surprisingly, they also feed on other spiders (most of the females feed on male spiders too!) thus keeping their own population under control! Albeit their commonness, they are yet less understood.

Spiders have roamed this planet for millions of years, and have evolved into one of the supreme predators that exist. They hunt solitarily, and also in groups; they also use weapons and stealth for hunting. And besides being a good hunter, some even feed on plant matter such as nectar! These characters of the spiders are so overwhelming that scientists presume to discover more secrets about spiders. Apart from their morphology, they also hold great value and power in mythology.

Spiders have been focus of fears, malice and painful death (for the possession of venom). They are said to have the ability to create their own world (actually, built by a web). An interesting myth about spiders would be the story of Arachne. The origin of the spider is the story of the weaving competition between the Greek goddess Athena and the princess Arachne. This fable was added much later to the Greek mythos when Ovid wrote the poem Metamorphoses between AD 2-8. Arachne was the daughter of a famous Tyrian purple dyer in Hypaipa of Lydia. Due to her father's skill with cloth dying, Arachne was adept in the art of weaving. Eventually, she began to consider herself a greater weaver than the goddess Athena herself and challenged the goddess to a weaving contest to prove her skill. Athena wove the scene of her victory over Poseidon that had inspired her patronage of Athens, while Arachne wove a tapestry featuring twenty-one episodes of infidelity amongst the Gods of Olympus, which angered Athena. The goddess conceded that Arachne's weaving was flawless but she was infuriated by the mortal's pride. In a final moment of anger, Athena destroyed Arachne's tapestry and loom with her shuttle. Out of sadness, Arachne hung herself soon after. Taking pity on her, Athena transformed her into a spider before the princess could kill herself. Athena made sure that the spider retained Arachne's weaving abilities. The Greek Arachne means "spider". In the Vedic philosophy of India, the spider is depicted as hiding the ultimate reality with the veils of illusion.

They have been here before our ancestors roamed this planet. They have captured the hearts of legendary empires and are at the heart of some legends. Let us treat them with some respect. A little space for them will only mean good luck to you, for every spider you kill; you invite bad luck towards you. In other words, a good population of spiders means a pest-free home! On a broader sense, a good population of spiders means a healthy ecosystem!

Pictures on the right:
1. Green Lynx Spider (Oxyopidae) male - Peucetia viridians
2. Crab Spider (Thomisidae) feeding on Shield Bug
3. Tent Spider (Araneidae) in its Tent shaped web

Pictures on the left:
1. Wandering Spider (Ctenidae)
2. Tunnel-sheet Spider (Lycosidae)
3. Long-jawed Orb Weaver (Tetragnathidae)
4. Garden Orb Weaver (Araneidae) - Neoscona crucifera preying on C. servilia (female)

Some common spiders in and around us:
1. Huntsman Spider carrying eggsac. Spiders show serious parental care.
2. White Lynx Spider - O. shweta protecting its eggsac.
3. An unidentified spider protecting its eggsac.
4. The Spiderlings of the previous spider. Notice how they clutter together. They wouldnt leave the web for few days. When threatened, they hang low from the "nest" and come back to the same position after a while.
5. Cyclosa sp. belonging to Araneidae, it is an Orb-weaver. Peculiar character would be collecting debri such as small particles, stamens, seeds, etc. and hiding between them for camouflage.

The web of the Cyclosa sp.

6. Crab Spider resting under Tridax inflorescence. Crab Spiders have excellent camouflage colours.

7. Signature Spider - Argiope sp. seen here feeding on Yellow Orange Tip butterfly. Spiders are master hunters and Orb Weavers have mastered the art of trapping prey in their orb-shaped webs.

8. Crab Spider - seen here feeding on Common Emigrant. Crab Spiders are ambush predators. They await a prey (usually an insect) 'neath flowers and make a surprise attack.

9. Jumping Spider (Salticidae) have excellent eyesight. This spider (picture below) caught this fly as soon as it took off. The fly struggled enough to free itself but the spider was able to hang onto it - thanks to the strong fibre of the silk.

10. Green Lynx Spider - Peucetia viridians preying on Neoscona crucifera. Spiders do hunt other spiders, and may display cannibalism.

Of course these are not the only ones seen around us. There are many more in fact a hell lot of them but this place is just too small to put 'em in.

Came across this old rhyme online - "If you wish to live and thrive, let a spider run alive."

Flutter By

A butterfly is seen as a personification of a person’s soul – whether they are living, or dead, according to a Japanese legend, and indeed it is for only those who marvel at their charm as they flutter by know well. A delicately crafted butterfly from a chrysalis is one of the finest creations of nature. Let us dive into a rational world of these marvels, far from the scientific mind-boggling terms that hold utmost importance but not the delicacy of these intricately-designed-beauties as we ought to perceive.

How do they get their rainbow colors, you ask? One mythology expresses it in the best way to suit human nature! According to this myth, the Creator felt sorry for the children when he realized that their destiny was to grow old and become wrinkled, fat, blind and weak. Hence, he gathered beautiful colors from various sources such as the sunlight, leaves, flowers, and the sky. These colors were put into a magical bag and presented to the children. When the bag was opened by the children, colored butterflies flew out, enchanting the children who had never seen anything so beautiful. Interestingly, the butterflies also sang which further delighted the children. However, songbirds complained to the Creator because they were jealous that butterflies were both so beautiful and could sing like birds. Hence, the Creator withdrew the ability to sing from butterflies. And, hence butterflies are so beautifully colored, but are now silent.

Whether you live in a huddled city or countryside, you will have a glimpse of a butterfly flutter by and if you are lucky, it might just land in your balcony – on your rose plant, or the tube light! With an uninvited guest at your house – even if you do not know what it’s called – you sure would enjoy its company – and perhaps offer it a drop of sugary water! According to Japanese mythology, if a butterfly visits your guestroom, a person whom you most love is coming to see you – so you might welcome this uninvited guest with some honey!

Superstitions apart, but who wouldn’t want a cute little visitor that demands nothing but a place in your house or rather some sympathy in your heart? Some understanding that demands less than what you consume – that it was their haven before, now we are here. Now they adjust to our habitat. There was once a time, not a hundred years ago – when butterflies now seen only in forest pockets fluttered freely in our cities. All that has changed, but it can still be reversed – as your balcony has the potential as much as a butterfly garden, what needs to be done is plantation of indigenous-butterfly-attracting-plants!

Only then will you witness the greatest ever accomplishment of nature – metamorphosis. Born out of the chrysalis, and from a spiny many-legged caterpillar – butterflies are a symbol of rebirth, regeneration and happiness according to one legend and to think in a rational way – it indeed is true! With so many legends, stories and poems written over years for these little flutter by’s, you and I can do much more than be mesmerized by their beauty.

What we need is a little space for them in our backyards or balcony to attract them with the fragrance of our garden. Again, you need not be an expert but a nature-lover, for only those who appreciate the true nature of nature, understands the reason behind the existence of every living creature!

List of Garden Plants to attract butterflies in India:
1. Lantana camara (exotic species)
2. Tridax procumbens
3. Bryophyllum
4. Lemon
5. Curry leaf
6. Achyranthus aspera
7. Alternenthera sessilis
8. Hibiscus cannabinus
9. Ageratum conyzoides
10. Canna indica
11. Duranta plumeri
12. Mussanda frondosa
13. Sida acuta
14. Ixora coccinia
15. Ipomea nil

Butterflies on the right:

1. Common Jezebel
2. Common Silverline
3. Red Pierrot
4. Common Grass Yellow

Butterflies on the left:

1. Psyche
2. Lime Blue
3. Tailed Jay