Of Spiders and Butterflies

by Ron Shafer

© 1998 Ron Shafer

I'm still amazed at the variety of life just outside my front door. I've developed a working relationship with several different kinds of spiders. I don't bother them and they keep my front porch area clear of mosquitoes. I even chase off wasps who come around looking for a meal for their young. I have the most recent and wonderful development of American technology, a wasp and hornet spray can with a laser sight that can hit a wasp between the eyes at a hundred yards. I am informed that the spiders appreciate this. I never "liked" spiders until Marianne Robertson's talk at an Audubon meeting last winter, and a further conversation with her at Norm's retirement party. Actually, I'm not sure I "like" them now, but I do find them interesting.
There is one, no bigger than the head of a pin, who lives near the top of one of my wind chimes. I call him the Bungee Spider. Early in the morning I've seen him quickly drop down a foot and kind of bounce up and down, then rapidly climb back up to do it over again. I'm convinced he's enjoying himself. Another lives someplace on my garage door. I call him the Rapelling Spider. He throws himself out, swings back to the door, then throws himself out again till he reaches the concrete driveway. I asked him about this and he said it saved a lot of time. I accept that. A fairly good-sized spider comes out every morning across the porch handrail to check several webs for breakfast. This morning he had mosquito.
I think what's happening here is that I like spiders outdoors. This morning I picked up my jeans to have one run out the leg. Squish! That's too close for me; however, I do like the two jumping spiders who live in the plants on the kitchen window ledge. With them around, I have no other pests. Another good working relationship. I love to watch the orb weavers in the orchard. One evening I found one of the largest orbs I had ever seen stretching between two blue spruce trees. It was a marvel of engineering, probably three to four feet across and the same from top to bottom. It may have belonged to a Golden Garden Spider. I can't recall. I'm fascinated with him outdoors, but I wouldn't want to meet him in my living room. A couple of years ago I met what Delores Logue calls a fishing spider in one of my shoes. These guys are, to put in mildly, rather large. I still shake my shoes before I put them on.
In order to see more butterflies, last year I thought about putting in a butterfly monitoring path at Calamus Lake Nature Preserve, but now I've found that all I have to do is stand on my front porch for an hour or so. I've identified twenty-three different kinds of butterflies, probably more, but I can't make the distinctions in the categories of Sulphurs, Blues, Whites, and Coppers. I've seen Giant Swallowtails before, but this summer is the first time I've seen one here. Three days ago, I saw my first Great Spangled Fritillary, although I had seen several Regal Fritillaries. I love the swallowtails--Pipevines, Blacks, Spicebushes, and of course the colorful Tiger Swallowtail. I'm also particularly attracted to Question Marks, Commas, and Buckeyes.
During one terribly hot day in July I was investigated by a snout butterfly, a Hackberry if I'm not mistaken. For a minute or so he fluttered around and around me. I put out my hand and he lit on my palm. For almost a minute he took, I think, the salt from the perspiration on my hand. For me, it was almost a feeling of grace to have something so beautiful and harmless light on my hand. Several years ago, before my friend "Arthur Itis" came to live with me, I was walking in the woods at Rock Springs. I had left the path and circled a large oak and was suddenly in a cloud of butterflies. What an incredible feeling! There must have been hundreds flying around and lighting all over me. That was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
It's also been a good year for dragonflies, at least at my place. There are two or three beautiful, blue-winged ones who often come around. Every time I see them I think of the old Burl Ives song about the blue-tailed fly. Boy, does that date me! I think I'll go talk with the spiders now-- "Jimmy crack corn and I don't care, the boss has gone away."

copyright 1998 Ron Shafer, all rights reserved

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