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Observing the life of a female orb spider

One of these babies made her web on the frame of my window one spring. It turned out to be one of the most amazing summers of my life. I could simply look out my window and watch her hunt, build her web, and even have sex.

I watched her grow up. She shed her skin four times that I saw when she got too big for it. She tore down and rebuilt her web every other night. The whole process took about two hours, between 3:00 and 5:00 AM. I killed flies in my house, took them out, and tossed them into the web. When they stuck, she grabbed them in seconds, wrapped them up, sometimes ate them, and other times she hung them on the web to eat later.

In the fall, a male showed up, wanting to mate. The males are about the size of my little fingernail, legs and all. It strummed on the strings of her web like a guitar. She grabbed it and ate it. This happened three more times that I saw

One morning, a male showed up, strumming, and she didn't eat it. Instead, she ran around the web in a circle a couple of times, then she went to the center of the web and assumed the position. She sprawled her legs out and put her body flat against the web.

The male, who was a fraction of her size, climbed onto her body and started running around and around, pausing briefly to hump in various spots. After about a minute, he ran off of her and back onto the web for a minute or two. Then back for another round. Then a third. After the third round, she grabbed him, and she ate him.

After that, when she built her web every other night, she made a postage stamp sized piece near the center of it that I hadn't seen before. She laid eggs on it in a grid that was about 12 x 12 or so. Every other night, when she tore down her web, she balled up the part with the eggs and hung it into a bush below. She did this for weeks. There were at least two dozen of these egg sacks in this bush.

One day, as winter approached, she abandoned her web. I found her far above the window, clinging to the wall. I thought she might have died, but I tapped her with a straw, and she twitched. A week later, still alive, but as far as I could tell, she hadn't moved. A week later, the same. Another week later, still there, still twitched when touched. One more week, she was gone. I found her dead body on the ground below.

The next spring I watched those egg sacks. One day they were deflated. Her kids were born, and they were gone. I know that only a small fraction of them survived. I hoped that one of them would build a web on that same window, but they never did.

I loved that spider.

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