Befriending a spider

Every year scientific studies are expanding our understanding of animal consciousness. We know how we react to spiders, but we still haven’t figured out how to uncover how spiders react to us.

The spider is just a small one. I’m not sure of the species. She lives next to our sink where there is a little web tucked almost out of sight. You wouldn’t even know she’s there unless you squat down and look under the medicine cabinet.

As a nature-loving and bug-loving family, spiders and ants and assorted flying insects aren’t usually swatted. They are live-captured and set outside. But this spider, for some reason, began to endear herself to our hearts. She’s not all that eye-catching. Just all-over dark, with a round body and long legs. She is quiet, as spiders are apt to be, and never strays from her web.

After the initial decision that she could remain in residence, the relationship deepened. Our daughters deviated from their catch-and-release policy and instead began a catch-and-feed policy. Mosquitoes and flies are prime meat. Carefully captured, they are tossed into the sticky web, and moments later our little friend is wrapping up her next meal.

We humans can be aware of a relationship like this, but what of the spider? She can surely see us with her eight eyes. Immense beings making strange sounds and staring into the mirror as we stick bristle-coated sticks into our gaping mouths or run immense brushes through our hundreds of yards of hair.

When a young girl’s hand, each finger as large as a semi truck, deposits a mosquito, what does she think? Is there something like gratitude, or are we only a force of nature?

These are questions of scale. We might think a cell in our body is mindless, unaware of the larger being it is part of. Perhaps we, too, are only cells in a being too large for us to imagine. As science begins to uncover the intelligence of other species, and even of trees and plants, we begin to see that there are many kinds of intelligence in the world. This might even help us open up to the various types of intelligence found in the human species. Will we one day see that the “mentally disabled” aren’t disabled at all, but rather are able to see the world in a way that is invisible to the rest of us?

These are the thoughts that run through my mind as I peer at our little spider friend. And below her web, I see a litter of small pellets. Spider poop? No. A closer look reveals the desiccated bodies of no-see-ums.

These minuscule biters have been sneaking into our house through our window screens to make our sleep miserable, and somehow, our spider friend has lured nearly a hundred of them into her web. How could this be? And why does she take the time to eat such creatures, which are barely a sip of nutrition for her?

Perhaps she is simply eating what flies into her web. But one might wonder if somehow she is paying us back, giving a “thank you” for the flies and mosquitoes our daughters offer up. Tonight, there is not a single no-see-um in the house. We’ll sleep well, and so will our tiny arachnid friend.

Kenton Whitman heads ReWild University, a wilderness school. You can learn more at or

Kenton Whitman heads ReWild University, a wilderness school. You can learn more at or


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