The size of a pinhead, filamentous thread-legs, maybe two inches long, jutting out from it; letting the light through, invisible on the glass door. But swinging just nearby: a buffalo of a fly, careening back and forth against the window, getting desperate. Then you barely spot the hair-fine threads that have entangled the fly’s bristly legs, and that lead to the leggy pinhead — a spider — which is now jerking back and forth, rather like a skeletal fisherman trying to reel in a whale shark. This was the mother of all mini-series David Vs Goliath battles.
Meet a member of the Pholcidae clan of spiders, affectionately, but not entirely accurately, known as the daddy long-legs spider, reputed (falsely) to be poisonous (though it is, compared to other spiders). Preferred place of residence: unused corners in dark, damp rooms and in garages and cellars and closets. This one seemed to be an outdoorsy type. For a while, I felt for it — talk about biting off more than you can chew: the fly was zinging back and forth like a wrecking ball, the nano-weight spider riding the wave, so to speak, with aplomb and misplaced gung-ho. Any second, the fly would break free and zoom off. It wasn’t even stuck, because this spider doesn’t use glue in its silk. But no, that was strong silk and well enmeshed, emanating as it did like deadly tripwires from the untidy mess of threads which was spider HQ.
Half an hour later, the fly was still there, its legs enmeshed and entangled, its movements slightly less vigorous. In its corner, the spider still waited, making not a single false or foolish move. According to some literature, it was meant to rush out and enshroud its victim in silk, but it sensibly didn’t. By early evening, the fly was visibly enfeebled and now I felt for it. The spider had inched closer. By late evening the spider was all over it, embracing it, dwarfed by its gigantic meal and pulling it back into the corner where it wouldn’t be so visible, sucking it hollow. It had waited till the fly had exhausted itself and then walked up gingerly on those delicate stilt legs, and given it the killing bite.
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Drama over, it was a lesson in patience, perseverance and in believing in your workmanship. These spiders are common in homes and keep the insect count down. Their untidy web is abandoned after a messy catch and they reset new traps. There’s still a nest of dirty grey threads smeared across the glass door in my house, which have to be cleaned. I looked at them carefully, through a magnifier to check if it hadn’t transmuted into an egg case or something — that too can happen. It hadn’t. But yes, the spider had transmogrified.
I literally gasped when I saw it next. It was huge, a sumo-wrestler among daddy long-legs. Those legs would have a hard time supporting this bulbous, wedge shaped thing. Obviously, it had been a full-fat fly. Over-eating and fly-fishing do make you put on weight. It’s disappeared since: hopefully doing crunches in some dark sweaty corner of a gym.
Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher
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