Down in Jungleland: Spider Pitch

Would you walk into an arthropod emporium to buy silk? What if spiders sold their silk? Imagine walking into a silk emporium run by arachnids, you would be greeted by a sales-spider: a charming, young Ms/Mr Hairy-legs.

Written by Ranjit Lal | Updated: May 13, 2018 12:00:25 am
Down in Jungleland, caterpillars, spider silk, arachnophobia, spider, Gurugram, moths, butterflies, indian express, indian express news Web of intricacies: Spiders are the real pros in silk production.

For long, we have exploited the poor silkworm, boiling its cocoons alive to make one of the most exquisite clothing materials known so far. But the real pros in silk production are — hold your breath — spiders. What caterpillars of moths and butterflies do with their mouthparts (like a magician voiding ribbons from his/her mouth), spiders do it from their nether regions, via special spinnerets (thank god, magicians don’t do this). But, try as we may, we still haven’t cracked the code of how to synthesise spider silk, which can be used for everything from producing gun-sights and sutures to light, bulletproof jackets and seat belts.

What if spiders sold their silk? Imagine walking into a silk emporium run by arachnids, you would be greeted by a sales-spider: a charming, young Ms/Mr Hairy-legs, who would appraise you out of his/her eight or so eyes and, as a welcoming treat, offer you a Calmpose or Valium if you have arachnophobia.

“Welcome, welcome!” s/he would gush scanning you top-down, rubbing its hairy legs together in delight. “We have some of the finest, softest cradle silk you would ever want for your happy events. Wrapped up in it, your babies will be warm, safe and dry as they wait to hatch. It’s super-absorbent, too, and nappy rash will not be a problem! There’s also a pull-along handle attached to the silk so you can easily pull the cradle under leaves or cover if it begins to rain — though, of course, it’s waterproof too from the outside.”

Or, if your babies are already hatched and driving you nuts — because there are about 300 of them demanding junk food and threatening to eat each other and you — and you need them to start their own life asap, the sales-spider will also have just the silk you’re looking for.

“Ma’am, this is our finest parasailing silk. Attach it to the bottoms of your little ones, make the tiny tykes do a handstand at the top of a twig or leaf — and wait for the tiniest current of air. Say your goodbyes, because with the softest whisper of a breeze, the little ones will be wafted high – up and away — and land hopefully in a land far, far away and you will never have to see them again! Of course, we cannot guarantee that they would land back in the same garden, many have been able to hitch rides on airplanes this way.”

If you’re a jumping spider and a little afraid of launching off, there’s safety-line silk which unravels even as you leap, and on which you can crawl back (albeit humiliated) if you find you have leapt off something too wide and high.

But naturally, the main demand will be in the web-construction department. You can just imagine the sales-spider coming all over you like a Gurugram realtor.

“You’re building a home, madam? Wonderful! Well, here’s some of our strongest scaffolding silk — as you know it’s six times as strong as steel wire of the same diameter! Very importantly, it’s non-sticky, so that as you go about building the scaffolding of your web you won’t get stuck in it yourself. Though, of course, we have some special oil, like suntan lotion, which you can apply to your limbs beforehand. Once you’ve got the scaffolding up, you switch to this super-sticky silk — with a magnifier you can see the pearls of glue beaded through it, with which you can catch anything from cockroaches to small birds. If you order silk strands of this quality, thick as a pencil, your web could stop a Jumbo jet in flight.”

Finally, if you are a timorous young gentleman spider, hovering at the edge of a web eyeing the gigantic lady in the middle, who is breaking your heart, the sales-spider would nod sympathetically.

“Not to worry sir, all the scaffolding silk we sell has been harmonically tuned. Twang the silken threads with your legs like you would play a harp and the lovely lady will be soothed and enchanted into a state of near nirvana and will, albeit temporarily, fall in love with you, puny as you may be. Take her into trance with your music, have your date while she remains in a state of dreamy bliss, but please don’t dilly-dally — no small talk, chit-chat, pillow talk. Scoot! (We aren’t responsible for the consequences thereafter). Even better, gift her a fly or cockroach. We have the perfect gift-wrapping silk for it. She’ll be happily engrossed in unwrapping it, letting you indulge — though again it’s better to say goodnight sooner rather than later.”

And what would spiders, which ran such an emporium (called no doubt, “Come into My Parlour”), have in their window on display? A beautiful orb web pearled and glittering with early-morning dew like a piece of jewellery. You will, of course, have to leave your brooms outside before entering.

Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher.

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