Agreement formed with spiders in garage

Published 8:55 am Friday, November 30, 2012

Column: Notes from Home

This past spring a colony of wolf spiders moved into a corner of our garage, living on the edges of the steps that lead into the laundry room.

Our garage is an untidy place, so it’s probable that these tiny carnivores had been living there for quite some time before they came to my attention. The garage is primarily a place to store the ubiquitous “stuff” that we don’t need on a regular basis, like my hand tools and her gardening supplies, the lawnmower, our snowthrower, our bicycles, etc. Oh, and though it’s unconventional, we also keep our cars in the garage for protection against the elements.

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Anyway, once I noticed their webs, I filed away the information, thinking that eventually I would have to get rid of them. But somehow I never quite got around to it; so there they stayed, happily hiding in their little webbed tunnels, sucking the juices (presumably) out of trapped prey.

The female members of the household noticed the spider colony, too. Actually, a lot of people noticed their webbed residences along the edges of the steps. They urged me to destroy them. I resisted, at first out of laziness and because I didn’t particularly want to harm them, and then later because a benefit emerged.

Usually, we have a flying pest problem in our garage. Coming in through the garage would become a dash to get through the door without letting lots of them into the house. It was often less of a hassle to go outside and in through the front door.

In the more distant past I would have used chemical warfare — Shell No Pest strips — and destroyed them all. But those things, if even still available for over-the-counter purchase, are quite powerful, and for a space with access directly into the house, that sort of toxic attack was probably more dangerous than useful.

This summer what finally kept me from destroying the wolf spiders was the lack of flies and mosquitoes. I decided to make an inferential leap. In the past our garage practically swarmed with flying insects. This summer it did not. The spider colony was given benefit of the situation.

The spider colony expanded from just a couple to a couple dozen webs before settling down to seven established spider lairs. And the wolf spiders living in those lairs got bigger … and bigger. They learned not to spin webs that hung down into space my head passed through as I walked up and down the steps (though there were a few unpleasant incidents; luckily I’m bald and the spiders move pretty quickly when they sense danger).

Eventually we reached a kind of détente. If they stayed in the garage and didn’t take up too much space in the center of the stairway, I left them alone. If they crossed the threshold into the house, however, I slaughtered them without mercy. So they learned to stay in the garage.

This is nature’s way, the circle of life that takes in predator, prey and the balance between supply and demand. They gave us protection from flies and mosquitoes. We gave them a quiet, relatively safe place to spin their webs.

This is also the way I learned to live with wolf spiders years ago in the Sonora Desert and in the hill country of Texas. They lived outside the house, feeding on crickets and other bugs for which I had no great love. We left them alone and they left us alone. Once in a great while a spider would wander in, and if our cats didn’t pounce, we picked it up and carried it back outside.

Here in southern Minnesota, with the onset of winter and freezing cold days and nights, the spiders are all gone. The tattered shreds of their cobwebs flutter in the breeze as we walk past, waiting for broom and Shop-Vac to remove those memories.

Oddly enough, I miss seeing their beady little eyes watching me move through their colony. I hope at least one of them left an egg sac behind, so that their descendants reclaim the space in years to come.


David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.