Nature Notes: Mother Daddy

Daily I contemplate the simple daddy longlegs that clings to the ceiling and very asymmetric thing of a web above my bathtub

While we humans are fighting all over the world, killing children, women, and men, as well as doing in all kinds of rare beasts such as elephants, rhinoceroses, scaled anteaters, and whales for keepsakes, the local fauna are raising families. And I imagine, except in the war-torn and poached parts of the globe, they are doing the same the world over. It is a pity that the most intelligent animal of all lags behind the others even though this very same animal is a reader, polyglot, writer, emailer, and maker and user of all tools ever devised. Yes, this animal is intelligent, but has yet to become wise.

Thus, daily I contemplate the simple daddy longlegs that clings to the ceiling and very asymmetric thing of a web above my bathtub. It hardly ever moves, except if I get too close; then she spins like a top without losing her perch, each of her legs fastened to one of the strands of the poorly designed web. She stops after a minute or so, then gains her composure in an instant and sits quietly waiting for an insect to happen by, which only occurs once in a blue moon.

How do I know she is a she? Well about a month ago, after a week with nary a bite to eat, she produced an ecru-colored ball about as big as a pea, almost as big as her body and began holding it in front of her like a human mother holds her very small infant. I’m onto this behavior, having observed and pandered to the daddy longlegs in various parts of the house for 20 years now, even feeding them from time to time with carpenter ants and Indian meal moths, the kind that like to live in the cupboard where flour, breads, dry cereal, and other carbs hang out.

So I check her out each day and see how she is doing. Then three weeks after I first observed her tightly clutching the little ball, the ball suddenly was no more, but the makeshift web was filled with tiny specks, at least 25 baby daddy longlegs no bigger than the plumed seed from a dandelion that takes off in the wind with a little blow. They were all upside down like their mother, and spread out over an area covering a four-inch-diameter irregular circle.

Hours upon hours, day after day, they didn’t budge, and neither did their mother. Seven days after they were “born,” they disappeared and I became concerned. I couldn’t see the mother anywhere. However, my angst was soothed a day later when I woke up and found that she had returned to the “nest.” At this juncture, the tiny spiderlings began to move away from the web center like an expanding nebula in the cosmos. They were a tiny bit bigger and I did observe a few motionless gnats caught in the silk strands. Had they been fed on?

As one by one the little guys moved farther and farther away from the nest, I wondered where they would go and if any of them would make it. The mother timed it right — the last weeks of July were very humid and fungus gnats and biting gnats were in ample supply. Even though I am a scientist of sorts and a keen observer of things in nature, it was hard for me to figure out exactly what was happening.

The attic and basement are full of daddy longlegs and arachnids of other makes and descriptions. The adults, especially the sedentary ones like the longlegs, can apparently get by on a meal a month, as I don’t find that many insect carcasses in their webs or tunnels. I do find their little droppings on the workbench under the cellar ceiling.

I guess they carry on as most invertebrates and vertebrates do, almost all of which defecate, mictuate, or do both “one” and “two” and, of course, eat and reproduce.

I find it comforting in a world where news is dominated by human terrorists and celebrities that the spider over the bathtub is satisfied with merely bearing young and bringing them up, and doing it in a quiet, nonintrusive way. She tolerates me and I, in turn, tolerate and appreciate her. “Common core” and the classics, aside, I think we could learn much of value from observing daddy longlegs!

Larry Penny can be reached via email at