‘Keep an eye out for
flies. The spiders haven’t eaten in a few days and I’m
sure they’re getting hungry . . ." said my wife
over her shoulder as she attempted to drop an unlucky
fly into a waiting web.
again!" The tone of her voice barely masked her
growing frustrations. After weeks of hand feeding our
indoor spider colony you’d think we would have our
techniques down pat, but more often than not, the flies
would drop through the web and onto the ground.
Reaching down, she
gently picked up the fly and repositioned herself to get
a better drop on the web. This time the fly stuck, and
the waiting spider lost no time in securing its long
awaited feast. "Good. Now I need a small fly for
the spider next to the night light . . ."
If anyone other then
myself had been witness to my wife’s actions, the
response would surely have been one of repulsion. But
having participated in many ‘feedings’ myself, her
actions were rather . . . err . . . routine.
For the better part of
the last twelve years, my wife and I have been engaged
in what seems a never-ending battle to keep flying
insects out of our house. Having both grown up in
antiseptic suburban home environments, where a single
fly was enough to mobilize squadrons of bug killing
sprays, we were sadly unprepared for life in an old farm
house. Given that we have horses, we expected some
flies, but add a few local dairy farms, and you’ve got
a recipe for the perfect fly breeding environment.
Having stood for well
over one hundred years, our house long ago became one
with the land, shifting and sagging to meet the demands
of its hand-dug foundation. With each gentle shift, a
new crack opened to the outside environment. While
unnoticeable to us, these cracks were interstate
highways to our pesky flying friends. To make matters
even worse, forty years ago, in an attempt to bring some
sense of levelness to the house, new floors and walls
were overlaid upon the old. The resulting gaps between
the old and the new, serve as safe refuge for every
flying bug ever know to man during the winter and
incubators for their decedents in the spring.
Our first real inkling
that we were the 'in' place for every bug in the county
came on the first warm day of spring. After the long
winter, we eagerly opened the windows. Sure in our
belief that bugs were not present, we made no effort to
close the screens -- not that having done so would have
helped much, for the screens that were available were
Swiss cheese in nature. Later that evening, we
discovered every lamp shade covered with insects, and
every wall a moving mass. While a hefty dose of
insecticide quickly cleared the second floor, within an
hour, the bugs had returned, even thicker than before.
For nearly a week we
did daily battle, yet no end seemed in sight. With the
house taking on a distinct smell of pine scented
insecticide, we switched tactics and began to focus on
blocking entry points. Armed with screening material,
our ready duck tape, and a dozen or two tubes of caulk,
screens were fixed and holes we're plugged.
In spite of all our
efforts, we found ourselves losing to an enemy with more
than one hundred years of natural selection on its side.
The first bugs to take up residence between the walls,
bred decedents, who bred decedents, all only knowing the
walls. The cracks and the crevasses were soon
genetically mapped. As a result, we would no sooner
block one entry point, than they would divert to the
next on their generically imprinted list.
Slowly but surely, the
pleasantries of country life were replaced by an insect
enforced isolation. Our long nightly readings, which we
both avidly loved, were soon reduced to mere minutes in
hopes of minimizing the night's chorus of buzzing and
biting pests. Instead of waking up to the sweet sound of
chirping birds, we awoke to the clattering of an air
conditioner, whose cold air was our only sure weapon
against our flying foes.
Having finally come to
the conclusion that the weapons of man were
insufficient, we decided to enlist the natural predators
of flying insects on our side: Birds, bats, wasps, and
spiders. We already had a fairly large song bird
population, thanks to the many feeders Audrey maintains,
but we we’re lacking barn swallows. So when a pair set
up nest in our barns breeze way, we blocked it off lest
we disturb them and scare them away. Next we put up a
bat box, and before long it was happily occupied.
In order to address the
principle fly breeding source: Our barn’s manure pile,
we utilize a tiny wasp no bigger then a flea that prays
on the larva of the flies. Between the three predators,
we made a significant dent in the fly population. But we
need one more ally if we hoped to deliver a knock-out
blow, and the spiders were it.
In the effort to
eradicate any and all insects in and around the house,
only the spiders that had taken up residence next to the
barbeque grill on the back porch had escaped our wrath.
It was the perfect spider haven. The bright porch light
insured a steady supply of insects from early spring to
late fall. The heat and the smoke from the grill
continued to lure potential victims long after the
outside light had been doused for the night.
Soon, we became active
participants in the nightly feeding frenzy. Insects I
had grown to hate, invincible while in flight, fell easy
pray as they were drawn into the porch light. As we
waited for our food to cook, we would pick off the
biggest, and toss them into the webs of our new found
Every toss was rewarded
with a textbook demonstration of classic 'spidering.'
The bug would no sooner hit the web then the spider
would scurry to it and inject its venom. Backing away,
the spider would wait as the venom took effect. Once
sure that its web was safe from any further attempts of
escape, the spider would return and finish off its prey.
It didn’t take us
long to realize that the spiders were far more efficient
at catching flying insects than us, and as such, they
would make an excellent addition in our ongoing war. In
hopes of increasing their numbers we began to leave the
porch light on all through the night. It worked. As
their numbers began to grow rapidly, the insect
population in and around the house became noticeable
As winter began to set
in, we bad farewell to our swallows and bats, and found
ourselves fretting for the spiders, many of whom now
bore first names, who we felt sure would meet their end
in the long winter to come. While never formally invited
into the house, we didn't discourage them as one-by-one,
they made their way into our home. At first they were
welcomed play toys for our two indoor cats, but in time,
even an inch long behemoth wandering across a floor only
rated a passing glance and quick sidestep, as each
continued their own way.
We gave little
attention to the welfare of the spiders at first, for
there were still plenty of flies inside for them to
catch. But as the depth of winter set in, the easy meals
they had enjoyed for so long came to an end. Every
morning the spiders would tend to their webs and every
evening they would wait patiently for a meal that would
never come. Days turned into weeks and weeks threaten to
become months and just when we thought they could hold
out no longer, a warm day, much like the one we
experienced our first year, drew flies from winter
Warm enough to move,
but too cold to fly, the flies congregated on the
windows and quickly became prizes. Moving quickly from
window to web, we fed each spider according to its size.
The spiders, clearly hungry, wasted no time in securing
the long awaited feast.
Pleased with our
success, and now assured of our spider colony's
survival, fly hunting soon became a daily ritual. Once
unwelcome companions, flies were now sought out as
prized possessions. Even on the coldest of winter days,
some were sure to be found crawling the face of a
southern window in a desperate attempt to seek what
warmth they could from the weak winter sun rays.
Like a house settles
onto its foundations, we've settled on ours. Where a
spider once drew disgust, it now only draws a smile. We
can once again read safely late into the night. And
where in the past, fuzzy letters signaled the evening's
near end, now more than likely, its probably a baby
spider on its evening walk-around.
Armed with an allied
army of swallows, bats, wasps and our homegrown
battalion of tamed and ready spiders, our hopes are
running high that after 10 years of fighting, this will
be the year our battle with flies will finally be
If we are indeed
luckily, and have won, it will not be a human web master
who’ll deserve the credit, but our spiders, nature’s
true ‘web masters.'