Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/843

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823
THE SPINNING SISTERHOOD.

even by men of science mentioned with insulting and repulsive epithets, are seen under the microscope to be really beautiful, with every hair a plume, and the clustered eyes a crown of brilliant gems.

The most congenial home of the spider is naturally in the paradise of the insect. In the Amazonian forest with its hundreds of species, ranging from the almost invisible atom that sails off on its own magic thread, to the bird-killer with eight-inch spread of legs, we of the Western world must seek our most marked specimens. One of the silent family described by a traveler has a body like frosted silver studded with gold and emeralds, legs resembling gold wire, and a net of exquisite gold-lustered silk. Brilliant red, glowing orange, velvety black, glistening white, and other colors in combination, both charming and grotesque, distinguish some of them, while others appear in disguise. Withered blossoms, growing leaf-buds, thorns, rusty pins, sticks, bits of bark, and balls of their own silk are successfully counterfeited by one and another of this wonderful family. Many of these interesting Brazilians are unwelcome to the throat of bird and beast, by reason of spines, knobs, and excrescences of the most unique and fantastic sort. In that land of extremes also is found their most remarkable work, webs covering the whole top of a tree, with broad ribbons to hold it in place; and others so strong as not to be broken by small fruits thrown violently against them.

Intelligent, too, is our little arachnid—cunning she has been called. Many instances could be given; one of the most interesting is Belt's account of the behavior of spiders in the presence of the terrible eciton ants, which sweep the country in vast armies, and devour every living thing: "All insects and small animals recognize their relentless foe and make frantic efforts to escape. The spider alone yields not to panic, but uses common sense—may not one say reason? Some that were observed, upon the first scent of danger, took to their long legs, and having two more of them than any insect, and no inclination to stop for luncheon, soon put a long distance between themselves and the savage little hosts. Others, not caring to run, neither to be eaten, simply swung themselves out into the universe by their magic thread, and there hung between heaven and earth, like a certain legendary coffin, till the uncivil enemy had passed by. Not one was so stupid as the insects, to hide and be in a moment dragged out by the murderers whom nothing escaped. Perhaps the coolest personage on the scene was a harvestman or Daddy-long-legs, who stood on the ground right among those thirsting for the drop of blood in his round dot of a body. His legs were long, and he had eight of them, as well as a head (though one could hardly say on his shoulders). There he stood, calmly lifting up leg after leg,