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*shudders*

 From today's New York Times.  And no, it's nothing to do with politics.

Got Arachnophobia? Here’s Your Worst Nightmare 


Tom Pennington/Fort Worth Star-Telegram, via Associated Press

A web crawling with millions of spiders is growing across several acres of a state park 50 miles east of Dallas, inspiring both wonder and revulsion.

Published: August 31, 2007

WILLS POINT, Tex., Aug. 29 — Most spiders are solitary creatures. So the discovery of a vast web crawling with millions of spiders that is spreading across several acres of a North Texas park is causing a stir among scientists, and park visitors.

Sheets of web have encased several mature oak trees and are thick enough in places to block out the sun along a nature trail at Lake Tawakoni State Park, near this town about 50 miles east of Dallas.

The gossamer strands, slowly overtaking a lakefront peninsula, emit a fetid odor, perhaps from the dead insects entwined in the silk. The web whines with the sound of countless mosquitoes and flies trapped in its folds.

Allen Dean, a spider expert at Texas A&M University, has seen a lot of webs, but even he described this one as “rather spooky, kind of like Halloween.”

Mr. Dean and several other scientists said they had never seen a web of this size outside of the tropics, where the relatively few species of “social” spiders that build communal webs are most active.

Norman Horner, emeritus professor of biology at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Tex., was one of a number of spider experts to whom a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist sent online photos of the web. “It is amazing, absolutely amazing,” said Dr. Horner, who at first thought it an e-mail hoax.

The web may be a combined effort of social cobweb spiders. But their large communal webs generally take years to build, experts say, and this web was formed in just a few months.

Or it could be a striking example of what is known as ballooning, in which lightweight spiders throw out silk filaments to ride the air currents. Five years ago, in just that way, a mass dispersal of millions of tiny spiders covered 60 acres of clover field in British Columbia with thick webbing.

Mike Quinn, the state biologist who distributed the online photos, and who runs a Web site about Texas invertebrates, plans to drive to the park from Central Texas on Friday in an effort to get some answers by collecting samples.

Record-breaking rains that flooded Texas earlier this summer inspired outbreaks of crickets and “webworms,” the caterpillar larvae of the white moth. Mr. Quinn said the rains might have something to do with the web, too.

“You’d have to get a lot of spiders together and feed them a whole lot of food to make a web that big,” he said.

Whatever caused the vast web, the sight of it has inspired both awe and revulsion.

“It’s beautiful,” said the park’s superintendent, Donna Garde.

Freddie Gowin disagrees. It was Mr. Gowin, a maintenance worker at the park, who discovered the web this month when, taking advantage of some of the first dry weather, he mowed the area around the nature trail.

“I don’t think there’s anything pretty about it,” he said, though “it’s certainly unusual.”

When Mr. Gowin drives the power mower through the area, webbing wraps across his bare face, causing him to slap at spiders, real or imagined, crawling on his skin.

The park’s staff says that while the web has killed some leaves, it should not hurt the trees.

The spiders are “spreading out for sure,” Mr. Gowin said, pointing out cedars that appeared to have a dusting of snow. “They’re going to take over this whole point.”

The staff expects the web to last until colder weather this fall, when the spiders begin dying off.

For now the concern is to defend this marvel from teenagers who might take a stick and knock it all down, or little boys wanting to push their little sisters into it.

“We’ll try to protect it, with what little staff we have,” said Ms. Garde, the superintendent. “I’ll use the web-of-life analogy. If you break one part of the web, it affects us all.”



Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
babycakesin
Aug. 31st, 2007 05:18 pm (UTC)
argh! I'm so glad I'm not living in Texas anymore...
aswanargent
Aug. 31st, 2007 05:39 pm (UTC)
When I saw this I thought of greedy_dancer and the photo of that huge spider in the corner of her bedroom ceiling that she posted when she was in Australia. Then I thought of Shelob from The Lord of the Rings. Finally, it was Hagrid's little friends from Harry Potter.

Maybe I just won't go to sleep tonight....
babycakesin
Aug. 31st, 2007 05:44 pm (UTC)
I think I handle spiders a little more than cockroaches - those damn things are my worst fear... well, as far as I can tell (let's just hope I never have to find out lol)
looneyluna
Aug. 31st, 2007 06:03 pm (UTC)
*make them tap dance make them tap dance*

Even taking off their legs like Ron Weasley would suggest isn't stopping the creep out factor. Eeek!
aswanargent
Aug. 31st, 2007 07:10 pm (UTC)
Maybe you could try pretending that's just Spanish moss hanging from the trees....

The article is bad enough; the picture makes it worse!

crazybutsound
Aug. 31st, 2007 07:23 pm (UTC)
Now, I really don't care/mind when there's a spider or even when there are a couple around but that? Is definitely a little freaky. *shudders*
aswanargent
Aug. 31st, 2007 07:47 pm (UTC)
The picture really does make me shudder every time I look at it. And I can't decide what's worse: the "millions of spiders" or the "several acres" (although I'm leaning toward the latter).

Wasn't there an X-Files episode that involved some type of plant life that appeared to be sprouting everywhere in a field, but it turned out to be just one single enormous organism spreading underground and sending shoots up in different places? That gave me the same uneasy feeling the idea of "several acres" of spiderwebs does.
crazybutsound
Aug. 31st, 2007 08:06 pm (UTC)
Mmm... there probably was, but I can't remember now. This did remind me of an x-file, though. Remember the one where they go into the forrest because lumberjacks keep disappearing and it turns out it's these tiny little spider-like insects that dry people up and put them in coccoons (that look like that web)? *shudders*
castalie
Aug. 31st, 2007 08:06 pm (UTC)
Oh man! On the one hand, wow, that picture is so impressive, on the other omg it's chilling! Million of spiders? Millions? *shudders*
aswanargent
Aug. 31st, 2007 10:43 pm (UTC)
I'm never going to look at Halloween decorations the same way again.
jenni_snake
Sep. 3rd, 2007 11:22 pm (UTC)
Ok, so I looked... am I the only one who's going to reply with an 'oh my god, that is so coooool!'? Neat. If they do go back to the scientists after they have some answers (funny how I'm not exactly expecting this from a newspaper, which I probably should...), I'd love to hear...
aswanargent
Sep. 4th, 2007 02:50 pm (UTC)
I can't believe you of all people think it's cool! That photo still gives me the creeps.

I'll definitely watch for follow-ups to the story and keep you posted.
jenni_snake
Sep. 4th, 2007 02:58 pm (UTC)
Small spiders are ok. Big spiders are ok as long as I don't see them. Even many small spiders are ok if they're not near me. But this is just coool! Is this normal behaviour? Is it something that they were prompted to do by just the food? How long will it last? When will it go away? How does the rest of nature respond/adapt? Like I say, it's cool. And to hear it would be awesome. Not that I'd lie in a cobweb hammock or anything...
aswanargent
Sep. 4th, 2007 11:04 pm (UTC)
I have no answers to your questions, so am just going to refer you back to the article itself, which offers some speculation (like how long this thing might last).

You want to hear it?!? Hear all those mosquitoes and flies buzzing in their futile attempts to avoid being a spider's midnight snack? You're certainly bloodthirsty today! *backs carefully away*
jenni_snake
Sep. 5th, 2007 03:43 am (UTC)
:P
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )