It's been a long, dry summer. Anywhere we are not watering, the ground is baked as tough as a high-fiber rye cracker, and looks as lifeless as a Martian desert. We (my grandson and I) set out to flip rocks in the vacant lot across the street without much hope of success. But there had been pools, the water retained by hard-packed clay, in June. And a shaded creek runs around two sides; maybe, maybe there would be something to see.
And we gave that big lot a good flipping; leaving no stone larger than a pair of fists and light enough to heave off the ground untouched. Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. Dry, caked soil; dry, flaked grass blades; dry blackberry canes, thorns at the ready. I ripped my legs in several places; will I ever remember to wear protective clothing? (Probably not.)
The creek bed was dry, even deep beneath the rocks. But on the edge, where some of the weeds were still green, we found life, at last.
|Under a broken board; the wood held in a bit more moisture. One carabid beetle.|
|Next board; one tiny snail, probably dead.|
|And under a large rock slab, we found a spider in her web.|
But look again at that spider. Look above her, on the upper left. See the pale tangle of legs, the remains of her recent molt? Now look below her; see the sunburst of legs? Another spider! It's not often we find two spiders in such close proximity.
|The second spider has come out into the light.|
The only thing that brings spiders together, even for a short visit, is sex. The one on the upper right is the female; her abdomen is large and round. The male, below left, is smaller, skinnier, and his pedipalps, or "feelers", have enlarged tips, visible in the photo as dark spots just in front of his mouth. He has excreted a drop of semen, and scooped it up with his pedipalps. He will carry this around until the female allows him to approach close enough to deposit it in her sexual organ, on the underside of her abdomen.
If he's lucky, he'll escape uneaten.
|And another rock, another spider. Same species, much smaller.|
|Another rock. And a tiny spider, of the same species.|
|Back home, at the edge of the garden, where I've been watering, a colony of sowbugs sleeps on the underside of a rock.|
I should have carried a shovel. Something has to be alive out there, besides spiders; the spiders are not starving. Maybe the other animals retreat deep down to where they find cool dampness while the sun shines. I'll go and look one day soon.