Monday, February 11, 2008

Good scouts

Sometimes it just doesn't pay to do a good deed. Consider the Bahamian boa, a thick white snake that grows to an impressive length and spends its indolent life feeding on the vermin -- rats, mice -- that no one wants around the house. You'd think folks would welcome a boa to the neighborhood, set out little treats. But no. Show a Bahamian a boa and he'll hack it with a shovel. Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent. And -- whacko! -- dead.

But it is the hairy ground spider I wanted to write about. Another good scout. Keeps garden pests under control. A regular Orkin man who works for free.

Yeah, well. First, you gotta see a hairy ground spider. As big as your hand and covered with brown fur. Eight eyes in a ball turret on the top of its head. Ugly as sin. Belongs to a family of spiders known as the hairy mygalomorphs. Hairy mygalomorphs! Invasion of the body snatchers.

No kidding. This is a harmless creature. Hunts mostly at night. Keeps out of sight as if it knew it was ugly as sin. If it were a human, it is the sort of fellow who would help old ladies across the street. Except the old ladies would take one look and faint dead away with fright.

Female ground spiders are "peas-'n-rice" plump (as they'd say in the Bahamas), and these seem to be the ones we find in the garden when we are rooting around in the litter. Males are scrawny and leggy; they can't shed their skin and so cannot grow after reaching maturity. You can be sure that a female hairy mygalomorph is the most beautiful thing in the world to a male hairy mygalomorph. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- or eight eyes, as the case may be.

On my honor the ground spider does its best as nature intended, but doing one's best just ain't enough when you are plug ugly.