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Spider Man…Or Not

For the last nine months, free time was a rare commodity. It was coveted by all and seldom achieved. It was all anyone ever talked about, and when it finally came, I slept through it and was left wondering with everyone else, where had all my time gone?!

Now however, I have a very different problem: too much time. The perk of finishing my first year is that I actually get the summer off to enjoy one last time. So before I started up work and got swept into that, I decided to take two weeks off to just unwind. After sleeping straight through the first few days, I finally had enough energy to get things started. I made the trip home to visit my folks and then went on a whirlwind tour of my old stomping grounds in the Northeast. What was originally a short trip to see a good friend graduate from law school turned into a nine-day journey of rekindling friendships and couch surfing to the extreme. I mean things really escalated quickly. Now after all that, I find myself back living the quiet life at home. Almost too relaxing, which brings me back to the problem I stated before: I think I have too much available time.


Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. On the contrary, those who know me best will agree that taking naps is one of my all-time favorite pastimes. However, when is the last time that you spent two hours of your day examining and trying to identify a spider? Until today I probably would have had the same answer as you… never.

But now that I have you intrigued, let me share with you what I’ve learned. The brown recluse spider apparently does not live in New York State. Whew, what a relief for me and the rest of us living in this fine area. Now how do I know for sure? Well any distribution source online or bug reference guide (I checked a few) will tell you, but at first I disagreed. I myself did a little inquiry on a certain spider I found while performing some yard work and thought I might have stumbled upon something unwarranted. While moving some rocks around, I had the misfortune of seeing and feeling a rather large spider scurry across my bare hand. As soon as this occurred, I stared at the hairy beast, looked deep within its multiple sets of eyes and, realizing I had never seen such a spider before, promptly stopped working and went inside for a much-needed break away from such creatures. As the feeling of eight scurrying legs was relived on my hand over and over again, I became curious as to what this spider could be.

My first thought, of course, was the brown recluse–one of the few poisonous spiders in the nation. I looked up one picture, was momentarily startled and then went straight outside to capture this enigma. Once the rock was overturned again I was faced with not one, but two enormous leggy creatures: dark grey, sleek and sinister in their unblinking stare. I was able to capture one in a clear plastic cup and placed a notepad on top to prevent escape. The next two hours were spent sifting through spider websites and spider enthusiast blogs trying to discern what it was that I had captured. I have lived in the country my whole life and I had never seen such a spider before in my extensive time spent outdoors. It was large like a wolf spider, yet lacked the bristled furry appearance.  It was shy and had an erratic web, not the characteristic tunnel or hideout of a trapdoor spider, and seemed to have a pale strip on it’s abdomen. Could this indeed be the brown recluse?  It seemed to match the description in many ways except indigenous distribution, though many blogs have reported first-hand encounters and even bites from this rarity outside its designated range and very near to this area.

I just had to dig further. I spent so much time sifting through photos and researching distinguishing features of various spider genera and species I almost felt like an expert. It came down to two things; I needed a closer look at the arrangement of the eyes (of course), and to look at the tiny claws at the ends of each leg. Yet how was I to do this without placing my face within centimeters of this small terror?  Thank you, first year optics for reminding me of magnification. After spending a decent chunk of time hunting for a magnifying lens, I was finally able to find these features from a safe, yet still too-close-for-comfort distance. Only then was I able to definitively say that this was not a brown recluse.

Yet even after all this research I was still unable to properly identify this mystery. So if any of you readers out there are spider specialists or insect aficionados, you can refer to the above pic, and any thoughts would surely ease my nagging curiosity. In retrospect I wish I had taken better photos before I released it, but who’d have thought I would have written an entire blog about a spider!

And this, my friends, just proves the point that I have far too much time on my hands. But in a way I quite enjoy it. It’s quite the difference between spending time studying what grabs your attention at that very moment instead of whatever you’ll be tested on the next morning. Not that I plan on switching careers to spiders or anything–I think one day on these guys was more than enough.


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