A GALENA had no backbone; but she was not a cripple. She could do much that no animal with a backbone can do. She had eight eyes. She had two more legs than an insect, and an insect has six legs. Her home was a web of silk. Yes, I am sure you have guessed, by this time, that Agalena was a spider.
Agalena and her many brothers and sisters spent the winter together in an egg-sac. The egg-sac was under the bark of an old stump. It was rather flat and it was protected by a sheet of silk.
A silk sheet does not seem a very warm covering for nights when the weather was so cold that the mercury in the thermometer went down to the zero mark. However, spider eggs keep well in cold storage when they are in a fairly dry place. If the baby spiders, still in their eggshells, were chilled during the winter it did them no harm. In early spring they hatched. Later, one warm day, Agalena ran off on her eight little legs and found a house lot for her home.
The stump under the bark of which she, while an egg, had spent the winter was in the hedgerow at the edge of Holiday Meadow. As she was a grass-spider she did not need to travel far before she came to a suitable place to stay.
It took her from spring until fall to finish her house although it was all right to live in after the first few days. Even when it was done it was not much more than a floor and a back hall. The hall was a tube which led from her floor to the ground. It had two door-holes which were always open. When she felt timid she ran off her floor into her hall and then down to the ground as fast as her eight legs could carry her. She hid among the grass clumps until she felt like going up through her hall again. Her floor sloped a little toward the hole that opened into her tube-like hall. Altogether her home was somewhat funnel-shaped.
The stuff of which she built her home was silk. It all came out of her own body. It was made in her silk glands and forced through many fine spinning-tubes out where the spinning-organs (spinnerets) could use it. Her six spinnerets were at the tip of her body where they were placed near together somewhat like three pairs of little tails.
Of course while Agalena was a baby spider as she was when she left the egg-sac in the spring, she needed only a tiny floor and hall. So, at first, her "funnel" was very little indeed. By the time she had finished working on it, however, her floor measured about twelve inches across. It took a great many silk threads to spin so wide a web.
As the young spider grew, her plump body became crowded inside her firm skin. Then she ripped a hole in her tight old skin and crept out of it, finding herself in a new one which was more stretchy so that her body had room to grow. Later this new skin, in its turn, needed to be shed when it became too snug for comfort. She changed her skin several times before she was a fully grown spider.
Such a process of shedding skin is called molting. Spiders are not the only animals that molt this way as they grow. Other backbone-less animals with jointed legs, such as insects and crabs and crayfishes, also molt several times before they become full-grown.
After Agalena grew to be about three-fourths of an inch long she did not molt again. She was now yellow with dashes of pale gray here and there and with some long dark stripes and some light stripes on her body. She was a very good-looking spider.
This little eight-legged yellow and gray animal hunted for her living. She did not, however, take long hunting trips. She caught what she needed without leaving her own door-yard. Her favorite food was insect-juice. Because many of the insects she caught were injurious to grass, the man who owned Holiday Farm liked to have her hunting in his meadow.
She spent much of her time waiting in her narrow hall or runway. When an insect chanced to alight on her floor it jarred the silk a little. She could feel the very gentle shaking of her web and she would run out and capture a breakfast or luncheon or dinner for herself. She always hurried at such times as if she were excited.
She depended on the way her floor trembled when it was touched to know when her food arrived instead of watching with her eight eyes. And sometimes she was fooled.
Quite often Anne and Dick, the cousins from Holiday Farm, came to visit Agalena. One of them would touch her floor gently with a piece of stiff straw. Agalena would feel the quiver of the web and would rush out and grab the end of the straw. This game did the spider no real harm and it did give the children a chance to watch Agalena. They could see whether she had grown larger and how she looked after she had molted and had on a new suit of skin. They became much interested in the spider.
Agalena had spun strands of silk reaching from her floor to the twigs of a meadow-sweet bush that grew next her yard at the edge of the grass field. When insects blundered against these slender ropes of silk they often fell to the web beneath them where the spider could catch them easily.
The little hunter had a strange sort of appetite. When insects came to her web in great numbers she could eat the juices of all she caught and not feel overfed. But during days when she caught nothing at all, she did not starve. She could eat a great deal or very little indeed and could fast for long times. The size and time of her meals depended on how much food she caught and when she caught it.
When the men from the farm harvested the grass in the meadow, the hay-rake tore away part of Agalena's house. She soon mended her floor, however, and was as well off as before.
In the spring the young spider's small and dainty web hardly showed at all in the grass. Even in the summer, when the silk floor had been made thicker with many added threads of silk, a person could usually walk right past Agalena's yard without noticing her home. But on mornings after clear nights, during which heavy dew formed, her moist carpet glistened in the light.
When dew is on the web it shows plainly.
It was easy, at such times, for Anne and Dick to learn something about the number of spiders in the meadow. For Agalena, of course, was not the only grass-spider living there. Thousands of webs like hers had been made during the spring and summer. After the hay was cut these could be seen, on a dewy morning, like little dainty white cloths spread in the field to dry.
Spider webs in a grassy place.
In spite of all her neighbors, many of them, indeed, her sisters and cousins and other near relatives, Agalena lived alone until fall. But on a pleasant autumn day another grass-spider came to call on her. One of his names was Næ'‑vi‑a; and it was at this time that Miss Agalena became Mrs. Nævia.
Soon after this Mrs. Nævia left the silk home where she had grown and molted and hunted during so many weeks. She never returned to it. She was done with it forever. She had other matters to attend to now.
For the time had come when she must find a good place for her eggs. She wandered about until she reached a sheltered place beneath a piece of loose bark on a tree in the hedgerow. Here she laid her pretty round eggs and spun a fine firm sac about them. Over the sac she laid a sheet of silk, spinning it thread by thread as she moved back and forth. Next she scattered some tiny dark bits of bark over the white sheet. It did not show quite so plainly then.
Her important task was completed. Mother Agalena Nævia sat down beside the winter bed she had made for her egg babies and rested.