Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

Return of the Wolf Spider

ROYAL ORR

The water runs all winter long from a row of springs below our well. The ground never freezes and the snow almost never covers it over.

The other day it was minus 15 and there had been a 10-centimetre snowfall the day before, but you could still step from bare, grassy tussock to tussock among the springs. If you slipped you were into mud up to your shins.

It's too wet for most grasses in this little slough. Those are clumps of dried sedge that poke up into the winter sunshine. Cattle graze through here but even when the pastures have given out in late summer these stems are too tough to be of much interest to the cows.

One giant step to the next tussock and my boot flushed a little wolf spider from under the dry leaves.

As their name suggests, wolf spiders are hunters that run down their prey rather than ensnaring them in webs. They're dark and sleek and look like a quick death on eight legs.

One of their kind, the forest wolf spider, secures a silken dragline before it pounces. It then acts as a kind of living hook, tethering the quarry until its venom can go to work.

This wolf spider was a small one, no more than two centimeters long. It rushed out onto the snow for a moment, black on white, like an ink drawing in an entomological textbook. Then, sensing how vulnerable it was, it turned and sprinted back under the dried sedge stems.

Many spiders over-winter, going into a dormant state with the cold. But in these little spring-fed microclimates, there's enough heat, especially on a sunny day, for the spiders to be active even in February.

Spiders are known to be voracious predators, even cannibalistic when the opportunity presents itself. Made me wonder for a moment just how much life was stirring down there in that dried sedge tussock on this cold winter's day.

But I couldn't stop for long. I was sinking and I had to skip on to the next bit of dry land.


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