(a harvestman, photo: http://www.animalsunited.nl)
Driving around the island these days you’ll see freshly mown yellow fields sparkling brightly in the sunlight, as well as trucks stacked high with hay bales. I don’t remember ever having seen so many of these ‘hay wagens’ on the island. I guess this is due to the crisis: the price of cattle food has risen incredibly so it’s back to using the grasslands to produce natural cattle food. I am okay with that, the land is now better used and I really enjoy those amazing yellow cornfields, which form a nice contrast to the fields with green crops.
These summer patterns in the landscape should inspire weavers to make beautiful carpets. Once there was a weaver who learned her skills from Athena. Her name was Arachne: a girl from a poor family chosen by Athena to learn how to weave. Once she perfected her skill she made the most beautiful carpets. People came to admire her talent and to ask who taught her to weave. Arachne was so pleased with her success that she took all credit to herself and did not mention Athena, claiming her talent came to her naturally. That offended Athena who visited her disguised as an old woman. Arachne didn’t want to listen to this old grandma who told her that she should be more thankful to the Gods for her skill. When finally Arachne discovered that the old woman was Athena she challenged her to see who could make the most beautiful cloth. Athena wove a story about how she had won the contest with Apollo for the most beautiful present to the Greek capital and about how people had been changed into awful animals, for not showing respects to the gods. Arachne wove stories about deranged gods and gods in compromising situations. However offensive Arachne’s work was, Athena could not find fault with the weaving. She was angered nonetheless and she touched Arachne with her weaving stick. Suddenly Arachne realized how unthankful she had been. She became so desperate that she hung herself. Displeased with her death, Athena decided that Arachne should continue weaving evermore and turned her into a spider (arachne in Greek).
Spiders are weavers of excellence and, especially in autumn, when the moisture in the air decorates their webs with fine crystal tears, spiderwebs can compete with the wondrous works of Arachne. Most spiders are harmless, at least for human beings. All they catch in their webs are other insects like flies. To hear about my meeting with a dangerous spider, read: creepy!.
Most spiders are creepy to look at. I prefer to keep my distance, which is easy in the winter because – yes, they seem to hide during the cold months. Do they hibernate? They’re certainly not around. Come summertime though, all kinds of crawling and flying creatures come out again, including the spiders.
Yesterday I stumbled upon the biggest spider that I have ever seen my life. It had a thick yellowish body of at least 7 cm long! The creature was dead, but I was still too scared to approach, afraid he would rise from his death and jump up at me. I was so scared that the photos I took were blurred.
What strikes me is that each year there is a plague of some animal or another. Last autumn it was crickets (see: Cricket rush), in past summers there were ant invasions (see: A beastly mess) or I could not enter my house without bringing a hundred or so moths in with me. This summer seems to becoming the summer of the spiders. But thank God not of those ‘monster ones’ I described above.
I am nearly used to the rather smaller beige spiders (probably wolf spiders) that use my terrace as a racetrack and my house for hide-and-seek, but I have never seen so many spiders fleeing my feet as in the past few weeks. They don’t look too threatening and I have even dared to have a close look at them: a small black body on very long and thin legs. If they only had an elephant trunk they would be like those high legged elephants of Salvador Dali.
The ‘creepy’ work starts just by opening the internet and looking for what kind of spiders they are. Ai, ai, ai, what a lot of creepy spiders there are! With a pounding heart I whizzed through lots of photographs, in my head knowing already what kind of spider it was: a Harvestman. Which actually is not a spider, but ‘spider–like’ in the order of arachnids.
There are as many as about 6000 kinds of Harvestmen (opiliones), but the exact one flooding the island I have not determined. I think Harvestman is nice enough as a name for this creature. Harvestmen differ from spiders because they have a single oval shaped body and they do not weave webs. So you don’t have to worry about one day stepping out of your house and finding it encapsulated in a huge cobweb.
And I have to admit, Harvestmen look friendly and as soon as they hear your foot swishing through the air, they flee. So they don’t really bother you; it’s only this year’s appearance of such large numbers that is striking. They even look cute when they waddle away, trying to keep dry when I water my plants, hence giving me plenty of time to study them. Although there is not so much to say about them.
So this year there are no large or abnormal numbers of wolf spiders, crickets, ants (yes, indeed, those tiny tiny ants) and even the number of moths was acceptable this spring. But the month of May on Lesvos clearly was the Month of the Harvestmen and the hay wagens (in Dutch the name for the spiders and the cars transporting the hay is the same: hooiwagens): in the grass – the spider-ones, on the roads – the high-stacked trucks with bales of hay.
(with thanks to Mary Staples)
© Smitaki 2013