Sarah Simpson Column: Finding nature at home

It was time to call in reinforcements.

B.C. Day long weekend was almost over and I hadn’t come up with a column idea so I was getting a bit stressed, to be honest. Little did I know that, on the holiday Monday, I’d find my column hanging above my shower. Well, technically it was wedged right in that spot between the wall and the ceiling, just above the bathtub’s shower-head.

“What the heck is that?” I asked my kids while I was trying to get them to brush their teeth. (The question all but pressed pause on the brushing.)

It looked like a cotton ball but less-dense. Sort of like the white stuff that grows out of the tops of your blueberries when you leave them too long. But it was big. About the size of a Toonie but more three-dimensional. It was a perfect right-angle in the corner and then had a little bulbous front.

What the heck!

It was time to call in reinforcements. By that I mean my husband. I knew it was likely a nest of some sort and I do a lot for my family, but I don’t do nest removal. And he knows more about bugs and insects anyway.

“Go get your father,” I told the kids. My son took off shouting: “Dad! Dad! Dad! There’s something in the bathroom and you’ve gotta look at it. There are things moving inside!”

He wasn’t wrong.

We’re not the type of family that smashes things with a flip flop and then moves on with our day. No. We have to examine it. We’ve got questions. We find answers.

First, we took out the flashlight and shined it right into the nest to get a better look. The movement inside stopped for the most part but we could definitely tell something was living in there. We were 99 per cent sure it was a spider’s nest but there’s always that little bit of what if, so my husband opted not to poke it, but instead to try to pull it down all in one shot lest spiders fall out everywhere.

I stepped back. I told him it was so I could get a better view, and I wasn’t lying. But it was also so I could avoid being in the path of a spider avalanche if it happened.

Good Lord, I thought to myself. I’ve accepted that spiders are a part of having a basement.

SEE RELATED: You’re never alone in the basement

I’d come to terms with the leggy guy that took up residence in a corner of our powder room. (He’s since vanished and I claim no responsibility). But an entire nest above where we bathe?

No thank you.

Naturally, my husband took the nest outside instead of squishing the you-know-what out of it like I probably would have.

The rest of my family gathered around the paper towel it was wrapped in and observed the poor momma tending to her broken nest. The kids and their dad looked at all the body parts of the spider and counted her legs. They looked at the tiny spider eggs and watched some barely visible little ones skitter across the paper towel.

“I think maybe she built herself in there so she could lay her eggs and then she’d die and the babies could use her as a food source,” my husband told the kids.

We know not all species of spiders engage in what’s called “Matriphagy”, but this one just might.

To my surprise, this horrifying information didn’t seem to faze them.

“Mom quick! She’s starting to die!” my son called out, wanting me to come and watch the action.

We didn’t know for sure the momma spider was about to die but she did seem to be on her last legs, my husband noted.

And if she hadn’t been, she certainly would be following her rather unexpected removal from our bathroom via giant man-hand and paper towel.

We all watched for quite some time before turning our attention to things like toys and laundry. But we did revisit the little family throughout the day to check in. We spent quite a bit of time outside in nature over the weekend but even so, this was a really nice dose of nature without having to go anywhere.

But this whole matriphagy thing stuck with me a bit.

My husband did some Wikipedia research.

“Spiders that engage in matriphagy produce offspring with higher weights, shorter and earlier moulting time, larger body mass at dispersal, and higher survival rates than clutches deprived of matriphagy. In some species, matriphagous offspring were also more successful at capturing large prey items and had a higher survival rate at dispersal. These benefits to offspring outweigh the cost of survival to the mothers and help ensure that her genetic material is passed to the next generation, thus perpetuating the behavior,” said the post.

Wow. What a sacrifice. I wonder if I’d be willing to do that for my children. I mean I do love them more than anything, so probably, I’d guess. But would they be willing participants, I wondered. I needed to know if they’d eat their mom.

“So…” I said casually to my children. “What do you babies think of eating your mom?”

“Gross,” said my son.

“Salty,” said my daughter.

Good to know, babies. Good to know.



sarah.simpson@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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