1. Spider Sense Tingling!

    YOU KNOW my wife Irene’s love for small, out of the way bed-and-breakfasts. Well, nothing’s too good for my Renie so I decided – completely on a whim! – to surprise her last week and take her to one of the smallest, out-of-the-way-est B&Bs I could find – the Kenwood Glade Inn, in rustic Hill, Virginia. And, okay, I stumbled across someone on Craigslist who was hoping to get some money back on a bed & breakfast Groupon he couldn’t use before it expired. …He didn’t get much.

    I have to admit that I had a bit of an ulterior motive for bringing her there. As the bumper stickers famously state, “Virginia Is For Spiders” and I don’t have to tell you, early October is peak spider-viewing time. We’re both avid arachnaphiles, sure, and the small hamlet of Hill claims to have more spiders per square acre than any other region in the state. Brother, I believe it.

    As you’ll see, we were not disappointed.

    Above is the black and yellow garden spider. One of the smaller ones we saw, its abdomen was only about the size of a Mini Cooper. This orb web spinner’s distinctive vertical zigzag design just below its front legs is believed by arachnologists to make the web more visible to low-flying planes that might otherwise get snared in its web (the cause of 85% of small aircraft fatalities in Virginia).

    Speaking of airplanes, here’s a daddy longlegs as seen from above when we were flying into Roanoke.

    A mid-sized “Daddy,” we estimated the length from the tip of its longer legs to its powerful, waiting jaws was probably a little less than a quarter mile.  It was spotted on the striated flatlands of an abandoned strip mine just out of town. While popularly known as daddy longlegs, they’re also called harvestmen because they literally “harvest men” (and women and children) and eat them.

    Other species we were enchanted by included the black widow (spotted along a retaining wall up on Mill Mountain just below the Roanoke Star where she’d dart out to snatch distracted tourists as they looked up at the landmark. We understand the framework for the star is in fact her web.), various jumping spiders (Seen in the woods, these magnificent creatures can overtake a deer running at top speed in a single leap.), a nursery web spider (so-called because of its habit of spiriting away infants from their cribs), and of course, the ubiquitous wolf spider, which, as its name implies hunts in packs. We ate at the nearby and highly-rated Field View Tavern on more than one occasion and were surprised and delighted when a few “wolves” appeared from the darkness during the main course to add some excitement to a delicious meal. (By the way, be sure to make a point to visit the downstairs at the Tavern where you’ll see dozens of trophy spiders, vanquished by a local bowhunter, literally scattered throughout – though be careful: Rumor has it, this lower level still houses at least a few active “dens.”)

    Since the outside of our bed-and-breakfast was studded with countless enormous egg sacs, we couldn’t resist taking home a few of these beachball-sized souvenirs. Unfortunately, a slight change in cabin pressure on the plane home must have somehow sped up the incubation process resulting in an early mass hatching and, well, we’re particularly grateful Samuel L. Jackson happened to be on our flight.

    Posted by on October 18, 2011, 9:00 AM.

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