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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Kim Win­gerei Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

A spi­der web un­der con­struc­tion na­ture’s most amaz­ing won­ders.

On a re­cent road trip down the NSW coast I camped at beau­ti­ful Di­a­mond Head in Crowdy Bay Na­tional Park. Ar­riv­ing midafter­noon, hav­ing set up my lit­tle tent in a peace­ful, well-pro­tected area, I went ex­plor­ing and quickly dis­cov­ered a se­cluded spot at the end of a nar­row path. It was perched 4m or so above the beach, an open­ing in the oth­er­wise dense shrub: a per­fect ob­ser­va­tory.

At dusk I wan­dered back there to get a fi­nal glimpse of the sea and the waves and a sense of the weather. Sit­ting down, tak­ing in the scenery and seren­ity, right in front of my eyes a lit­tle spi­der ap­peared, not much big­ger than a fly, seem­ingly sus­pended in thin air.

We looked at each other for a few sec­onds, then it kept go­ing about its busi­ness, weav­ing a web to catch the feast of the night, no doubt. I watched in won­der­ment as the lit­tle spi­der kept go­ing in win­g­less flight, first to the shrub on the left, then to the right and back again, a span of 4m or 5m.

Com­ing back a fourth time, I thought, “oh is one of this no, it’s fall­ing”, as it sud­denly dropped to the ground. But no, this was clearly part of the de­sign; a third an­chor point es­tab­lished, up and down it went a few times, tem­po­rar­ily stop­ping to brace it­self for gusts of wind.

All three an­chor points now se­cured, Pete, as I de­cided to call him, started the in­tri­cate task of cre­at­ing the ac­tual web. Mes­merised, I watched as Pete went around, not in cir­cles as you would ex­pect but fol­low­ing an in­tri­cate path with no pat­tern that a mere hu­man could make sense of, no doubt fol­low­ing un­writ­ten in­struc­tions passed down through gen­er­a­tions.

Back and forth, up and down, re­trac­ing his steps, con­stantly check­ing joints and test­ing the strength of his web, all eight legs work­ing in uni- son as he se­creted many me­tres of what must be the most ex­tra­or­di­nary rope made.

By the time Pete had fin­ished, dusk was about to turn to night, I wished him bon ap­petit as I made my way back to the tent. At the other end I sud­denly stopped: right in front of me was Pete’s (much) big­ger brother, busy cre­at­ing his own web, block­ing my path. I stood there for a lit­tle while, but I had to get past and there was no other way, with the shrub im­pen­e­tra­ble either side. Fi­nally I got down on all fours and quickly crawled un­der­neath, as low as I could, feel­ing slightly ridicu­lous but hop­ing not to undo any part of the web above.

As I stood up and looked back I was re­lieved to see that my move­ment hadn’t done any dam­age. I got back into my tent, zipped up, and hoped that Pete’s other friends and rel­a­tives had not found their way into my sleep­ing bag.

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