Anti-arachnophobe post

Remember when I posted that video of the gigantoid web produced in Brazil by a colony of cooperatively-hunting spiders? And many of you North Americans said, “OH GOD — well, at least that’s in South America and not here”?

Guess what was found in the Baltimore Wastewater Treatment Plant a few years back?

A four-acre spider web.

Orb weaver 4acre web

This is not an exaggeration. The entomologists who responded to the treatment plant’s call for “extreme spider help” subsequently wrote a journal article about it, which was published in American Entomologist in autumn 2010:

We were unprepared for the sheer scale of the spider population and the extraordinary masses of both three dimensional and sheet-like webbing that blanketed much of the facility’s cavernous interior. Far greater in magnitude than any previously recorded aggregation of orb-weavers, the visual impact of the spectacle was was nothing less than astonishing.

In places where the plant workers had swept aside the webbing to access equipment, the silk lay piled on the floor in rope-like clumps as thick as a fire hose.

I’ve edited scientific journal articles, and I can tell you that academics don’t use terms like “extraordinary masses” or “nothing less than astonishing” lightly. My guess is that these folks wandered around the treatment plant saying things like “Holy shit” and “Oh my lord we are SO going to publish this!”

Especially when they found places where the weight of the webbing was so great that it pulled 8-foot florescent light fixtures out of the ceiling.

Over at Wired, journalist Gwen Pearson wrote:

The scientists described their estimate of 35,176 spiders/m³ as “markedly conservative” and “representing a minimum volume” of spiders, by the way.

Question: do you measure spiders in Metric ShitTons? Or in Imperial ShitLoads?

I think this is a very relevant question, because when was the last time you heard of spiders being measured in volume?

I sure hope the city of Baltimore recognized what a fantastic tourism resource this was. They should have put up some strobe lights, piped in some freaky music, and charged a pile of cash for people to go in on Halloween.

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in biology, USA. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Anti-arachnophobe post

  1. Linda Briganti says:

    My first thought was — Yes, but think about the amount of insect life sustaining those spiders. It could have been a lot worse work environment. I read somewhere that on average we are never more than eight feet away from a spider. Seems to be true at my house judging by the cobweb production.

  2. Sandra Berry says:

    As much as I respect the intellect of my good friends from Oregon and rely on the benefit of spiders in my organic garden, the photo gave me serious creeps. I’m wondering why they let it go so long. Did they think it was insulation? Thank God, all I have is garden spiders and Black Widows.

  3. Cathy White says:

    Ok, how do you not notice something like this! It wasn’t spun overnight. What size of spiders did this….. The public have a right to know lol.

  4. Ana_ñ says:

    Holy Moly‼!
    Well, at least is in America and not here! 🙂

  5. Cathy White says:

    On a dif topic , but one I know is close to your heart. Headline in my paper ” The Highland pioneer brewing up a storm in the tea trade ” the Big Country brew from the Wee Tea Company plantation in Highland Perthshire has been judged to be worth £2,300 per kilo. I checked , not April 1st. Tea plantation , Scotland …. Not words that usually go together lol.

  6. Inge says:

    35,176 spiders/m³ is that 35 or 35000? 35 would be ok for 1000000cm³ , no?

    • oregon expat says:

      That’s North American numeric style, meaning the comma is a divider for thousands, not a decimal point. So yes, that would be 35000+ spiders per square meter.

      • Inge says:

        Ahah.. which means 35 spiders per 10 x 10 x 10 cm.. and that is one small cube for 35 spiders. I wonder if they share meals? 🙂
        But i imagine that place must have the least amount of flying insects around the neighbourhood.. no mosquitos, no annoying buzzing flies.. mmhhhh… hehe

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