so, it’s not webnesday, and i’m in the middle of reliving the voyageurs camping trip, but something important has come up — i have a confession to make.  ready?

i have found a spider that gives me the creeps, just a little.

well, maybe more than a little.  maybe it makes me distinctly edgy.  maybe, on some deeply suppressed level, it actually freaks me the f— out.

you know how we just moved into a new house (ok, about a month ago now)?  i am excited for the spider-watching opportunities this house has to offer.  basement, several under-stair storage areas, garden, garage.  i have already seen at least one nice spider in the garage that i don’t recognize and will need to investigate.

then there’s the shed.

the previous owners were kind enough to leave us some very useful things in the shed — wicker trellises, chicken wire, plant pots, and some other things under a blue tarp that i have not checked out yet (perhaps the subject of an additional story, depending what i find).  in all seriousness, these people left the house immaculate and anything they did leave behind has been useful, in good condition and very much appreciated.  going by their track record, the tarp could conceivably be hiding a golden goose.  i was actually thinking of taking a look under it today, but i got distracted.

the shed is liberally draped in cobwebs, inside and out.  some cute little black spiders have tucked themselves into the outside grooves, and i imagine that many of the more densely cluttered webs actually belonged to long-obsolete inhabitants.  when i peeked into the shed shortly after we moved in, i did see some very long legs tucked into one of the upper corners, and was excited to take a closer look when i got the chance.

well, this afternoon i was out pottering in the garden — pulling weeds here, repotting plants there, conducting small archaeological digs under the shrubbery.  and i needed something from the shed.  as i approached, trowel in hand, i got the distinct feeling i was being watched.

bonus points if you noticed malinky, the neighbors’ burmese cat, in the photo above.

she likes to sit up next to the shed like a silver ghost, and she was particularly watchful today, since our cat (who has apparently become bulimic) was barfing up his latest grass snack on the lawn behind me.  and few cats do disapproval as well as malinky.

so, i was talking to her, making excuses for my own cat’s incompetence and resulting retching, as i opened the shed door and noted that a fresh gauzy web had been spun across the entrance and the pile of garden junk i needed to dig through.  i used the trowel to sweep the new strands aside, noticing as i did so that there was a large spider molt curled up in the upper shed corner, which i hoped to get a better look at later.  and it’s lucky i was watching that corner, because the former inhabitant (presumably) of the molt rushed out as i brushed the web aside, and i mean rushed. out.  as in, it came charging down the web, fangs flashing and eerily long pedipalps waving madly.  this spider has easily a three-, maybe a four-inch (10cm) legspan, and it was making a beeline for a disturbance made by a human with a trowel.  as a fairly seasoned spider-teaser, i can tell you that most spiders are fairly wise to fake disturbances to their webs, and if you are too vigorous with the decoy, they won’t come out.  not this one though — it was ready for battle with whatever giant insect it thought it might be feeding on for, oh, the next year.

well, i was mildly startled (there are no witnesses except malinky, and she’s sworn to secrecy, so i can say what i like), but also, of course, fascinated, so i went for my new camera with the nice macro.  and i went in a hurry, because chances were good that the spider would have retreated by the time i got back.

but oooooh no.  not only was it still there, hanging at perfect ease in the middle of the shed — it stayed there while i photographed it, with flash, from distances down to about two inches away.  if the photo composition is not ideal, it’s because i was poised for flight the whole time and fully conscious that i was within legs’ reach, should the beast turn on me.  and maybe my hands were trembling a little.  and maybe they weren’t.  i’m used to big spiders, but i am not used to big spiders that have no apparent aversion to close human contact.  also, i am used to females being larger than males, and i’m pretty sure this one is male.  you do the math.  (there is a lovely photo of a female here, but no indication of size).

once i had captured sufficient proof of this monster’s existence, i decided to check the actual extent of the web.  i believed i was dealing with a species of native Cambridgea (perhaps C. foliata), a sheet-web spider, the largest of which often build webs up to at least a meter square.  and plucking at the strands near the door (with a long blade of grass, for safety reasons) did, in fact, make the spider bounce.  so did plucking at some of the strands outside the door, leading to the fence.  this spider seems to be the king of town — a town that covers the entire back corner of the garden.  i did cast my eye over the other corners of the shed for any other candidates, but that meant turning my back on the one i most definitely did not want climbing onto, say, my head — the one that was still bobbing gently and still not retreating.  the one that seemed just bolshy enough to actually climb onto a person’s head.  the one that is still hanging in the middle of the shed, some 90 minutes later, waiting for me to screw up the courage to poke around its lair.

i think i’ll call it aragog.

afterword: the forsters discuss Cambridgea’s trapping strategy in fairly complete detail.  above the large sheet-web hangs a network of individual threads that act as a baffle and cause blundering insects to fall down onto the main web.  the spider then rushes out (confirmed!) and bites the prey with what venom that is ‘extremely effective as even large insects succumb in a few seconds.’ comforting.