Earlier this year I had the good fortune of spending a month in beautiful Costa Rica while doing a bit of work for grad school, of which I graduated this summer, thankyouverymuch. MSLIS is now in the books, pun intended!
Back to the trip. I’d like to kick-off the Costa Rica stories with my little run-in with what Google tells me is a cluster of spiders, but which we will henceforth refer to as the more appropriate nightmare of spiders. Capisce?
During this particular week of my trip, I was spending it alone bumming around the town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. There was only one road, and it ended 2 miles south of my AirBnB where the jungle took over and a footpath led the rest of the way to the Panama border.
I’m told that this town is quite popular during surf season, but seeing as it was early spring the area was in a sleepy daze. Rather that drive everywhere in my little jalopy of a jeep I decided to walk the 2 miles south in search of a nice beach or two to hang out at. There was very little traffic, so I walked down the middle of the street. No bug spray. No hiking boots. No baseball bat to swat away the jungle wasps or the Costa Rican rhinoceros. Didn’t think Costa Rica had rhinos?? Well, buckle up and hang on, because we’re about to learn some things! Not only does Costa Rica have a rhino, but it can fly because IT IS A FREAKIN’ BEETLE!!! (photo credit: imgur)
But I’m getting WAY ahead of myself here. This post is about spiders, not beetles. My point is, I was woefully unprepared and unarmed for what I assumed would be a casual walk. I have since learned that there is nothing casual about Costa Rica. Every moment of every day is pregnant with the potential of a rumble with nature. Now, back to the story.
There I was, lollygagging down the road listening to the toucans chat and howler monkeys terrorize the treetops, when I noticed something strange up ahead. There was what looked like a tree branch floating in midair, about 30 feet above the road. My senses were on overdrive, seeing as 100% of everything I was experiencing was totally unfamiliar to me, so I narrowed in on the branch and poured all of my focus into it. As I got closer, I realized that it was indeed a tree branch. Floating. In mid air. I feel the need to really emphasize that this was not a leaf, or a stick, but a BRANCH OF A JUNGLE TREE. Still moving towards it, like a stupefied moth towards the light, I caught a glimmer of something in the sunlight.
This is where I need to stop and take a big breath, because I’m getting itchy just thinking about what’s coming next. Ugh. Here we go…
I caught a glimmer of something. Something like a spiderweb. Yes. Yes, a spiderweb. One more step, and the sun bounced and radiated off of a magnificently massive spiderweb. A web so large that it was able to hold a branch of a tree midair. As my eyes focused on the web, and panic began to rise along my spine, I noticed movement. Lots of movement. Not just one spider, or one dozen, but quite literally DOZENS of spiders, all roughly the size of MY HAND furiously moving their spindly and knobby legs about.
I began to back away from the web, because of instinct, when I felt something on the back of my leg. It felt similar to fishing line. Strong enough not to give when I backed into it, but not sharp or sticky. I turned and looked down. It was more web. I had stepped off of the side of the road, right where there was about a foot of gravel before the jungle began. A foot of unused space, or so it initially seemed. Now, however, much to my horror I saw that the space was indeed occupied. The web that was overhead, showing off with it’s tree-branch stunt, didn’t only go above the road, but it went down the sides of it as well, creating a tunnel of sorts. A living nightmare tunnel of spiders.
I quickly shuffled toward the center of the street and looked back the way I had come, contemplating which direction to run. I had walked about a mile, so I was smack dab in the middle of my trek. One mile to civilization either way. I decided to head back home and broke into a trot as fast as my sandals would allow me to go. To my horror, I noticed that the nightmare-tunnel-web kept going, or rather that I had been walking through it this entire time and hadn’t even noticed. What I thought was dozens of spiders was in actuality hundreds, if not thousands! The web, one enormous and continuous web, went on for the entire mile until I reached the edges of the town. Where the web stopped, development began, though I’m positive buildings did not stop those 8-legged architects — it’s just that they’re harder to spot when they’re not hanging out in the open. Though, to be fair, it took me a hot minute to notice them in the open jungle, so it would take weeks of training my eyes to pick them up in tight nooks and crannies.
Later the next day, after tossing and turning all night from spider infested dreams, I got in my car and headed back south. Protected this time by steel and glass, I inched down the road taking note of where the web began and ended. Lining both sides of the road and stretching up about 20 feet above, the web went on for the entire 2 miles. I spent the entire afternoon, and a solid quarter tank of gas cruising up and down what I dubbed Arachnid Alley. My terror morphed into curiosity and finally into pure awe. This was one of the most amazing things I had ever laid eyes upon (though I felt much better viewing it from the safety of a car).
Turns out, these not so small engineers were none other than the famous Golden Orb Spider. These spiders are found the world over, however they are of particular interest to scientists because their webbing is the strongest organic material on the planet. The web of these beauties is being studied for a variety of technologies from internal surgeries to bullet-proof military equipment. All of this was learned after I had returned state-side, however the feeling of awe that I had while in the midst of the nightmare of spiders was genuine and for no other reason than the pure immensity of it all. It reminded me of the fact that – theoretically – it would only take the spiders of Earth 1 year to eat all of us humans. There are that many spiders surrounding us that it would only take them 12 months to eat all 7 BILLION OF US!
Spiders are everywhere. There’s probably one sizing you up right now – regardless of where you are. This both terrifies and amazes me. As difficult as it sometimes is, I try and let my amazement trump my terror because we do live in an unbelievably fascinating world and the more we can get excited about it, the more we’re inclined to care for and live with it – not against it, or on top of it like some resource-sucking gasbag. As an informal educator I have the chance to take a story like this and share it with kids – many of whom have not yet learned to be terrified of nature. These kinds of tales serve to encourage and excite them to keep going outside, to keep looking in the nooks and crannies and to sit in awe of a different kind of web than many of them are used to — a freshly spun one. So, get off the computer, or phone or tablet and giddy-up outside! Go on and get excited about spiders and life here on Earth, and while you’re at it – grab a friend and share the moment!