There are a lot of reasons why one can spend a lifetime walking by common things without seeing them. Camouflage, of course, is one. So are indifference and inattention. Both are common to most people, but even for those who pay attention, decades can pass without noticing interesting things. I know, because it’s only within the last year that I have begun noticing one particular animal. And it belongs to a class of critters I have been studying for half a century. Dare I say it, spiders?
Now before you say to yourself, oo gross! too many times, let me explain. My first interest in natural history involved spiders. Not because of any inherent perversity, but because I thought they would make a manageable subject of inquiry. It didn’t take all that long to know how wrong I was about that, but by then I was hooked on these quite astonishing creatures. Since then, I have looked into thousands of webs to see how it was made and where the owner was. Both spiders and their webs, when they make one at all, come in all sizes and shapes. And that, perhaps, is why I managed not to see one particular kind of web-inhabiting spider for so many years. It just doesn’t look like a spider at all. It looks like a drop of dew suspended from a strand of silk in the web.
By way of an excuse for missing them all these years, Dewdrop Spiders are pretty small. Their body length at maturity is less than a quarter of an inch, but, hey, the same is true for a lot of other spiders I had no trouble noticing, even the ones that pretend to be garbage in the very center of their web. It never occurred to me, however, that a drop of dew in a web might just not be a drop of dew at all.
Then, one warm and sunny day last September, while I was looking at the dozens of webs in an exuberant clump of saltbush on the sea cliff near where I live, the incongruity of three drops of dew in one of the webs made me look more closely. As I leaned in to examine them, it was if some frame of reference suddenly shifted, and I found myself looking at three of the most bizarrely shaped spiders I had ever seen. Thin black legs and body stretched along a single strand of silk, and the abdomen was not the usual spiderly blob. Instead, it extended downward in a silvered triangle that glinted in the sunlight. These were gorgeous creatures, the silver body marked with slashes of sepia and umber. No two were identical.
As I looked around, I found several others, now that I knew what to look for. I have no idea how many of these spiders I had looked at in the past and not seen. There must have been a great many, but all went unseen by me because of the effectiveness of their camouflage. I am used to creatures disguising themselves as leaves, bird droppings and tree trunks. Now I’ve had to add another ruse, dewdrops.