A Naif in the Forest by Darrell Berger

Wing Tips to Hiking Boots: Musings of a New, Full-Time Poconos Resident 

The first robin of spring and the first flower are not spring’s only harbingers. There is also the first mosquito, the first tic, the first big spider. This one was about three inches from end to end. I disturbed her when I removed the deck chair covers from their bin. She scurried away. 

I think she is a dark fishing spider, Dolomedes tenebrosus. The females are much larger and, like many spiders, sometimes kill and eat the males, depending whether, during courtship, she is more in need of a mate or a meal. Timing is everything. 

Fishing spiders usually dwell near water and hunt for small aquatic life. They can swim under water or, not miraculously in their case, walk upon it. What is unusual about tenebrosus is it is a fishing spider that doesn’t fish. She is a water spider that lives in the forest, the only one of over a hundred varieties of Dolomedes to do so. 

They live in forests near human dwellings, and frequently find themselves indoors. They appear in April and begin hibernation in the fall. Their bite is slightly poisonous, like a bee’s. They are timid and run from humans, as this one did. They eat various insects and burrow into the ground if threatened. 

I respect a fishing spider that doesn’t fish, that has adapted to a different environment from that of her relatives. At some evolutionary point did tenebrosus decide that walking on water was okay, but wanted some shade? What random complexity of evolution brought this about? Did some of the dark fishing spiders wander too far from the river and had to find food and shelter among the trees, some succeeding? 

I read something more intentional into it. I imagine a spider finding the fishing life too complex, too busy. Too many other spiders competed for too few insects. The river might have been a bad influence on spiderlings.  Like Dolomedes tenebrosus, I am not a natural in the forest, yet we both survive by adapting when we can, scurrying away when we must.

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