Yet more Sunday fun from Salt Lake Tribune. The March 30, 1913 issue brings us a horrible vision of our future:
Will The Spider Inherit Our Earth?
Man Must Give Way to Some Other Creature, Says H. G. Wells, the English Philosopher, and Maeterlinck, the Belgian, Suggests the Hideous Insects, "Born of a Demented Comet," as Man's Successors
The intelligence of the insects becomes a more fascinating and disturbing problem the more it is studied.
And now comes the suggestion that the insects, and most probably the spiders, are destined to supplant man as the rulers of the earth. The suggestion gains support from many scientific arguments. A very remarkable book, "The Life of the Spider," by J. H. Fabre, a French naturalist of surpassing genius, has Just been published by Dodd, Mead & Co.
It contains a long preface by Maurice Maeterlinck, the philosophic writer and biographer of the bee. He advances the idea strongly that the spider may be destined to be our successor on earth. From Maeterlinck's arguments and Fabre's observations it appears that this insect is in many ways much more fitted to rule the earth than man.
The spider is absolutely ruthless. It possesses a poison with which it can kill or paralyze any creature at will. It has tireless industry and knows neither laziness nor intemperance. It sustains life with great economy. It is never led astray by its passions. It is a superb architect and craftsman. In its ability to float about on a line of web it shows itself to have learnt the secret of the aeroplane ages before man.
Having eight legs and eight eyes, the spider is physically far superior to man.
From the construction of its web there is reason to believe that it is a superb mathematician and geometrician. It appears to have partly solved the problem of obtaining energy directly from the sun, for the young are kept alive in that way for five or six months. Notwithstanding the mental capacity of the spider, it is a repulsive creature. Man has an instinctive antipathy to it. To M. Maeterlinck the malignance of the spider suggests that it is a creature from another planet, where life is wholly alien to ours. The spider's matrimonial relations fill him with horror.
"The marriage customs," he says, "are dreadful and, contrary to that which happens in every other world, here it is the female of the pair that stands for strength and intelligence and also for cruelty and tyranny, which appear to be their inevitable consequence. Almost every wedding ends in the violent and immediate death of the husband. Often the bride begins by eating a certain number of suitors.
"The archetype of these fantastic unions could be supplied by the Languedocian scorpions, who, as we know, carry lobster-like claws and a long tail supplied with a sting, which is extremely dangerous. They have a prelude to the festival in the shape of a sentimental stroll, claw in claw. then, motionless, with fingers still gripped, the contemplate each other blissfully, interminably; day and night pass over their ecstasy while they remain face to face, petrified with admiration.
"Next, the foreheads come together and touch; the mouths—if we can give the name of mouth to the monstrous orifice that opens between the claws—are joined in a sort of kiss; after which the union is accomplished, the male is transfixed with a mortal sting and the terrible spouse crunches and gobbles him up with gusto."
Another recent book, "The Study of the Future," [The Discovery of the Future] by H. G. Wells. (Published by H. W. Huebsch, New York.), lends strength to the theory that the spider may be man's successor. Mr. Wells argues very forcibly that man cannot be the ultimate form of life on earth.
In "The Life of the Spider," M. Fabre gives us a complete biography of the black-bellied tarantula, the most terrible of all spiders. Here it should be noted that the author always speaks of the spider as "she." She builds a wonderful underground tunnel for a dwelling. At four or five inches from the surface it bends at an obtuse angle. It is at the elbow of the tunnel that the tarantula posts herself as a vigilant sentry, watching for victims and enemies.
The tarantula is a clever architect. The entrance of her burrow is surmounted by a shaft constructed throughout by herself. It is a genuine work of architecture, standing as much as an inch above the ground and two inches in diameter, so that it is wider than the burrow itself. This arrangement lends itself admirably to the necessary extension of the legs at the moment when the prey is to be seized. The shaft is composed of little bits of wood joined together by clay with perfect strength and symmetry.
The building is upholstered with a silken fabric woven by the tarantula's spinnerets. The ability to build these houses is found only in individuals that have reached a certain intellectual development.
M. Fabre shows that the tarantula is very cleanly and brushes away all the remains if her victims. She has the faculty of seeing by day and night.
The tarantulas are ferocious and cunning fighters, and the victor in a fight habitually devours the brain of his enemy, a custom like that of the human head hunters of Borneo.
"One day," says the author, "I picked out two full grown and very powerful males and put them together in a wide jar. After walking around the arena several times to try and avoid each other, they made up their minds to fight.
"I saw them, to my surprise, take their distances and sit up solemnly on their hind legs, so as mutually to present the shield of their chests to each other. After watching them face to face like that for two minutes, during which they had provoked each other by glances, I saw them fling themselves upon each other, twisting their legs together and struggling to bite one another with their fangs.
"Whether from fatigue or from convention, the combat was suspended. There was a few seconds truce and each athlete moved away and resumed his threatening posture. This circumstance reminded me that in the strange fights between cats, there are also suspensions of hostilities.
"But the contest was soon renewed between my two tarantulas with increased fierceness. One of them, after holding victory in the balance for a while, was at last thrown and received a mortal wound in the head. He became the prey of the conqueror, who tore open his skull and devoured its brains."
Every spider mixes a poison that is exactly suited for the purpose in view. The tarantula, which does not weave cords to bind its victims, needs a poison that will kill instantly, or the victim may escape or do damage to the home. Even the rattlesnake's poison does not kill so quickly. It takes hours to accomplish what the tarantula does in less than a second.
The tarantula kills by preference at night or in the darkness, for it can then take its victim entirely by surprise. M. Fabre hung a fat and powerful carpenter bee before the burrow of a Narbonne tarantula until the latter rushed out and killed the bee.
"The tarantula's fangs are planted in the nape of the neck," says M. Fabre. "The assassin has the knowledge which I suspected. She has made for the essentially vital centre. She has stung the insect's cervical ganglia with her poison fangs. In short, she has bitten the only point where a lesion produces sudden death."
This tarantula's poison only produced paralysis in the leg of a bird, but the paralysis was permanent and ended in death twelve hours later. A mole bitten on the nose died in thirty-six hours. Evidently the poison only produces sudden death when applied to the most sensitive nerve centres.
M. Fabre very reasonably concludes that the tarantula is the most scientific murderer of all the webless spider family. She places her fangs upon the cervical nerve-centres with an astonishing physiological knowledge and dexterity that no human surgeon can show.
The Narbonne tarantula, after hatching out her young, carries them on her back for four or five months. They number hundreds. In spite of this trouble, M. Fabre decided that the spider had no maternal affection for her young. She was quite unconcerned when some of them fell off and were killed.
The naturalist proved the astonishing fact that the individuals of this family would adopt themselves to their environment, building houses of a kind their race had never known before. He found, for instance, that they constructed houses of pebbles, when forced to do so, although they had always worked in soft earth.
The tarantula puts pieces of her prey on the roof to be baked and preserved by the sun.
One of the mysteries of spider life is that the young of the tarantula and other species, while they are on the mother's back for months, take no food and obtain nothing from the mother's body. M. Fabre advances the interesting theory that they live directly by solar energy, thus suggesting that the spiders have solved a problem which is regarded as the ultimate goal of human science.
"Instead of being served up through the intermediary of food and passing through the ignominious circuit of gastric chemistry, could not this solar energy penetrate the animal directly and charge it with activity, even as the battery charges an accumulator with power?" M. Fabre asks, "Why not live on sun, seeing that after all, we find nought but sun in the fruits which we consume?"
The banded epeira is the handsomest of the southern French spiders. On her fat belly, a mighty silk warehouse, nearly as large as a hazel nut, are alternate yellow, black and silver sashes.
The epeira constructs a magnificent radiating upright web. In the lower part of the web, starting from the centre, a wide opaque ribbon descends zigzag-wise across the radii. This is the epeira's trademark. The flourish of an artist initialling his creation.
"That the spider feels satisfied when, after passing and repassing from spoke to spoke, she finishes her spiral is beyond a doubt," comments M. Fabre. "The work achieved insures her food for a few days to come."
Describing the artistic taste and architectural skill of this spider, the author says:
"The epeira ends her web with a dead white angular flourish; she ends her nest with brown mouldings; which run down irregularly from the marginal junction to the bulging middle. For this purpose she makes use for the third time of a different silk; she then produces silk of a dark hue, varying from russet to black. The spinnerets distribute the material with a wide longitudinal swing from pole to pole, and the hindlegs apply it in capricious ribbons."
M. Fabre has observed that the epeira is ambidextrous, a valuable quality in the struggle for existence to which man has so far aspired in vain. In whatever direction she turns, she uses the nearest of her eight legs with the same dexterity.
The spider uses her web in some mysterious way as a telegraph wire. "When a fly or other possible prey touches the most distant part of the web she hastens to the spot, but if the structure is disturbed by a man she hides herself. There is reason to believe that the web carries to her news of just what is happening on it.
After showing that the spider is a skilled aeroplanist, an architect, a handler of all sorts of tools and implements of precision, M. Fabre goes on to adduce evidence from the form of the web that this insect possesses a knowledge of geometry, mathematics and logarithms.
"Taken as a whole," he says, "the rope-latticed edifice consists of a series of cross-bars, intersecting the several radiating lines obliquely at angles of equal value.
"By this characteristic we recognize the 'logarithmic spiral.' Geometricians give this name to the curve which intersects obliquely at angles of unvarying value all the straight lines or 'radii vectores' radiating from a centre called the pole. The epeira's construction, therefore, is a series of cords joining the intersections of a logarithmic spiral with a series of radii. It would become merged in this spiral if the number of radii were infinite, for this would reduce the length of the rectilinear elements indefinitely and change this polygonal line into a curve."
Contrary to the article, H. G. Wells, in his essay "The Extinction of Man", favored ants as our eventual overlords (welcomed or not); however, he did offer the possibility that cephalopods had a future, albeit largely at the expense of beachgoers. He later wrote the short story "Empire of the Ants" expanding on how they would take over (it was loosely adapted into a movie in 1977).
Anyway, this somewhat random illustration from the article seems to suggest who the real puppet-masters behind our future spider overlords will be:
The Stalk-eyed Spider—Nothing but a Great Mechanical Body Moved by an Alert, Cruel Intelligence Poised High Above It.
That's no eye-stalk... it's the fruiting body of a parasitic, mind-controlling fungus!