The Jesus Spider

Now that I’ve finished up my pond series, I been trying to decide what to write about next.  A From the Literature, since I haven’t done one in ages?  Perhaps another identification lesson?  Those all seem awfully heavy after the long pond series.  I eventually decided that it’s time for another story from Dragonfly Woman’s childhood.  This is the story of the Jesus Spider.

Though I spent the first 9 years of my life in Arizona, I spent most of my childhood living in Colorado.  My dad LOVED Colorado (he was thrilled when we got to move there) and my parents were outdoorsy, so we spent nearly all of our weekends in the mountains fishing, collecting minerals, or camping.  My sister and I loved to swim and didn’t have access to a pool, so as soon as the ice on the rivers melted, we were in the frigid water splashing around on our frequent  family fishing trips.  I now realize that we were insane as children and I’m shocked we never got hypothermia.  I can tell I’m getting older because I find that kind of water downright painful now and wouldn’t even dream of going for a swim!  Still, it was a great way to grow up.


The Dragonfly Woman swimming during a spring break in high school.

My grandparents lived in Tucson and we made a yearly trip to visit them, usually during spring break.  The best part of going to Tucson was always the warmth.  After a cool winter in Colorado, the lovely warm weather in Tucson was most welcome.  We could wear shorts and sandals in Arizona as we heard about 6 foot snowdrifts from friends in Colorado.  We loved it.  Because we spent so much time in those frigid rivers, the “cold” outdoor pool at my grandparents’ house, the one no sane Arizonan would ever get into, felt like a hot tub to us.  My parents were hard pressed to keep us out of the water.

dead lizard

The next to worst thing my sister and I ever pulled out of our grandparents' pool.

My grandparents lived near the edge of town in an area that has a lot of wildlife.  The pool was always a bit of an adventure because you never knew what you might find in it.  My grandparents told us stories about fishing drowned rattlesnakes and pack rats out of the pool.  Every once in a while there would be some largish mammal in there.  The worst my sister and I ever found was a large lizard trapped in the drain basket, so we lucked out.  The main wildlife encounters we had in the pool were insects, which I was thrilled with as an entomologist-in-training, and spiders.

Now I’ve always had an intense and irrational fear of spiders.  I don’t know exactly where it comes from, but my dad tells a story about an encounter I had with a black widow when I was a very small child (like 1 1/2 or 2) that I think might be the source of my fear.  My dad waged an all out, no holds barred war against the black widows in our yard when we lived in AZ.  We had tons of them and my parents had two small kids, so he wandered the yard armed with Raid nearly every day.  He also taught me at a very early age not to touch them because they were venomous.  One night he checked on me in my crib after I called for him and I told him that there was a very large spider on me.  He kept telling me that I was having a dream and that there was no spider.  I kept insisting and got more and more frantic about it, so he eventually decided to prove that there was no spider.  Imagine his surprise when he found the biggest black widow he’d ever seen!  It had been crawling around on my blanket near my legs.  I had noticed it and apparently become scared (I knew they were dangerous after all), so I’d called my dad to come rescue me.  I’ve been terrified of spiders nearly my whole life, so I have a feeling this might have been the reason.  My sister doesn’t have any excuse.  :)


The stuff nightmares are made of.

Back to the pool.  Every time my sister and I found a spider in the pool, we would knock it into the water so it would get trapped and drown, so it couldn’t “get” us.  Pretty stupid really, but we were kids.  One day, we hopped into the pool and saw the biggest spider we’d ever seen clinging to the walls of the pool.   I have no idea what it is, but that’s it in the picture – I found one in my backyard a few years ago.  these things are BIG!  If anyone knows what it is (the idea of keying it out myself makes my skin crawl), leave a note in the comments section!  I’d love to know what it is.  Needless to say, a monster spider with a 4 inch leg span that might crawl on one of us while we swam was the worst thing imaginable, so we decided to knock it into the water to protect ourselves.  We splashed the spider vigorously from a few feet away.  It took a while to dislodge it, but it eventually came loose and fell into the pool.  We hooted in triumph as we watched the spider scourge flounder in the water.  Yep, we were spider trapping studs and we congratulated ourselves for vanquishing our foe.

Until, that is, the spider pulled itself up onto the surface of the water, paused for a moment, then RAN  toward the other side of the pool like it was running across pavement!  This would have been bad enough except that were in water up to our necks and were positioned squarely between the spider and the wall where it was headed – it was headed straight for our faces.  I believe there may have been some panicked, girlie screams as we frantically tried to get out of the spider’s path and we watched in horror as its freakishly long legs missed us both by mere inches.  It reached the other side and crawled entirely out of the pool, ran across the courtyard, and disappeared over the wall.  Still, that was it for the pool that day.  For the remainder of the trip, we checked the entire perimeter of the pool for spiders before we got in.  We also stopped splashing spiders.  Clearly we were being punished for our spider drowning proclivities and karma was coming back to bite us in the butt.

I’m sure the spider was harmless as it was WAY too big to be any of the venomous spiders we have in Tucson, but I can still vividly remember the sight of that monster running across the surface of the water straight for my face.  The memory still gives me chills, though I can certainly see the humor in the situation now as well.  As an aquatic entomologist, what I don’t get it how the spider was able to stay on the surface of the water for so long.  This was deep water as far as the spider was concerned, about 5 feet.  It ran about 20 feet from one side of the pool to the other.  It PAUSED before it started running.  How was it able to keep itself from falling in?  I know there are lizards that run on the surface of the water, but they have to keep moving to do so.  It still seems strange to me that a spider that large and heavy could skip across the surface of the water so easily.  I still have no idea how it managed it.  I’ll figure it out someday.

So there you have it.  A giant spider walking on water.  The Jesus Spider!  My sister and I named it the Jesus Spider the moment it crawled out of the pool and that’s what it will always be for us.  And because it’s late and I’m writing about the stupid spider, I’ll probably have a spider nightmare tonight.  I used to have them all the time, but it’s been a while…

Next time I promise to write something a little more scientific!  And I hope to start writing two posts a week instead of just one too.  My blog’s almost a year old, so it’s time to pick up the pace!


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