If Alexander Hamilton Was a Spider…

I have been obsessed with Hamilton ever since it came out on Disney+, so you’d better believe I wasn’t going to pass up “My Shot” when I realized one of these biweekly posts would fall on Alexander Hamilton’s birthday. And I have the perfect arthropod for such an occasion: ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the yellow garden spider, also known as the writing spider.

A gorgeous writing spider captured by Melissa McMasters on Flickr

Outside of the popular musical, Alexander Hamilton is especially well known for his writing, including but certainly not limited to the bulk of the Federalist Papers and articles for his newspaper, then called the New York Evening Post. Likewise, many writing spiders are accomplished essayists and journalists, some of whom have written articles advocating for the ethical treatment of pigs.

Just kidding. They’re actually famous for writing nonsense zig-zags that look much more like a zipper to me than anything actually legible. Perhaps writing spiders aren’t the best analogy for Hamilton after all.

The purpose of that “zipper,” or stabilimentum (fancy word for web decoration), is a bit of a mystery. It’s theorized that stabilimenta help stabilize the web (I see where the word probably comes from now), keep birds from flying into the web, or play a role in attracting insects.

Each web takes hours to weave, and the spiders spin a brand-new web every day, often in the same place. Once the web is constructed, the writing spider will sit in the middle and “Wait For It”: when prey get snagged in the web, vibrations alert the spider, who quickly descends upon its meal. Writing spiders may also engage in web-flexing, a common orb weaver behavior in which the spider shakes its web defensively or to further entangle its prey.

It could be that bugs get snagged trying to read that intricate zipper, but it’s more likely that they can’t see the web at all and fly right into it. Like most spiders, writing spiders construct their webs out of silk that reflects UV light, making their sticky traps virtually invisible to unsuspecting insects. Even though you can see them with your fancy human eyes, you still ought to let these big arachnids “Stay Alive” in your yard or garden: writing spiders prey on all sorts of annoying pests like mosquitoes, flies, and aphids. Plus, I think they’re really pretty, and their venom poses little to no threat to humans. And that’s a really good thing, because my family and I were attacked by hordes of writing spiders at Carolina Beach State Park.

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but don’t hike the Flytrap Trail if you’re arachnophobic. We took the trail back in the fall of 2019 hoping to see some Venus flytraps, but instead my brother, parents and I saw writing spider after writing spider after writing spider. We had to walk directly under a number of spiders, and their blanket-sized webs on either side of the trail soundly deterred us from taking any shortcuts – we were feeling quite unnerved and “Helpless” to say the least. It was still a nice hike, and we ended up seeing some pitcher plants, but some of my less arachnid-loving family members were pretty relieved when we made it back to the parking lot.

Venus flytraps are carnivorous plants endemic to the longleaf pine forests of Southeastern North Carolina and parts of South Carolina. I still haven’t seen one in the wild, but they do grow naturally at Carolina Beach State Park. Thanks to NC Wetland’s Flickr page for the photo!

If you’re a spider lover but you don’t live in the Wilmington area, don’t worry – as long as you live in North or Central America, you still have a pretty good chance at running into a writing spider. I mean, hopefully not literally, as neither one of you would find that very pleasant, but they’re pretty cool to admire from a few feet back. Plus, there’s a myth that if you damage the spider’s web, it’ll write your name in its stabilimentum the next day, which is… bad, for some reason? That actually sounds pretty cool. But don’t try it, “We Know” these spiders are illiterate, so you’d just be wrecking their food nets for no reason.

Happy Birthday, Alexander Hamilton. I hope you would’ve been “Satisfied” with this post about writing spiders and all the “Non-Stop” Hamilton references.

And remember everyone: “The World [Is] Wide Enough” for both writing spiders and us. If you could just leave them alone for those of us who don’t like mosquitoes and garden pests, “That Would Be Enough.”

“Your Obedient Servant,”

– A. Blogger

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