I was sitting on the back porch of Peter Miranda’s house in Queensland, Australia, having a few beers as we peered out towards Alice Springs a thousand miles away, across land only an Aborigine could understand.
The stars were a smear of tiny sequins across a moonless sky, but the air so crisp that new meaning was given “starlight.”
The only interruption was the area lamp that would come on for a few minutes and then turn off again, right through the evening. Each time it came on I would expect some creature to wander around the corner of the house, wondering what caused that light to come on!
Nothing ever showed up, and I finally suggested to Peter that we make our time more constructive by actually repairing his lamp.
“Seems to wurk oll raight to mye, mait. Whot makes you theenk it’s buggud?”
“Well, it comes on and nothing appears, and then it shuts off. I would call it a short circuit except it’s too regular. You reckon it’s OK?”
He smiled. “Cum with me, mait.”
We got up and went around the corner, beer in hand, and commenced upon what came to be one of the more interesting safaris of my life.
Half way down the length of the roof and hanging from the rain gutter was the lamp in question, fully illuminating the back yard and what parts of the Outback it could reach. Nothing moved there but us.
We walked up and stood under it, out in the yard. It was a bright bulb about 4 inches in diamater with a shade that directed it’s beam. Under the lamp was a huge spider web that had somehow fixed itself in midair with anchor points to the edge of the roof and to the supporting wall underneath. It was the size of a small trampoline and looked to be positioned to capture anything falling from or flying around that light.
To one side of the web a sentinel was lurking – a brown spider the size of my palm.
Peter said, “Hold real still and don’t look at the light. When it shuts off, watch that spider.”
Minutes passed. The lamp turned off. The spider went in to action. It climbed the web to the roof and then, as a shadow in the night, made its way down to the corner Peter and I had come around a few minutes earlier. Easily 60 feet, which for a spider must be a mile or so.
On the corner of the house and projecting out from the edge of the roof was the motion sensor which I only now noticed for the first time. The spider walked down the length of this sensor and rappelled from its tip on the web spinning from his backside to a point a foot below the end of the sensor. He began to swing.
I swear to God.
The lamp came back on. The spider climbed his short web and back up the sensor to the roof, down the length of the gutter and back in to his web, now armed again from the attractive light of the lamp.
I was a bit creeped out by the notion that this spider was smarter than I. I have always fancied that man is the most intelligent creature on the planet, when in fact he is the third.