insects and arachnids thinking big

Barefoot with the Singing Spiders

Prefer to listen to the story? Click the image above to hear the audio version of this blog entry.

I went for a barefoot walk of the woods yesterday. A thing to be savoured before the bitey bugs wake up. Sleep tight mosquitos…

One of many many things I like about walking barefoot is the quiet. I’m certain that to the critters in the woods I still sound like a bipedal animal (tripedal if you count my walking stick). And I certainly still have human scent and shape about me. But even my human ears can tell that my footfalls are not the same, when my feet are out. The leaves rustle instead of compress. The sound is more of foraging chipmunks than clomping shopping malls.

When you walk barefoot, you notice your steps. Shoes steamroller. They walk over, on top of, and through. When you can step straight onto any and every little thing, you tend to. Shoes make your feet callous to the world, while ironically your foot’s calluses let you feel it.

In bared feet, where your foot falls is part of your walk. The ground under your skin is a part of your moment. I pay more attention to what is coming just ahead, and what is directly beneath me right now. Where I am. This mud is soft, when that mud was firm. This moss is plush, that moss was crunchy. These leaves rustle, others were silent. There are many sticks here, when a few steps ago there were none. The ground here is cool, the ground there was warm. Hmmm this stone is chilly underfoot… ah, it’s light-coloured, and not absorbing the day’s heat. The last one was dark and toasty. That soft moss covered stone… how could I not divert my path, to go feel it underfoot?

One woman, who did not wear shoes until she was 20, said that having shoes on felt like walking “con los ojos vendados”, with blindfolds on her feet. Taking your shoes off is like peeling the blindfold back. Allowing your feet to see the ground. To simply chuck off your shoes and go walk the woods is not advised — it is too much too fast too blinding too sharp. I have a good sense now of what grows and scuttles in our woods, and there is no trash here, no broken glass. I have grown familiar with what I am likely to find where, and almost none of it is truly hazardous to me, though I show respect to the unknown by stepping mindfully.

I am also a practical lady who lives in a northern climate, and I have many pairs of practical shoes. There is a time and a place, and my steel-toed boots are best when, say, splitting wood. But if you are outside and you find a good spot, a bit of soft moss, or a smooth log, why not take the blindfold off for a few moments at least, and let your toes see the earth.

I went for a gentle jog in the woods the other day, barefoot. I saw two deer, two turkeys, two ruffed grouse, and a bluebird. Some of that is chance, each day in the woods is different, but I can’t help but notice that the days when my footfalls are softer, I often see more and from closer than the days I am shod.

But you want to know about the spiders. 🙂

Again yesterday, I walked a gentle lap of the woods. This time a slow walk. Slow enough and quiet enough that my ears eventually noticed that underneath the spring bird song was another sound. Or sounds. A sound I didn’t recognize, but that was persistent, and all around. A sort of … crickety noise? Like the leaves were… humming?

I looked closer, and saw some familiar shapes skittering around in the leaves. Wolf spiders. These jewel-eyed beauties are all over our woods. We sometimes see them scooting around, but most often notice them when the reflection of their eyes catches the light of our headlamps, when out for a walk after dark. A quick dazzle of sparkle on the ground.

Could this sound be coming from… the spiders?

Wolf spider right in the centre of the leaves. Hey there little buddy.

I got closer and watched one of our fuzzy friends in his fast skittering path across the leaves. Sure enough, the sound was coming from him! A sort of humming, vibrating sound. From him, and from many many many others nearby.

I say “him” with confidence only now — having untangled this mystery once I got back home. This was the song of the wolf spider — a mating “call” played on the forest floor.

Male spiders actually produce vibrations, which hit surrounding dried leaves and cause them to vibrate. The vibrating leaf produces a low “purring” sound audible to humans, and that sound travels. If it hits leaves near a female spider, causing them to vibrate, she can pick up on the vibrations.

For this to work, male and female spiders need to be on a good surface that can vibrate. Dead leaves, in particular, are ideal. Leaves serve as a sort of telephone line or radio wave through which the spiders call females, and they’re essential to the wolf spider communication system…

~”Listen to the Dulcet Purr of a Wolf Spider”,
Wolf spider vibrating the leaves in our woods… Be sure to turn your volume right up to hear the purrs!

And if you missed it in that video — here is the sound thanks to SmithsonianMag. I don’t know about you, but when I woke up today, I didn’t even know that “purring spiders” was a thing in the world. And now, here we are. I for one now feel that much closer to these little leaf kittens.