The sound of spiders feeding

The campus is dead quiet right now. The parking lot is empty. Offices are all closed. When you walk in, if you’re attentive, you might hear the constant faint hum of the air conditioning system in the science building, but your brain will tune that out after a short while.

The noisiest part of the feeding are the flies. You dump them from their bottle into a plastic cup; it sounds like rain as they tumble in. Then they scurry about frantically with a chitinous rustle, a distant shshshshsh from the cup. You turn to the vials of spiders and uncap them all. There is no sound, no movement. The dead stillness makes you look in and wonder, “are you still alive in there?” You see the motionless plump bodies. They’re in no hurry. Spiders possess infinite patience. It’s in their nature. Rather than wondering if they’re OK, maybe you should be questioning your own lack.

You tap the cup of flies to knock them all down, and open the lid. You flick a few flies into each vial, 1, 2, 3, move to the next. The loudest noise in the process is when a fly drops to the bottom of the vial, tik, tik. Except that when they fall directly into a web, they’re silent…tik, , tik. For a while, you swish flies into all the spider vials, tik, ,tik, tik, , , tik, ,tik, tik, tik.

The sound of spiders feeding is silence. They raise their forelimbs like a pair of daggers, they slip quietly on silk threads to their prey, turn, and knit a prison with their hindlimbs. No noise at all. Flies trying to escape the trap are louder than the spider assassins, and they’re barely a whisper as they scrabble at plastic walls.

I had a pleasant morning in the lab today, if you couldn’t tell.


  1. PaulBC says

    “Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!”

    Though in your case, I guess the score is by John Cage. (Yes, I was gonna say Simon and Garfunkel, so I call dibs on the reference too. Neener neener!)

  2. says

    Perhaps — only perhaps — if you listen closely at the mouth of the vial, moments after the fly enters and “finds” the web, you’ll hear a very high-pitched, breathy plea:

    Help meeeeeee!

    Or maybe not, over the air conditioning. And the senior-onsite high-frequency hearing deficits.

    PaulBC @1, it’s much more likely to be the Disturbed cover of That Paul Simon Song. Just because.

  3. PaulBC says

    @3 Right. It omits the inspirational ending though:

    He was like an explorer in a wild country where no one had ever been before.
    He was searching for the truth. He almost found a great truth. But for one instant he was careless.

    That’s what killed him?*

    Search for the truth is the most important work in the whole world. And the most dangerous.

    I’d like that.

    *The rock didn’t help.

    (Crap, now “I am a rock” started playing in my head. Something about S&G I guess.)

  4. R. L. Foster says

    The cackling sound of the fiendish Herr Doktor Myers echoed through the bowels of the dark lab as he contemplated the chilling scene of his mutant spiders patiently eyeing their next meal. Only he heard the terrified screams of the doomed flies as they desperately attempted to flee the approaching arachnids.

  5. Artor says

    I caught a thumb-sized camel spider in Boise once, and fed it roly-polys for a few days. You could hear it crunching them into pulp from the next room.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    Spiders are cool, but America has few species that are properly venomous.
    I have been listening to the incredibly annoying speaker voice of Factsopedia at Youtube, to learn about various dangerous water-living organisms.
    A surprising number of them can live in fresh water, so as long as the waters do not freeze over completely you might implant “interesting” stuff in Minnesota that make spiders look sick.
    Moray eels are promising, but not really dangerous. Tigerfish? Meh.
    But if you can breed a variant of the blue-ringed octopus that can live in freshwater you have the perfect aquarium and laboratory animal.