Nature Notes: A Small Life

Nature Notes: A Small Life

She wasn't much of a spider, really. In fact, the little spider I was watching was so small that with the naked eye you could not tell this little speck on the tip of my finger was anything alive, much less a fully formed spider.

Baby whales, baby seals, baby birds, baby people, even baby spiders come into life with a full working set of life parts.

Hard to imagine that this most tiny of spiders has fully functioning eyes, a fully functioning nervous system, complete respiratory and digestive systems, a well developed olfactory system, a beating heart and a mind capable of processing predator/prey relationships. We can but imagine what else she is capable of.

I guess it isn't so much the smallness of the spider in question here, but rather the perceived largeness on the part of us, the observers. It might be all too easy to assign relative size to relative intelligence based on things like a small brain or small event, but we should know better.

Spiders have survived on the planet for tens of million years, are very prolific and very successful. They didn't get that way by sheer chance. They survived because they are supremely adapted to their environment.

This little spider, perched on my finger tip, no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence, has inherited all of those millions of years of evolution and survival and there it is, sitting peacefully, waiting for its surroundings to point it in the next direction.

It is indeed tempting to see our tiny little spider as a representative on the far end of the microcosm, far removed from, but equal in stature to, representatives of the macrocosm of which we humans may not represent. We are neither the largest creature in the macrocosm nor the longest lived, not the heaviest nor the tallest. We are obviously not the most intelligent, nor the most emotional.

But some other creatures are those descriptions, and we leave it to them to represent the large end of the scale of Mother Nature's wild creatures.

We don't marvel at the brain size of blue whales or elephants much. Their lives of non-warring and peaceful existence, amazingly, pass as something less than human. But to claim fear or loneliness or pride or a sense of loss to something as small as our spider friend - well, some people buy it and others just won't.

But there she sits, bright and fragile and tough, tiny but resilient and who knows, she may even be talking to us at this moment. And if so, what might she be saying to us, and what might we learn from her? What would spider do?

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Craig Sparks is director of NAWA, a filmmaker, freelance writer and wildlife rehabilitator.

Found injured wildlife? Questions? Call the Wildlife Center at 503-338-3954 or send an e-mail to:

High quality photo reprints from Nature Notes can be found online at

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