The uncooperative spider

11 05 2018

Nope, just not a good photo

The spiders are back in the nursery after a 2 year break. I’d noticed the decline for a few years prior to this and I’d put it down to erratic and decreasing rainfall over the past 5 years. So last year after an unusually heavy rainy season, I was expecting to see at least a few. Nothing. I was disappointed. In a normal year they festoon the nursery with their golden and incredibly sticky webs. I like to think that they catch all manner of pests that are eating the seedlings but I never really see much in their webs. They must eat something as they do grow. I don’t really mind what they do or don’t eat as I just like seeing them there; I guess I have to admit that I just like spiders. Maybe it’s an underdog thing – lots of people don’t like spiders but they can have my support.

Maybe it’s the same thing with snakes as I also quite like them. Friends at school kept harmless snakes and I admit they are fascinating creatures to handle – cool and silky to the touch. In the bush I am a bit wary of them. So long as we meet on my terms, i.e. I see them first and am not surprised by them, then we can be friends.

The first job I had back in Zimbabwe after I’d finished my backpacking travels was with a flower growing company in Lion’s Den, the other side of Chinhoyi from Harare about an hour and half north-west of the capital. It did not go well and after 2 years I threw the towel in and we parted best of enemies but I did get to live in the bush and that aspect I really enjoyed. On several occasions I saw a herd of kudu (a type of antelope) by the road, there were lots of birds on the local dams and lots of snakes to watch out for and they were not necessarily harmless.

One morning I walked out of my office in the flower pack-shed to use the toilet. I opened the door to see a lizard like head watching me from behind the water pipes. I paused as it moved and revealed itself as a snake. I couldn’t make out what type so moved a little closer. It opened it’s mouth and spat but nothing hit me and there was no typical cobra hood. I wasn’t going to take a chance so went back into the office to get some safety glasses kept for when using an angle grinder. Calling a foreman to bring a sack and a broom I went back to the toilet whilst the women packers vacated the pack-shed with shrieks of excitement. By now the snake had decided to make a break for the door but being a smooth cement floor it couldn’t get any traction and did not so much slither as writhe. It even made an effort to strike at me but I easily side stepped it. Brushing the snake into a clear area of the pack-shed, I trapped its head with the back of the broom and picked it up by the tail. In this part of the world the only snake that can climb back up its tail is a boomslang (tree snake) and this was most certainly not one of those. Snakes will try to lift their heads up from this position but all one needs to do is jerk it up by the tail and the head will drop down again (this is not the recommended way of handling snakes!).

Now I had to get the snake into the sack. The foreman was holding the sack at arm’s length and wouldn’t come close enough. I shouted at him for being daft whilst the rest of the labour force giggled nervously from the safety of the shed door. Finally he came close enough, I dropped the snake into the sack, grabbed the top and tied it off with some string. I could just see the snake waving around inside. Nobody could tell me what it was and I had no other means of identifying it – it was just a metre long, brownish snake. I did know it wasn’t a black mamba which were common in the area and certainly not a snake I’d have tried to pick up. They are also quite nondescript in colour but aggressive and highly venomous.

Later that day I showed it to a local farmer.

“Sounds like a cobra” he said. “Let’s have a look”.

“But it didn’t put it’s hood up” I countered.

“Maybe, but now it has” he said, pointing at the distinct silhouette of a cobra in the bag.

Despite several brushes with snakes in the area that included nearly standing on a puff adder walking out in the bush, one of my dogs being bitten by a puff adder (she survived and lived another 13 years) and getting repeatedly bitten by a mildly venomous grass snake that didn’t appreciate that I was trying to heal the cut on it’s back (it too survived and was released) I’ve never lost my appreciation for snakes. I won’t handle them like I did as I am not nearly as agile as I used to be but I’ll let them be and defend their right to exist if I can.

So where was I? Yes spiders, that’s what started all this. The golden orb spiders that weave their webs in the nursery are completely harmless to humans and have fascinating blue and yellow patterns on the base of their abdomen. I’ve been trying to get a decent photo of one for years so when I saw this one on an aloe in the nursery car park I thought I was in luck. The light was good and the spider was in a good position but all I had was my cellphone. The camera is not bad as cellphone cameras go but it’s not a patch on my SLR. So I snapped the photo at the start of this post and thought “I’ll be back to get you”.

So today I was back with SLR camera and tripod but would the spider cooperate. Oh no. It sat contentedly in the middle of its web and would not be coaxed back onto the aloe. The light was also wrong; I’d been distracted by my landlord and missed the 5 minute window of sun on the aloe leaf that I’d seen yesterday. This evening I checked up on it again. Its magnificent coloured abdomen was perfectly lit by the late afternoon sun and it was nowhere near the aloe but no matter. Just as I got up to grab my SLR the sun slipped behind a bank of cloud. I’ll be back.

Who’s a pretty girl then?

Their heroes and mine

11 08 2014

It’s Heroes Day today, a public holiday when we are supposed to remember those who died in the liberation struggle for Zimbabwe. This is nothing unusual; the war dead are remembered in various ways all over the world. At the time of the so called liberation struggle I was in the Rhodesian Army and did not see those against whom I was fighting as liberating anything. That could just be a point of view I guess – one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter and all that. Except for the fact that over the years a number of the ruling party faithful have been interred in Hero’s Acre (the national cemetery) who status as heroes are dubious. Others who should have been buried there were left out. There is a certain financial incentive to being a national hero in that the family remaining get a substantial pension.

Anyway, like I said, today is the day that Zimbabweans are supposed to remember the fallen. There are celebrations all over the place and earlier this week I had a request from a local farmer for donations towards the party to be held today on his farm where the local branch of ZANU-PF, the ruling party, has its office. I ignored it, after all, they are not my heroes. I was hoping to be able to tell him this in person but aside from two missed calls yesterday morning from a local number that I did not recognise, nothing has come to pass. Yet.

Seedlings of course don’t take holidays so this morning I went into work to see how things were going. Fine of course. It was also an opportunity to catch up on a bit of work as I will be away for 3 weeks at a horticultural congress in Brisbane, Australia. It was worth it on another count as I spotted this spider on a daisy.

Hey, I'm with stupid!

Hey, I’m with stupid!


I have seen this type of spider on cosmos and it was white to match the flower. I wonder if they have the ability to change colour depending on the background or they have to spend their life on the plant to get the right colour? It was pure luck to see it with a fly as when I took the first photo it was just patiently waiting.

Of course I didn’t have my big SLR with its very special macro lens so my cellphone had to do – I was quite impressed with the result.

Tomorrow is another public holiday – this one is Armed Forces Day. It is traditional for the president to address the crowds at the National Stadium just outside town and watch military parades and a flypast by the Air Force with the 4 lonely remaining fast jets that are still flying. There is a football match afterwards to help pull in the crowds. Whether the armed forces will be celebrating remains to be seen. Rumours are rife that they have not been paid and junior officers have been sent on forced leave to cut costs.

So who are my heroes? They are the firefighters who went back into the damaged reactor at Chernobyl, knowing full well that they would not survive. They are the firefighters who went into the Twin Towers after the 9/11 attacks knowing that they were going into a hideously dangerous situation because that was their job. They are those who work for MSF and the International Red Cross and without fanfare get on with the thankless task of helping Ebola victims (and others) survive. These are the people I admire.

Do spiders go to heaven?

30 08 2012

This was not a happy spider when I found her yesterday. Look at the legs – the way they are all curled forward. They do that when the end is nigh (or are dead) and sure enough this morning, when I opened the drawer where I’d left her overnight, she was dead.

She could move a bit when I found her, legs curled, on the floor of the bathroom. I moved her into some sunlight to take the photo and she didn’t try to move off. I wondered what the problem was. Old age? Parasites? It certainly wasn’t anything that had been sprayed as nothing had. She appeared to be in her prime – zoom in and marvel at those fangs and hairy coat! I cannot think what would eat a spider around here. It’s not actually spider season right now as it’s too dry to support much in the way of insects. That will change in the rains when the bathroom becomes a favorite habitat of mosquitoes. So even if spiders don’t go to heaven my bathroom will become a heaven for those of them still around. And yes, my house is a bit of a spider haven; I rather like them!