Our bedroom is upstairs. The one bathroom in the house is downstairs. Neither of us are at our best in the middle of the night when we need to pee, so every night we turn on a nightlight outside the bathroom. This provides enough light to gently illuminate the circular staircase we have to use to come down and use the bathroom.

The nightlight is very weak, but it’s the only light on in the entire downstairs area, so it’s a real beacon.  We’ve got it plugged into a wall outlet and the entire nightlight unit makes an “L” shape about 3/4 of an inch away from the wall.

It turns out that the nightlight makes a very small but interesting microenvironment in the room. Even though the light is weak, it’s the only steady light in the room, and there’s one creature (other than our sleepy selves) who really appreciates the light. It’s a spider. Even though the bulb of the nightlight doesn’t afford what I would have thought was a very good surface upon which to attach a web, there is always a web spun between the bulb and the wall, and there is always the detritus of some poor insect who was attracted to the light, got tangled in the web and met the spider – and hence the insect’s maker.

Susan and I noticed the same thing one night a couple of weeks ago at our local supermarket, but on an industrial scale. There is a bank of fluorescent lights about eight feet wide on a support structure about 3 feet away from the big “Shaw’s” sign on the front of the supermarket downtown. A colony of spiders have constructed many webs reaching from the lights to the front wall of the store, and the number of bugs they catch on a late late summer must number in the hundreds.

I’m appreciating the simple intelligence of the spiders. They know that light attracts the food that they like to eat, so they build their webs near light and, not being humans and having no complicated Maslow “hierarchy of needs” to fuss with, pass their time in thoughtful contemplation of nothing much.


Actually, in this graphic that I found on the Wikipedia entry on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it seems that the spiders do pretty well on some of the higher levels of the pyramid as well. It appears, in fact, that they’re horning in on some of what we think of as being the most human characteristics.

At the Self-actualization level I’ll give spiders “problem solving” and “acceptance of facts” right off the bat. On the level of Esteem it seems that “achievement,” “respect of others,” and “respect by others” are plausibly theirs in some way. They’ve got “family” and “sexual intimacy” on the Love level and all the Physiological needs met.

The only level of needs that spiders never seem to have met are the ones on the Safety level, but in conducting interviews with spiders for this post I did not hear a single one of them express any concern for their safety, or for the future. What a relief not to worry about safety! No insurance bills to pay!

So hurrah for spiders and all their practical life skills. We could learn something from them.

I’ll close with Walt Whitman’s familiar poem “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” which I’ve always liked, even if I think the metaphor of a spider’s filament being like a human soul is not exactly descriptive, not exactly useful. But hey, it’s poetry, and very human, and it’s got your creativity element for sure, which is almost at the very top of the pyramid, even if it might be shared with a spider.

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.