Today during our morning walk at Angels Gate we ran into what I can only describe as a delightful old woman and her dogs. She looked like somebody who’d be tending her garden in the Shire, albeit larger.
After our dogs introduced themselves to each other, the old woman, speaking with a British (or perhaps Irish) accent, looks at me and says, “Do you like spiders?”
Threw me for a loop.
“Spiders?” I replied. “Well, I know a few of ’em. I suppose we get along okay.” Laughing, I graciously add, “I guess they’re interesting. Why?”
She smiles and explains. “Today there was a big spider with its beautiful web stretched across my porch. I almost ran right into it before stopping. I coughed, and I saw the spider get scared and curl up into a little ball.”
“Wow,” I offer. I mean, what I am I supposed to say to this friendly old lady?
She continues. “You see, when it flinched at the sound of my cough, I realized it had ears. It could hear.”
“Aha,” I said, now genuinely interested in where she was taking me. “Are you sure it wasn’t just the vibration of the sound wave?”
“Good question,” she replied. “I thought of that too. So out of curiosity I blew on the web, moving it with the wind of my breath. The spider didn’t flinch. I then covered my mouth and intentionally coughed one more time. It curled up into a ball again. You see, it was exposed to a sound it hadn’t heard before, and sensed danger.”
“Fascinating,” I say. “Go on.”
“So I wait about ten minutes,” she says. “After my tea was done, I go back out to the porch, and the spider is now uncurled. I cover my mouth again and, for the third time, I cough. The spider didn’t flinch.”
“Hmmm,” I said.
She looks at me, trusting I’ve grasped the implied conclusion. “Learned behaviour,” she explains. “It took three times. When no real danger presented itself after the sound of my cough, the spider was smart enough to not be bothered by the sound anymore.”
“That’s awesome,” I said. And it was. “What do you do?”
“I’m a retired physician,” she said. “Opthamologist. Anyhow, I’ll let you and your dogs be on your way. Cheerio.”
“Have a great day, ma’am,” I said. “As a matter of fact, I do like spiders.”