Along Came a Spider
By Betsy Breiding - August 2020
Some of you may know I do not care for spiders. If they're not too big I can stand them and even if they're a little big, as long as they're not too close, I'm ok. I have even been known to trap a spider under a glass or bowl and transport it outside to set free. But I definitely do not want them taking a ride with me in my kayak. In fact, I specifically ordered a cover for my kayak cockpit to deter spider occupation and I scrupulously keep the boat covered when I am not using it.
But unfortunately the unexpected will happen as I found out several days ago while kayaking on the Monongahela River here in Morgantown.
It was a mild and cloudy Sunday morning and I had a pleasant paddle down the river, enjoying the wildlife, a beer and a few snacks I had brought along. On the way back to the marina, I stopped at a spot we call swimmer's rock, a large rock ledge mostly submerged, where it is fairly easy to get out and swim. I took a refreshing dip and while climbing back into my kayak, I noticed an elderberry bush on the bank. It was full of beautiful clusters of ripe elderberries and I decided it would be fun to paddle over and pick a berry cluster to take home to Mike.
Well, it wasn't hard to paddle up to the shore and I successfully picked the elderberry cluster, but my boat drifted to the side and became entangled in a bush which brushed heavily against me and the boat as I backed out into the river. So, a few leaves in the boat - no problem. But imagine my horror when I looked down and saw numerous fifty-cent-piece-sized spiders scurrying around the bottom of my kayak! HELLLP!!!!
I did the only thing I could possibly do. I flung myself from the kayak into the water and came up coughing and sputtering. Luckily the paddle was still within my reach and I hadn't capsized the boat! What to do now? I COULD NOT get back into the boat with the spiders but I decided that maybe I could straddle the boat on top behind the cockpit and perhaps I could paddle from there. I managed to get myself astride the boat but my weight on the back put the nose of the boat in the air and although I could use the paddle, it was getting me nowhere.
The only other option was to swim and pull the kayak along behind me. And it was a loooong way back to the marina, slightly over a mile I would guess. I am an ok swimmer, but the farthest I have swum in recent history (or maybe ever) is across the swimming pool, but with no other choice I slipped into the water and began the trip.
Twin Spruce Marina where I keep my boat is just past the Interstate bridge which crosses the river. I set off with a side stroke, trying to keep my eyes on the shoreline because every time I looked towards the bridge the voice in my head said, "OMG, it's still so faaaar away!" I eventually started singing (not aloud!) to give myself a swimming rhythm and keep my mind off the distance and that seemed to help. The underwater plants near the shore wrapped around my legs with a creepy sensation so I steered towards the middle of the river.
At long last I found I was approaching the marina. Brian, the owner, was sitting on the dock fishing with a friend. I was sure they would ask me what in the world I was doing swimming in with my boat in tow behind me. I decided I would say I had a flat tire (a little humor there) since the bike trail runs right along the river. Brian looked out at me and called "Hey, didja have a flat tire?" So much for what I thought was my original line. I called back, "That was MY line and you stole it!" Apparently they both thought I was just out for a little afternoon swim because the only other thing they asked me was "How's the water?" "Just lovely" I replied. They did not catch my note of sarcasm.
Exhausted and soaking wet, with straggling hair and dripping clothes, I dragged myself and my boat on shore. My sunglasses were nowhere to be seen - probably bobbing merrily down the river. My spider friends were still in the boat, but were hiding here and there, venturing out on little jaunts across the floor. I managed to get all my belongings out of the boat, turned it upside down and cable locked it onto the rack. I didn't see any spiders jumping ship but I figured if I left the boat uncovered they might decide to leave on their own overnight.
Our friend Bruce, who lives in a camper there at the marina during the summer, came over to hear my tale of woe. He assured me I could get treatment for my spider phobia. Someone he knew had been treated and could now hold a tarantula in her hand. Thanks, but no thanks!
I was never so glad to climb into my car and arrive back home where Mike comforted me with sympathetic loving hugs and bottles of beer.
The next morning, armed with spider spray (sorry, spiders) rubber gloves and a mask, I returned to the marina, unlocked my boat and turned it over. Only one spider was in evidence but he looked even bigger than I remembered and I could just imagine his friends lying in wait in various hiding places throughout the boat. So I sprayed the heck out of that kayak. The next day, even though I didn't see any spiders, I sprayed the boat one more time for good measure and put the cover back on. Tomorrow I will take a bucket of water and wipe down the inside and then I may just submerge the whole thing to flush out any last little survivors. One can't be too careful.
So ends the tale of my big kayak spider adventure - an adventure I definitely DO NOT want to repeat!
PS - Mike never did get his elderberries!
Could this Six-spotted fishing spider the spider that sat down beside her?
The six-spotted fishing spider, (Dolomedes triton), is an arachnid from the nursery web spider family Pisauridae. This species is from the genus Dolomedes, or the fishing spiders. Found in wetland habitats throughout North America, these spiders are usually seen scampering along the surface of ponds and other bodies of water. They are also referred to as dock spiders because they can sometimes be witnessed quickly vanishing through the cracks of boat docks. D. triton gets its scientific name from the Greek mythological god Triton, who is the messenger of the big sea and the son of Poseidon.
This spider can be identified by its large size and distinctive markings. It has eight eyes with good vision, and its body is grey to brown. They have a white to a pale cream colored stripe running down each side of the cephalothorax. The abdomen has many light colored spots and also has light colored lines running down the sides of the abdomen. When this species is seen from below, there are six dark spots present on the bottom of the cephalothorax, hence its common name. Like many spiders, this species shows sexual dimorphism. The female is larger than the male. The female is about 60 millimeters (2.4 in) long including the legs; her body length is 15–20 mm (0.59–0.79 in) and the male's body is 9–13 mm (0.35–0.51 in) long. The juvenile spiders look similar to adults but are smaller. The juvenile goes through a series of molts within their lifetime to grow and reach adult size.