AN ANTHOLOGY OF THOUGHT & EMOTION... Un'antologia di pensieri & emozioni

Friday, 22 September 2017


How can Britain cope with politicians like these...???
A hopeless and incompetent PM
A nonsensical buffoon as Home Secretary
A deranged psycho as Secretary of State etc.


Be afraid, be very, very afraid...!

Thursday, 21 September 2017


A sketch of Joseph RothA great writer, but an unlucky man, if I ever met one. Joseph Roth never saw his father, Nahum, who went mad before he knew he had a son, and reacted to his over proud and over protective mother, Miriam, to the extent that he sometimes claimed to have her pickled womb somewhere. Unlucky with his wife... poor bewitching Friedl Reichler, who after six years of a restless, oppressive, and pampered marriage disappeared into schizophrenia, and left him to make arrangements for her, and pay for them, and wallow in the guilt and panic that remained. Unlucky with the lovers and companions of his last years —the Jewish actress Sibyl Rares, the exotic half-Cuban beauty Andrea Manga Bell, the novelist Irmgard Keun, his rival in cleverness and dipsomania—and often misunderstood by his very best friends, due to Roth's protean, or polygonal character, contriving to present a different aspect of himself to everyone he knew.
      But as I read him, and reread him, and compare translations in the many languages Roth's been translated from his original German, I am often reminded of a couple of lines of Goethe's FaustMalcolm Lowry used them as one of the epigraphs for Under the Volcano—"wer immer strebend sich bemüht, den können wir erlösen," roughly, whoever strenously endeavours, him can we rescue. No more strenuous trier before the Lord than Joseph Roth.
A sad, sad genius...
Joseph Roth
(The New Yorker, 2004)

In The Radetzky March, Joseph Roth’s 1932 novel about the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there is an Army surgeon, Max Demant, whose wife loathes him. She is very beautiful. We first encounter her as Demant walks into their bedroom. She is wearing only a pair of blue panties, and is brandishing a large pink powder puff. “Why didn’t you knock?” she asks poisonously. He adores her, and that isn’t his only problem. He never wanted to be in the Army, but he didn’t have the money to set up a private practice. He is dumpy and clumsy and nearsighted. He can’t ride; he can’t fence; he can’t shoot. He is intelligent and melancholic. He is a Jew. The other officers despise him, the more so since his wife deceives him at every opportunity. One night, a young lieutenant—Baron Carl Joseph von Trotta, the hero of the novel and Demant’s only friend—innocently walks Frau Demant home after the opera. The next day, in the officers’ club, a swinish captain, Tattenbach, taunts Demant about his wife’s adventure. When Demant insults him back, Tattenbach screams, “Yid, yid, yid!,” and challenges him to a duel at dawn. According to the Army’s code of honor, Demant must go to the duel, in which he knows he will die, and for nothing. Later, in the night, he reconciles himself to this. His life has offered him little but insults. Why regret leaving it? He takes a drink. Soon he feels calm, lighthearted—already dead, almost. Then Trotta comes rushing in, weeping, begging him to escape, and at the sight of someone shedding tears for him Demant loses hold of his hard-won stoicism: “All at once he again longed for the dreariness of his life, the disgusting garrison, the hated uniform, the dullness of routine examinations, the stench of a throng of undressed troops, the drab vaccinations, the carbolic smell of the hospital, his wife’s ugly moods. . . . Through the lieutenant’s sobbing and moaning, the shattering call of this living earth broke violently.”

It goes on breaking. The sleigh arrives to take Demant to the duel: “The bells jingled bravely, the brown horses raised their cropped tails and dropped big, round, yellow steaming turds on the snow.” The sun rises; roosters crow; birds chirp. The world is beautiful. Indeed, Demant’s luck changes. At the duelling ground, he discovers that his myopia has vanished. He can see again! He is thrilled, and forgets that he is in the middle of a duel: “A voice counted ‘One!’ . . . Why, I’m not nearsighted, he thought, I’ll never need glasses again. From a medical standpoint, it was inexplicable. [He] decided to check with ophthalmologists. At the very instant that the name of a certain specialist flashed through his mind, the voice counted, ‘Two!’ ” He raises his pistol and, on the count of three, accurately shoots Tattenbach, who also shoots him, and they both die on the spot.

Thus, a third of the way through his novel, Roth kills off its most admirable character, in a scene of comedy as well as tears. The crime, supposedly, is the Army’s, but behind the Army stands a larger principle. You marry a beautiful woman, and she hates you; you kill a scoundrel, and he kills you back; life is sweet, and you can’t have it. For this tragic evenhandedness, Roth has been compared to Tolstoy. For his dark comedy, he might also be compared to his contemporary Franz Kafka. In Kafka’s words, “There is infinite hope—but not for us.”

With the writings of Kafka and Robert Musil, Roth’s novels constitute Austria-Hungary’s finest contribution to early-twentieth-century fiction, yet his career was such as to make you wonder that he managed to produce novels at all, let alone sixteen of them in sixteen years. For most of his adult life, Roth was a hardworking journalist, travelling back and forth between Berlin and Paris, his two home bases, but also reporting from Russia, Poland, Albania, Italy, and southern France. He didn’t have a home; he lived in hotels. His novel-writing was done at café tables, between newspaper deadlines, amid the bloody events—strikes, riots, assassinations—that marked Europe’s passage from the First World War to the Second, and which seemed more remarkable than anything a novelist could imagine. His early books bespeak their comfortless birth, but his middle ones don’t. They are solid structures, full of psychological penetration and tragic force. The Radetzky March, his masterpiece, was the culmination of this middle phase. Shortly after it came out, he was forced into exile by the Third Reich. In the years that followed, he lived mainly in Paris, where, while he went on writing, he also swiftly drank himself to death. He died in 1939 and was soon forgotten.

Roth was a man of many friends, mostly writers—the celebrated biographer and memoirist Stefan Zweig, the playwright Ernst Toller, the novelist Ernst Weiss—and his work was rescued by a friend. After the war, the journalist Hermann Kesten, a longtime colleague of his, gathered together what he could find of Roth’s writings and, in 1956, brought them out in three volumes. With this publication, the Roth revival began, but slowly. For one thing, much of his work was missing from Kesten’s collection. Because Roth was always on the move, he had no files, no boxes of books in the attic. Meanwhile, the Third Reich had done its best to wipe out any trace of his career. (In 1940, when the Germans invaded the Netherlands, they destroyed the entire stock of his last published novel, which had just come off the presses of his Dutch publisher.) Over the years, as people scanned old newspapers and opened old cartons, more and more of Roth’s work came to light, and Kesten’s collection had to be re-edited, first in four volumes, then in six.

The translation of Roth proceeded even more haltingly. In his lifetime, only six of his novels appeared in English, and after his death there was no strong push to translate the rest of them. Those people who knew about him sometimes wondered why this dark-minded Jew, fully modern in his view of history as a nightmare, showed none of the stylistic experimentation that, according to the mid-century consensus, was the natural outcome of such a view, and the defining trait of the early modernist novel. He didn’t write like Joyce, so let him wait. By the nineteen-seventies and eighties, however, the job of getting Roth out in English had started up again. In the nineties, it was carried forward by two editors, Neil Belton, at Granta, in London, and Robert Weil, at Norton, in New York, both of them devoted Roth fans. Equally crucial in this rescue operation was one translator, the poet Michael Hofmann. In the past fifteen years, Hofmann has translated, beautifully, nine books by Roth. Furthermore, his brief introductions to those volumes are the best available commentary on the writer. Many of Roth’s explicators are puzzled by him, and not just because he had a nineteenth-century style and a twentieth-century vision. In the manner of today’s critics, they want to know if his politics agree with theirs, and they can’t decide whether he was a good Jew or a bad Jew, a leftist or a right-winger. They also don’t understand why his work was so uneven. Hofmann is untroubled by such questions. He takes Roth whole. The novels, he says, “comfort and console one another,” “diverge and cohere.” He writes about them with confident love and no special pleading.

Thanks to these people, all the novels are now in print in English. As the new translations have come out, Roth has been the subject of long, meaty review-essays. There have been Roth conferences. (This spring, there will be two more, in Prague and in Vienna, sponsored by the Prague Writers’ Festival.) There is now an academic industry of sorts. Still, Roth has received only scant attention, relative to his achievement. There is no biography of him in English. (An American, David Bronsen, wrote a biography, but it was published only in German, in 1974.) Indeed, there are only three books in English on Roth’s work. Even more striking, to me, is how seldom he is spoken of. In the past few years, I have made a point of asking literary people what they know about him. Most have not read him; many say, “Who?” I didn’t know his name until three years ago, when a friend put a copy of The Radetzky March into my hand.

When Roth was born, in 1894, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, presided over by the aging Franz Joseph, consisted of all or part of what we now call Austria, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Italy. Ethnically, this was a huge ragbag, and separatist movements were already under way, but to many citizens of the empire its heterogeneity was its glory. According to the so-called “Austrian Idea,” Austria-Hungary was not so much multinational as supranational—a sort of Platonic form, subsuming in harmony and stability the lesser realities of race and nation. Among the most ardent subscribers to this belief were the empire’s two million Jews. Because they could claim no nation within the crown lands, they feared nationalism—they felt, rightly, that it would fall hard on them—and so they were loyal subjects of the Emperor. Roth shared their view. He changed his politics a number of times in his life, but he never forsook his ideal of European unity or his hatred of nationalism.

He grew up in Brody, a small, mostly Jewish town in Galicia, at the easternmost edge of the empire, six miles from the Russian border. Shortly before his birth, his father, Nachum, who was a grain buyer for a Hamburg export firm, had some sort of psychiatric episode while travelling on a train in Germany. Nachum was eventually taken to a “wonder rabbi,” or healer, in Poland, and he lived with this man for the rest of his life. Roth’s mother moved back into her parents’ house, and there she raised Joseph, her only child, with maddening overprotectiveness. He grew up very Jewish—the family was Orthodox, and the schools he attended were Jewish, or mostly—but the beginnings of assimilation were there. He spoke German at home and at school, and his teachers, faithful subjects of Austria-Hungary, gave him a solid classical education, with emphasis on German literature.

He left home at the age of nineteen, and soon landed at the University of Vienna, an institution that he came to regard with mixed feelings. (In one novel, he describes its august entrance as “the fortress wall of the national students’ association”—he means proto-Nazis—“from which every few weeks Jews or Czechs were flung down.”) What dazzled him was the city itself, the center of a pan-European culture, which he aspired to join—a task that would not be easy. Already before the First World War, Ostjuden, or Jews from the East, were pouring into the Western capitals, and, with their soiled bundles and their numerous children, they were regarded, basically, as immigrant scum. Roth was one of them. Over the next few years, he rid himself of his Galician accent. He dropped his first name, Moses. He affected a monocle, a cane. He said his father was an Austrian railway official, or an arms manufacturer, or a Polish count. Later, in his book The Wandering Jews, on the Ostjuden, he described with scorn the attempts of Western Europe’s assimilated Jews to conceal their Eastern origins, but he did the same.

His education came to an end with the First World War, which he spent as a private in a desk job. (He later claimed that he was a lieutenant, and a prisoner of war in Russia.) After the armistice, he went to work as a journalist, first in Vienna, then in Berlin, where he wrote feuilletons, or think pieces, for a number of newspapers, and in this genre he found his first voice: a wised-up, bitter voice, perfect for describing the Weimar Republic. A year ago, Norton published a selection of these essays, What I Saw: Reports from Berlin, 1920-1933, translated by Michael Hofmann. In them, Roth addresses some great events, but mostly he pokes his face into ordinary things—department stores, police stations, bars—and, in the manner of Roland Barthes in his Mythologies pieces, which also originated as journalism, he meditates on what they symbolize. His conclusion is that, whatever the sins of the prewar empires—he doesn’t ignore their sins, for he was now a socialist—what has replaced them is something worse: a wrecked, valueless world, caught between bogus political rhetoric on the one hand and, on the other, a fatuous illusionism, a dream world retailed by billboards and cinema, which, in his shorthand, he calls “America.”

At the same time that he was producing these essays, Roth was writing his early novels. They are as dark as the journalism, but more disturbing, because in them he seems to be writing about himself, with hatred as well as with grief. He had always been fatherless; now, with the fall of Austria-Hungary at the end of the war, he was stateless. All his novels of the nineteen-twenties are Heimkehrerromane, stories of soldiers returning from the war, and what these men find is that there is no home for them to return to. They would have been better off if they had died. For some of them, Roth has compassion; he analyzes the religious awe in which they once held the state, and their brutal disabusement. For others, he has no pity, and he catalogues the lies they are now free to tell about themselves, and the ease with which they pledge themselves to the new gods, commercialism (“America”) and nationalism (Germany).

One of the remarkable things about Roth’s journalism is its political foresight, and this is even more striking in the early novels. He was the first person to inscribe the name of Adolf Hitler in European fiction, and that was in 1923, ten years before Hitler took over Germany. But what is interesting about his portrait of the Nazi brand of anti-Semitism is that he didn’t live to see its outcome. His portraits of Jews therefore lack the pious edgelessness of most post-Holocaust writing. In one of his novels of the nineteen-twenties—the best one, Right and Left—which opens in a little German town, he says that in this place most jokes begin, “There was once a Jew on a train,” but on the same page he narrows his eyes at Jews who ignore such jokes. In an essay of 1929, he speculates comically on why God took a special interest in the Jews: “There were so many others that were nice, malleable, and well trained: happy, balanced Greeks, adventurous Phoenicians, artful Egyptians, Assyrians with strange imaginations, northern tribes with beautiful, blond-haired, as it were, ethical primitiveness and refreshing forest smells. But none of the above! The weakest and far from loveliest of peoples was given the most dreadful curse and most dreadful blessing”—to be God’s chosen people. As for German nationalism, he regarded it, at least in the twenties, mainly as a stink up the nose, a matter of lies and nature hikes and losers trying to gain power. He was frightened of it, but he also thought it was ridiculous.

If Roth had continued in this vein, he would be known to us today as a gifted minor writer, the literary equivalent of George Grosz. But in 1925 his newspaper sent him to France, and there he found a happiness he had never known before. In part, this was simply because the French were less anti-Semitic than the Germans. But also it seemed to him that in this country—which, unlike his, had not lost the war—European culture, a version of the Austrian Idea, was still going forward, and that he could be part of it. “Here everyone smiles at me,” he wrote to his editor. “I love all the women. . . . The cattlemen with whom I eat breakfast are more aristocratic and refined than our cabinet ministers, patriotism is justified here, nationalism is a demonstration of a European conscience.” He relaxed, and began thinking not just about the postwar calamity but about history itself, and the human condition. As can be seen in Norton’s recently issued Report from a Parisian Paradise: Essays from France, 1925-1939, again translated by Hofmann, his prose now mounted to an altogether new level: stately but concrete, expansive but unwasteful. In a 1925 essay about Nîmes, he describes an evening he spent in the city’s ancient arena, where a cinema had been installed. Here he is, sitting in a building created by the Roman emperors, watching a movie created by Cecil B. de Mille. To compound the joke, the film is The Ten Commandments.” This is the sort of situation from which, in his Berlin period, he wrung brilliant, cackling ironies. But here he just says he stopped watching the movie and looked up at the sky, at the shooting stars:
Some are large, red, and lumpy. They slowly wipe across the sky, as though they were strolling, and leave a thin, bloody trail. Others again are small, swift, and silver. They fly like bullets. Others glow like little running suns and brighten the horizon considerably for some time. Sometimes it’s as though the heaven opened and showed us a glimpse of red-gold lining. Then the split quickly closes, and the majesty is once more hidden for good.
Though God may confide his thoughts to De Mille, he withholds them from Roth, and Roth doesn’t complain. He just arranges the elements of the vision—majesty, terror (bullets, blood), beauty, enigma—in a shining constellation. He is moving out of satire, into tragedy.
Joseph Roth and wife Friederike in Paris, around 1925.
If the change that overtook him in the late twenties was due partly to happiness, it was also born of sorrow. In 1922, Roth married Friederike Reichler, from a Viennese (formerly ostjüdische) working-class family. Friedl was reportedly a sweet, unassuming girl, so shy as to suggest that she may already have been unbalanced. Apart from the fact that she was beautiful, and that Roth was reckless (he was by now a heavy drinker), it is hard to know why he chose her. In any case, he was soon telling her to keep her mouth shut in front of his friends. Friedl was made to accept Roth’s preference for living in hotels, and he usually left her there when he had to travel. By 1928, she was complaining that there were ghosts in the central-heating system, and that her room had a dew in it that frightened her. She had catatonic episodes, too. Realizing that she could no longer be left alone, Roth started taking her on assignment with him, and locking her in their room when he had to go out by himself. Or he parked her with friends of his, or he put her in a hospital and then took her out again. He brought her to specialists; he called in a wonder rabbi. He was tortured by guilt, and probably by resentment as well. Finally, in 1933, Friedl was placed in the Steinhof Sanatorium, in Vienna, where she remained for the rest of her life, with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

“Roth, you must become much sadder,” an editor once said to him. “The sadder you are, the better you write.” It was while Friedl was going mad that Roth became a great writer. Her illness broke something in him, and, following a pattern that we can observe in many writers who go from good to great, he threw away the sophistication he had so strenuously acquired in his twenties and returned to the past. His prior novels had been set in his own time, the years after the First World War. Now he went back to the prewar years. Most of his earlier novels had featured city life; now, again and again, he placed his story in a provincial town on the frontier between Galicia and Russia. The town is heavily Jewish, though it also has an Army garrison, at whose sabre-clanking officers the Jewish merchants gaze with incomprehension, and vice versa. There is a count, in a castle. There is a border tavern, where Jewish middlemen, for a high price, arrange for Russian deserters to escape to the Americas. The local schnapps is a hundred-and-eighty proof, guaranteed to stun your brain in seconds. The officers drink it from morning to night, and gamble and whore. Occasionally, they get to shoot somebody—strikers, agitators—but they are longing for bigger action: war. All around the town, there is a gray, sucking swamp, in which, day and night, frogs croak ominously. Roth’s classmates later said that this place was Brody, point for point, but it has been transformed. It is now a symbol, of a world coming to an end.

Job (1930), the first of Roth’s two middle-period novels, is set in a version of this town, in the Jewish quarter. In large measure, it is a novelization of the report he made on the diaspora of the Ostjuden in The Wandering Jews. That book was both scarifying and funny. Job is more so, because it is told from the inside, as the story of Mendel Singer, a poor man (a children’s Torah teacher) who, after watching his world collapse around him—his son joins the Russian Army, his daughter is sleeping with a Cossack—is forced to emigrate to America, where he loses hope altogether, and curses God. Much of the language of the novel is like that of a fairy tale, and in the end Mendel is saved by a fairy-tale reversal of fortune. Roth later said that he couldn’t have written this ending if he hadn’t been drunk at the time, but in fact it is perfect, as Job is perfect, and small: a novel as lyric poem. The book was Roth’s first big hit. It was translated into English a year later; it was made a Book-of-the-Month Club selection; it was turned into a Hollywood movie. Marlene Dietrich always said it was her favorite novel.

The success of Job emboldened Roth, and he now broached a larger subject, the fall of Austria-Hungary. He laid plans for a sweeping, nineteenth-century-style historical novel, The Radetzky March. He took special pains over it, more than for anything else he ever wrote. He put his other deadlines on hold, which was hard for him, because, with Friedl’s medical bills, he needed ready cash. He even did research. He had huge hopes for this book.

Like all of Roth’s novels, The Radetzky March has a terrific opening. We are in the middle of the Battle of Solferino (1859), with the Austrians fighting to retain their Italian territories. The Emperor, Franz Joseph, appears on the front lines, and raises a field glass to his eye. This is a foolish action; it makes him a perfect target for any half-decent enemy marksman. A young lieutenant, realizing what is going to happen, jumps forward, throws himself on top of the Emperor, and takes the expected bullet in his own collarbone. For this he is promoted, decorated, and ennobled. Formerly Joseph Trotta, a peasant boy from Sipolje, in Silesia, he becomes Captain Baron Joseph von Trotta und Sipolje, with a lacquered helmet that radiates “black sunshine.”

The remainder of the novel flows from that event. It follows the Trottas through three generations, as they become further and further removed from their land and from their emotions, which are replaced by duty to the state. Joseph Trotta’s son, Franz, becomes a district commissioner in Moravia, and a perfect, robotic bureaucrat. Franz raises his own son, Carl Joseph, to be a soldier, and they both hope that Carl Joseph will be a hero, like his grandfather. At the opening of Chapter 2, we see the boy, now fifteen years old, home on vacation from his military school. Outside his window, the local regimental band is playing The Radetzky March, which Johann Strauss the elder composed in 1848, in honor of Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky’s victories in northern Italy, and which then spread through Austria-Hungary, as the theme song of the empire. (Roth called it “the ‘Marseillaise’ of conservatism.”) Every Sunday, in Carl Joseph’s town, the band, at its concert, starts with this piece, and the townsfolk listen with emotion:
The rugged drums rolled, the sweet flutes piped, and the lovely cymbals shattered. The faces of all the spectators lit up with pleasant and pensive smiles, and the blood tingled in their legs. Though standing, they thought they were already marching. The younger girls held their breath and opened their lips. The more mature men hung their heads and recalled their maneuvers. The elderly ladies sat in the neighboring park, their small gray heads trembling. And it was summer.
Winter is coming, though. Austria-Hungary is old; the march is a hymn to its former triumphs. And the people listening to it are old: trembling, remembering. The young are there, too—nature keeps turning them out—but they are entering a world that will betray them. That, basically, is the story of Carl Joseph. He has been raised to revere the empire:
He felt slightly related to the Hapsburgs, whose might his father represented and defended here and for whom he himself would some day go off to war and death. He knew the names of all the members of the Imperial Royal House. He loved them all . . . more than anyone else the Kaiser, who was kind and great, sublime and just, infinitely remote and very close, and particularly fond of the officers in the army. It would be best to die for him amid military music, easiest with “The Radetzky March.”
Standing there, listening to the march, the cadet imagines this glorious death:
The swift bullets whistled in cadence around Carl Joseph’s ears, his naked saber flashed, and, his heart and head brimming with the lovely briskness of the march, he sank into the drumming intoxication of the music, and his blood oozed out in a thin dark-red trickle upon the glistening gold of the trumpets, the deep black of the drums, and the victorious silver of the cymbals.
At the end of the book, as the First World War begins, he will get his wish, but not in the way he imagines. Tramping along a muddy road, amid shrieking widows and burning barns, he stops to fetch some water for his thirsty men, and in the middle of that small, decent, unmartial action he takes a bullet in the head, and dies for his Emperor. Soon afterward, the Emperor dies, then the empire.

Yet all the while, beauty goes on smiling at us. Comedy, too. Roth never actually understood why Austria-Hungary had to fall, and so there are no real guilty parties in The Radetzky March, not even the Emperor. Franz Joseph appears repeatedly in the latter part of the book, and he is just a very old man. If Shakespeare had done a Tithonus, Michael Hofmann has said, the result would have been like this. The monarch, Roth writes, “saw the sun going down on his empire, but he said nothing.” Actually, he doesn’t care much anymore. When he is on a state visit in Galicia, a delegation of Jews comes to welcome him, and pronounce the blessing that all Jews are taught to say for the Emperor. “Thou shalt not live to see the end of the world!” the Jewish patriarch proclaims, meaning that the empire will last forever. “I know,” Franz Joseph says to himself, meaning that he will die soon—before his empire, he hopes. But mostly he just wishes these Jews would hurry up with their ceremony, so that he can get to the parade ground and see the maneuvers. This is the one thing he still loves: pomp, uniforms, bugles. He thinks what a shame it is that he can’t receive any more honors. “King of Jerusalem,” he muses. “That was the highest rank that God could award a majesty.” And he’s already King of Jerusalem. “Too bad,” he thinks. His nose drips, and his attendants stand around watching the drip, waiting for it to fall into his mustache. Majestic and mediocre, tragic and funny, he is the book’s primary symbol of Austria-Hungary.

Each of the book’s main characters is equally complex—a constellation, as in the sky over Nîmes. After Demant’s death, Carl Joseph is forced to pay a condolence call on the doctor’s wife. He hates her, because she caused Demant’s death, and he hates her more because he unwittingly helped her do so. Frau Demant steps into the parlor, weeps briefly into her handkerchief, and then sits down with Carl Joseph on the sofa: “Her left hand began gently and conscientiously smoothing the silk braid along the sofa’s edge. Her fingers moved along the narrow, glossy path leading from her to Lieutenant Trotta, to and fro, regular and gradual.” She is trying to seduce him. Carl Joseph hurriedly lights a cigarette. She demands one, too. “There was something exuberant and vicious about the way she took the first puff, the way her lips rounded into a small red ring from which the dainty blue cloud emerged.” The small red ring (sex), the dainty blue cloud (her dead husband): Carl Joseph’s mind reels, and Roth’s prose follows it, into a kind of phantasmagoria. The twilight deepens, and Frau Demant’s black gown dissolves in it: “Now she was dressed in the twilight itself. Her white face floated, naked, exposed, on the dark surface of the evening. . . . The lieutenant could see her teeth shimmering.” If Franz Joseph is Roth’s image of the empire, Frau Demant is his image of the world, lovely and ruinous. Carl Joseph barely gets out of that parlor alive. After such scenes, one almost has to put the book down.

In most of Roth’s novels, people are ostensibly destroyed by their relation to the state. This scenario is a leftover from his socialism of the twenties. By the time of  The Radetzky March, however, it has been absorbed into his new, elegiac cast of mind, with the result that the soul-destroying state is also beautiful. Franz Joseph is not the only one who likes military maneuvers. So does Roth. His description of Vienna’s annual Corpus Christi procession, with its parade of all the armies of the far-flung empire, is one of the great set pieces in the book:
The blood-red fezzes on the heads of the . . . Bosnians burned in the sun like tiny bonfires lit by Islam in honor of His Apostolic Majesty. In black lacquered carriages sat the gold-decked knights of the Golden Fleece and the black-clad red-cheeked municipal counselors. After them, sweeping like the majestic tempests that rein in their passion near the Kaiser, came the horsehair busbies of the bodyguard infantry. Finally, heralded by the blare of the beating to arms, came the Imperial and Royal anthem of the earthly but nevertheless Apostolic Army cherubs—“God preserve him, God protect him”—over the standing crowd, the marching soldiers, the gently trotting chargers, and the soundlessly rolling vehicles. It floated over all heads, a sky of melody, a baldachin of black-and-yellow notes.
Basically, it seems that when the state is good—when it unites peoples, as in the Corpus Christi parade, and thus exemplifies the Austrian Idea—it is good. And when it is bad—when it kills Dr. Demant and Carl Joseph, or when it just commits the sin of coming to an end—it is bad. Roth’s politics were not well worked out, and that fact underlies the one serious flaw of  The Radetzky March. Lacking an explanation for the empire’s fall, Roth comes up with a notion of “fate,” and he bangs that drum portentously and repeatedly. I am almost glad the book has a fault. Roth extracted The Radetzky March from his very innards. This rather desperate, corny fate business reminds us of that fact, and counterbalances the crushing beauty of the rest of the book.

Roth must have been pleased with The Radetzky March: he could now look forward to a second career, on a new level. Then, within months of the book’s publication, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. Roth was in Berlin at the time; he packed his bags and was on the train to Paris the same day. His books were burned in the streets of Berlin; soon they were officially banned. He lost his German publishers, his newspaper outlets; he lost his market, the German-reading public. He barely had an income anymore. For the next six years, he lived in and out of Paris, in a state of fury and despair. He began mixing with Legitimists, who were plotting to return Austria to Hapsburg rule. Such a restoration, it seemed to him, was the only thing that could prevent Hitler from invading Austria. In 1938, he undertook a mad journey to Vienna, in the hope of persuading the Chancellor to yield to the Hapsburgs. (He got only as far as the city’s chief of police, who told him to go back to France immediately. The Anschluss occurred three days later.) He declared himself a Catholic, and went to Mass; at other times he said he was an exemplary Jew. Michael Hofmann thinks that in Roth’s mind Catholicism equalled Judaism, in the sense that both crossed frontiers and thus fostered a transnational, European culture, the thing that Hitler stood poised to destroy, and that Roth so treasured.

He continued to write, not well, for the most part. In his late books, he sounds the “fate” theme tediously; he harangues us—on violence, on nationalism. He repeats himself, or loses his thread. In this, we can read not just his desperation but his advanced alcoholism. By the late nineteen-thirties, Hofmann reports, Roth would roll out of bed in his hotel room and descend immediately to the bar, where he drank and wrote and received his friends, mostly other émigrés, until he went to bed again. He fell down while crossing the street. He couldn’t eat anymore—maybe one biscuit between two shots, a friend said. Reading his books, you can almost tell, from page to page, where he is in the day: whether he has just woken up, with a hangover, or whether he has applied the hair of the dog (even in the weakest of his last books, there are great passages), or whether it is now nighttime and he no longer knows what he’s doing. For a few months in 1936 and 1937, something changed—I don’t know what—and he wrote one more superb, well-controlled novel, The Tale of the 1002nd Night. (This is the novel whose entire print run the Germans destroyed in 1940.) Like The Radetzky March, it is a portrait of the dying Austria-Hungary, but comic this time, rather than tragic. It is his funniest book. Even so, the hero blows his brains out at the end.

In one of Roth’s late novels, The Emperor’s Tomb, a character says that Austria-Hungary was never a political state; it was a religion. James Wood, in an excellent essay on Roth, says yes, that’s how Roth saw it, and he made it profound by showing that the state disappoints as God does, “by being indescribable, by being too much.” I would put it a little differently. For Roth, the state is a myth, which, like other myths (Christianity, Judaism, the Austrian Idea), is an organizer of experience, a net of stories and images in which we catch our lives, and understand them. When such a myth fails, nothing is left: no meaning, no emotion, even. Disasters in Roth’s books tend to occur quietly, modestly. In The Emperor’s Tomb, the street lights long for morning, so that they can be extinguished.

He might have escaped. He received invitations—one from Eleanor Roosevelt, to serve on an aid committee; one from PEN, to attend a writers’ congress. These people were trying to get him out of Europe. He didn’t go. Many others did, and prospered. Roth’s friends tended not to prosper. Stefan Zweig ended up in Brazil, where, in 1942, he died in a double suicide with his wife. Ernst Weiss stayed in Paris, and killed himself on the day the Nazis marched into the city, in 1940. Ernst Toller escaped to New York, where, in 1939, he hanged himself in his hotel room. When Roth got the news about Toller, he was in the bar, as usual. He slumped in his chair. An ambulance was called, and he was taken to a hospital, where he died four days later, of pneumonia and delirium tremens. He was forty-four years old. The following year, as part of the Third Reich’s eugenics program, Friedl was exterminated.
Read also the article by Anka Muhlstein, The Genius in Exile

Joseph Roth; portrait by Mies Blomsma, November 1938.
Joseph Roth; portrait by Mies Blomsma, November 1938.
Roth wrote at the bottom, ‘That’s really me: nasty, soused, but clever.’

Tuesday, 19 September 2017


Portia labiata
A quickie by James Kho

Say hello to Portia labiata, a species of jumping spider mostly found in Southeast Asia. Or, don't, because it's an evil genius hunter and why introduce yourself to something that would and could murder you if it were just a little bit bigger? Frequently called an "eight-legged cat" due to the cleverness and ingenuity of its hunts, Portia can improvise hunting techniques and then, by trial and error, remember which are most effective against which kind of prey. And its techniques often demonstrate a fairly high level of intelligence, or at least craftiness—it mostly hunts spiders, which are generally clever hunters, so its intelligence is all the more impressive. It'll take detours around dangerous prey to find the best attack angle, even if it requires hours of work and means the spider loses sight of the prey. Perhaps its scariest technique is the "pluck." All web-weaving spiders use the web as a sort of extension of its senses—it can feel the vibrations of all kinds of possible prey and recognize what might be tasty and what might be dangerous. But Portia is a talented mimic—it can "pluck" a web with near-limitless variance, able to make a sound that can lure a spider out into the open. But what that poor spider thinks is a delicious fly is actually Portia, which pounces.
...I shall return to Portia later in the page but, because this week I'm getting fixated on spiders anyway, let's talk about their intelligence:
The rich environments of Panama and Costa Rica allowed the researchers to investigate a huge number of spider species including giants such as this golden silk orb-weaver (Nephila clavipes), which weighed 400,000 times more than the smallest
Some spiders are so clever their brains extend down into their legs
The smaller the spider, the bigger the brain. Huge brains ensure that even the tiniest spiders can weave webs

(from dailymail, Dec. 2011)

If you've ever thrown a spider off the premises, then turned round to see your eight-legged foe creep back into the house and thought, 'How did it get back in here?', cease wondering.

Spiders aren't just clever – some have brains so huge they extend down into their legs.

Researchers at the Smithsonian found that in some species, the brain occupies up to 80 per cent of the body – and 25 per cent of their legs.

Spiders need fairly complex brains – not only do they have to manipulate eight limbs, they also have to weave webs, a pretty complex task.

The researchers found that smaller spiders tended to have bigger brains, proportional to their size – even tiny spiders have to weave webs, and those tend to be the ones with brains spreading down into their limbs.

'The smaller the animal, the more it has to invest in its brain, which means even very tiny spiders are able to weave a web and perform other fairly complex behaviours,' said William Wcislo, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

'We discovered that the central nervous systems of the smallest spiders fill up almost 80 percent of their total body cavity, including about 25 percent of their legs.'

Some of the tiniest, immature spiderlings even have deformed, bulging bodies. The bulge contains excess brain.
Panama's rainforests allowed the researchers to work with spiders of hugely varying sizes - they found that the smaller the spider, the larger its brain tended to be in proportion to its body
Adults of the same species do not bulge. Brain cells can only be so small because most cells have a nucleus that contains all of the spider's genes, and that takes up space.

The diameter of the nerve fibers also cannot be made smaller because if they are too thin, the flow of nerve signals is disrupted, and the signals are not transferred properly. One option is to devote more space to the nervous system.

'We suspected that the spiderlings might be mostly brain because there is a general rule for all animals, called Haller's rule, that says that as body size goes down, the proportion of the body taken up by the brain increases,' said Wcislo.

'Human brains only represent about 2-3 percent of our body mass. Some of the tiniest ant brains that we've measured represent about 15 percent of their biomass – and some of these spiders are much smaller.'

The enormous biodiversity of spiders in Panama and Costa Rica made it possible for researchers to measure brain extension in spiders with a huge range of body sizes.

Nephila clavipes, a rainforest giant weighs 400,000 times more than the smallest spiders in the study, nymphs of spiders in the genus Mysmena.
A jumping spider used in the study, Portia africana. The arachnids display intelligence usually seen in larger animals, a new study says
...This much for spidery intelligence, just to keep it brief. But let's return to Portia now:

Jumping Spiders Can Think Ahead, Plan Detours
The tiny arachnids possess an abstract working memory—a capability usually seen in larger animals, a new study says

With brains the size of a sesame seed, jumping spiders may seem like mental lightweights.

But a new study shows that many species plan out intricate detours to reach their prey—smarts usually associated with far bigger creatures.

The arachnids, already well known for their colors and elaborate mating rituals, have sharp vision and an impressive awareness of three-dimensional space. (See article "Surprise: Jumping Spiders Can See More Colors Than You Can.")

“Their vision is more on par with vertebrates,” says Damian Elias of the University of California, Berkeley, who wasn’t involved in the new research. “And that allows them to do things that are physically impossible for other animals that size.”

Jumping spiders of the subfamily Spartaeinae (spar-TAY-in-ay) are particularly ambitious—they eat other spiders. Researchers suspect that preying on other predators requires extra intelligence and cunning.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Robert Jackson of New Zealand’s University of Canterbury demonstrated that Portia fimbriata, a member of this spider-snacking subfamily, methodically plans winding detours to sneak up on prey spiders. Portia can even find hidden prey, suggesting that the predator can visualize its prey's location and a path to get there.

But Jackson, who received funding from National Geographic's Committee for Research and Exploration, and his colleague Fiona Cross were sure that Portia wasn’t alone in its forward thinking.

There’s so much attention given to Portia,” says Cross, “but there are these other [jumping] spiders: why not them?”


Demonstrating in the lab that other spider species also planned detours, however, proved challenging: Other spiders ignored the experimental walkways that Portia used.

So Jackson and Cross decided to take advantage of jumping spiders’ dislike of getting wet.
A male Portia africana. In a recent experiments, the spiders were adept at finding prey by using detours
Their new setup consisted of a tower on a platform surrounded by moats. From atop the tower, a famished jumping spider could see two distant boxes: one containing juicy spider fragments, the other containing unappetizing leaves. (Related article: "New Spider Species Found, Plays Peekaboo to Attract Mates.")

To reach the box containing the meal, the spider would have to crawl down the tower and onto the platform, which also had two pillars leading to separate suspended walkways—one to the food, one to the leaves.

But once the spider started its descent from the tower, the researchers emptied out the boxes, preventing it from getting visual reminders of the meal’s location.

In their lab at Kenya’s International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology, Cross and Jackson placed individuals from 14 different Spartaeinae species in this tortuous obstacle course.

“We have to hide ourselves, so that the spider isn’t distracted,” says Cross. “They’re attracted to blinking.”

It turned out that each species was overwhelmingly successful at finding its way to the box containing food—despite the fact that none of the subjects could see the food mid-detour, according to the study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior.

What’s more, spiders that chose the wrong path often paused, seemingly confused.

“Their expectations for what they were going to weren’t met,” says Cross. “It wasn’t part of their plan.”
New species of peacock spider, Maratus jactatus, nicknamed "Sparklemuffin" by the graduate student who discovered it, is found only in Australia.

The finding hammers home that, like Portia, many related jumping spiders must have an abstract sense of the food’s location and a working plan for how to navigate the walkways.

“A lot of times, when papers are published about a particular organism, broad generalizations are made about the group,” says Berkeley's Elias.

The study authors have "done a really good job of showing [planning] in this very large group.” (Read about other colorful new jumping spiders, Sparklemuffin and Skeletorus.)

Researchers still have a long way to go to understand how spiders think, but for now they're left to wonder what’s going on in those tiny little heads.

"What they do just astounds me,” says Cross.

Michael Greshko writes online science news stories on everything from animal behavior to space and the environment. He previously wrote for Inside Science News Service at the American Institute of Physics and has written for MIT Technology Review, NOVA Next and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Greshko has a master’s degree in science writing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Vanderbilt University. In his spare time, he enjoys musical theater, magic, and a good book. He lives in Washington, D.C.


☞ A couple of articles (with photo galleries) that may be of sure interest to arachnophiles:

Monday, 18 September 2017


Spider Silk, Nature's Miracle Fiber

8 Ways Spiders Use Silk

by Debbie Hadley

Spider silk is one of the most miraculous natural substances on Earth. Most building materials are either strong or elastic, but spider silk is both. It's been described as stronger than steel (which is not quite accurate, but close), more impenetrable than Kevlar, and stretchier than nylon. It withstands a lot of strain before breaking, which is the very definition of a tough material. Spider silk also conducts heat, and is known to have antibiotic properties.


All spiders produce silk, from the tiniest jumping spider to the biggest tarantula. A spider has special structures called spinnerets at the end of its abdomen. You've probably watched a spider constructing a web, or rappelling from a silk thread. The spider uses its hind legs to pull the strand of silk from its spinnerets, little by little.


But what is spider silk, exactly? Spider silk is a fiber of protein, produced by a gland in the spider's abdomen. The gland stores silk protein in liquid form, which isn't particularly useful for building structures like webs. When the spider needs silk, the liquefied protein passes through a canal where it gets an acid bath. As the pH of the silk protein is lowered (as it's acidified), it changes structure. The motion of pulling the silk from the spinnerets puts tension on the substance, which helps it harden into a solid as it emerges.

Structurally, silk consists of layers of amorphous and crystalline proteins. The firmer protein crystals give silk its strength, while the softer, shapeless protein provides elasticity. Protein is a naturally occurring polymer (in this case, a chain of amino acids). Spider silk, keratin, and collagen are all formed of protein.
Spiders will often recycle valuable silk proteins by eating their webs. Scientists have labeled silk proteins using radioactive markers, and examined new silk to determine how efficiently spiders reprocess the silk. Remarkably, they've found spiders can consume and reuse silk proteins in 30 minutes. That's an amazing recycling system!

This versatile material could have limitless applications, but harvesting spider silk isn't very practical on a large scale. Producing a synthetic material with the properties of spider silk has long been the Holy Grail of scientific research.
Waiting-spider web

Scientists have studied spider silk for centuries, and have learned quite a bit about how spider silk is made and used. Some spiders can actually produce 6 or 7 kinds of silk using different silk glands. When the spider weaves a silk thread, it can combine these varied kinds of silks to produce specialized fibers for different purposes. Sometimes the spider needs a stickier silk strand, and other times it needs a stronger one.

As you might imagine, spiders make good use of their silk-producing skills. When we think of spiders spinning silk, we usually think of them building webs. But spiders use silk for many purposes.
1. Spiders use silk to catch prey.
The best-known use of silk by spiders is for constructing webs, which they use to ensnare prey. Some spiders, like orb weavers, construct circular webs with sticky threads to snag flying insects. Purse web spiders use an innovative design. They spin an upright silk tube and hide inside it. When an insect lands on the outside of the tube, the purse web spider cuts the silk and pulls the insect inside. Most web-weaving spiders have poor eyesight, so they sense prey in the web by feeling for vibrations traveling across the silk strands. A recent study showed that spider silk can vibrate at a wide range of frequencies, allowing the spider to sense movements "as small as a hundred nanometers—1/1000 the width of a human hair."

But that's not the only way spiders use silks to catch meals.

The bolas spider, for example, spins a sort of fishing line of silk – a long thread with a sticky ball at the end. When an insect passes by, the bolas spider flings the line at the prey and hauls in its catch. Net-casting spiders spin a small web, shaped like a tiny net, and hold it between their feet. When an insect comes near, the spider throws its silk net and ensnares the prey.

2. Spiders user silk to subdue prey.

Some spiders, like cobweb spiders, use silk to subdue their prey completely. Have you ever watched a spider grab a fly or moth, and quickly wrap it in silk like a mummy? Cobweb spiders have special setae on their feet, which enable them to wind sticky silk tightly around a struggling insect.

3. Spiders use silk to travel.

Anyone who read Charlotte's Web as a child will be familiar with this spider behavior, known as ballooning. Young spiders (called spiderlings) disperse soon after emerging from their egg sac. In some species, the spiderling will climb onto an exposed surface, raise its abdomen, and cast a silk thread into the wind. As the air current pulls on the silk strand, the spiderling becomes airborne, and can be carried for miles.

4. Spiders use silk to keep from falling.

Who hasn't been startled by a spider descending suddenly on a silk thread? Spiders habitually leave a trail of silk line, known as a dragline, behind them as they explore an area. The silk safety line helps the spider keep from falling unchecked. Spiders also use the dragline to descend in a controlled manner. If the spider finds trouble below, it can quickly ascend the line to safety.

5. Spiders use silk to keep from getting lost.

Spiders can also use the dragline to find their way home. Should a spider wander too far from its retreat or burrow, it can follow the silk line back to its home.
6. Spiders use silk to take shelter.

Many spiders use silk to construct or reinforce a shelter or retreat. Both tarantulas and wolf spiders dig burrows in the ground, and line their homes with silk.

Some web-building spiders construct special retreats within or adjacent to their webs. Funnel weaver spiders, for example, spin a cone-shaped retreat in one side of their webs, where they can stay hidden from both prey and predators.

7. Spiders use silk to mate.

Before mating, a male spider must prepare and ready his sperm. Male spiders spin silk and construct small sperm webs, just for this purpose. He transfers sperm from his genital opening to the special web, and then picks up the sperm with his pedipalps. With his sperm securely stored in his pedipalps, he can search for a receptive female.

8. Spiders use silk to protect their offspring.

Female spiders produce a particularly tough silk to construct egg sacs. She then deposits her eggs inside the sac, where they will be protected from the weather and potential predators as they develop and hatch into tiny spiderlings. Most mother spiders secure the egg sac to a surface, often near her web. Wolf spiders don't take chances and carry the egg sac around until the offspring emerge.

spider web
Check Google images for a gallery of spider webs.
Borror and Delong's Introduction to the Study of Insects, 7th edition, by Charles A. Triplehorn and Norman F. Johnson.
Encyclopedia of Entomology, 2nd edition, edited by John L. Capinera.
ASU scientists unravel the mysteries of spider silk, Arizona State University, January 27, 2013. Accessed online October 7, 2013.
Iowa State engineer discovers spider silk conducts heat as well as metals, Iowa State University, March 5, 2012. Accessed online October 7, 2013.
Lowering pH regulates spider’s silk production, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, May 12, 2010. Accessed online October 7, 2013.
Stanford Researcher Sheds New Light on the Mysteries of Spider Silk, Stanford University, February 4, 2013. Accessed online October 7, 2013.
Bugs Rule! Introduction to the World of Insects, by Whitney Cranshaw and Richard Redak.
Spiders, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History website. Accessed online December 22, 2014.
Spiders Listen to Their Webs, by Carrie Arnold, National Geographic website, June 5, 2014. Accessed online December 22, 2014.
Net-Casting Spiders, Australian Museum website. Accessed online December 22, 2014.
Purseweb Spiders, University of Kentucky Entomology website. Accessed online December 22, 2014.

See also my page: THE AMAZING SPIDER WEB

Misumena vatia female (UK)

83 Amazing Facts about Spiders
 By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
  • 1. There are approximately 38,000 known species of spiders. Scientists believe there are probably as many more to be discovered.[2]
  • 2. Spiders are found on every continent except Antarctica.[7]
  • 3. An estimated 1 million spiders live in one acre of land. The number might be closer to 3 million in the tropics. It is estimated that a human is never more than 10 feet away from a spider—ever.[8]
  • 4. The bite of the Brazilian wandering spider can cause long and painful erections, as well as other symptoms, in human males.[1]
  • 5. Spiders are vital to a healthy ecosystem. They eat harmful insects, pollinate plants, and recycle dead animal and plants back into the earth. They are also a valuable food source for many small mammals, birds, and fish.[8]
  • Spider Eating Fact
    Spiders eat insects by filling them with digestive juices
  • 6. Spiders eat more insects than birds and bats combined.[8]
  • 7. All spiders spin silk, but not all spiders spin webs.[8]
  • 8. Male spiders weave a small “sperm” web. They then place a drop of semen on the web, suck it up with their pedipalps, and then use the pedipalp to insert the sperm into the female.[8]
  • 9. Web-weaving spiders have two or three claws at the tip of each leg that they use to swing from strand to strand without getting stuck in the sticky part of their web. Additionally, a spider’s body has a special oily substance that keeps it from getting stuck in its web.[4]
  • 10. When a spider travels, it always has four legs touching the ground and four legs off the ground at any given moment.[15]
  • 11. The Bagheera kiplingi is the world’s only (mostly) vegetarian spider.[16]
  • 12. Abandoned spider webs are called “cobwebs.” The word “cob” is an obsolete word meaning “spider” and is a shortened form of the Old English word attercop, which literally means “poison head.” Etymologists see a connection between cob for spider and cob for corn in that a cob of corn means the “head” or “top” of the corn.[13]
  • 13. Spider-Man is one of the most popular superheroes. In early comic books, the radioactive spider that bites Peter Parker is incorrectly referred to as an insect.[12]
  • 14. In rare instances, some spider bites can cause blood disorders. For example, the brown recluse venom may cause red blood cells to burst. This can lead to other symptoms, such as acute kidney injury and jaundice.[1]
  • 15. Spiders have blue blood. In humans, oxygen is bound to hemoglobin, a molecule that contains iron and gives blood its red color. In spiders, oxygen is bound to hemocyanin, a molecule that contains copper rather than iron.[2]
  • Dead Spider Fact
    Spider legs use hydraulic pressure to move
  • 16. A spider’s muscles pull its legs inward, but cannot extend its legs out again. Instead, it must pump a watery liquid into its legs to push them out. A dead spider’s legs are curled up because there is no fluid to extend the legs again.[11]
  • 17. The venom of the black widow spider attacks nerves by blocking their signals to the muscles, which causes the muscles to contract repeatedly and often painfully. Black widow bites can also cause other nerve-related problems, such as high blood pressure, restlessness, and severe facial spasms.[1]
  • 18. The effects of a spider bite vary according to several factors, including the amount of venom injected and the size and age of the person who was bitten. Children and elderly people are especially susceptible.[1]
  • 19. Spiders have between two and six spinnerets at the back of their abdomen. Each one is like a tiny showerhead that has hundreds of holes, all producing liquid silk.[7]
  • 20. Giant trapdoor spiders are considered living fossils because they are similar to spiders that lived over 300 million years ago. They are found in southeastern Asia, China, and Japan and are over 4 inches across, including their legs.[15]
  • 21. The world’s biggest spider is the goliath spider (Theraphosa blondi). It can grow up to 11 inches wide, and its fangs are up to one inch long. It hunts frogs, lizards, mice, and even small snakes and young birds.[15]
  • 22. The world’s smallest spider is the Patu marplesi. It is so small that 10 of them could fit on the end of a pencil.[7]
  • 23. The most deadly spiders in the world include the black widow, funnel web, and brown recluse spiders. One of the most feared spiders in the world, the tarantula, actually has surprisingly weak venom and a bite that feels more like a wasp sting.[15]
  • 24. The most venomous spider in the world is the Brazilian Wandering Spider, or the banana spider. This aggressive spider wanders the forest floors of Central and South America looking for food. Just a small amount of venom is enough to kill a human.[15]
  • Brown Recluse Spider
    The brown recluse gets its name from its color and its "shy" nature
  • 25. The bite of the brown recluse spider, which is found in the southeastern United States, is particularly dangerous because its bite is initially painless. A person may be bitten without realizing it, but after awhile the skin starts to swell and become incredibly painful. A bite could kill a person if not treated.[1]
  • 26. Probably the most charming spider in history is Charlotte in E.B. White’s beloved novel Charlotte’s Web. She lives in a barn and saves the life of her good friend, Wilbur the pig.[11]
  • 27. Arachnophobia is the fear of the spiders. It is one of the most common phobias in North America and Europe. Arachnophobia is less common in tropical places where there are more large, hairy spiders.[11]
  • 28. The word “spider” comes from the Old English word spithra and is related to the German spinne, both of which mean “spinner.” The word “spinster” is also related and means “one who spins thread.”[13]
  • 29. While humans have muscles on the outside of their skeleton, spiders have muscles on the inside. A spider’s skeleton, or exoskeleton, covers and protects its muscles.[11]
  • 30. Some spiders, such as house spiders, are able to run up walls because their feet are covered in tiny hairs that grip the surface. They can’t get out of a bathtub, however, because the surface is too slippery. Other spiders, such as garden spiders, cannot crawl up walls because their legs end in claws, which help them grip threads of silk instead.[9]
  • 31. Spiders have inspired scientists to make space robots. For example, the “Spidernaut” is a mechanical spider that is designed to crawl over the outside of a spacecraft to carry out repairs. Its weight is spread evenly over its eight legs to avoid damaging the surface of the spacecraft. Scientists have also designed miniature pieces of equipment with parts that move just like a spider’s leg.[9]
  • 32. The silk that comes out of the spider’s spinneret is liquid, but it hardens as soon as it comes in contact with air. Some spiders have up to seven types of silk glands, each creating a different type of silk—such as smooth, sticky, dry, or stretchy.[9]
  • 33. The silk in a spider’s web is five times stronger than a strand of steel that is the same thickness. A web made of strands of spider silk as thick as a pencil could stop a Boeing 747 jumbo jet in flight. Scientists still cannot replicate the strength and elasticity of a spider’s silk.[7]
  • 34. In tropical regions, net-throwing spiders make a small silken web that they throw over their prey.[7]
  • Hummingbird Nest Fact
    Spider webs help hold a hummingbird's nest together
  • 35. Hummingbirds use small sticks and the silk from spider webs to weave a nest for themselves.[8]
  • 36. While most spiders build a new web every day, the web of the gold orb can last several years and can even catch birds.[7]
  • 37. The funnel web spider is an aggressive spider that attacks and bites people. Its poison has been known to kill in just 15 minutes. Fortunately there is an antivenom, and deaths from this spider are now rare.[7]
  • 38. Wolf spiders can run at speeds of up to 2 feet per second.[7]
  • 39. Spiders do not have teeth, so they cannot chew their food. Instead, they inject digestive juices into the innards of their meal. Then the spider sucks up it innards.[9]
  • 40. Most spiders’ fangs are like pincers that move sideways toward each other to bite. Others, such as bird-eating spiders, have long fangs that point straight down.[9]
  • 41. Some male spiders give dead flies to the females as presents.[9]
  • 42. Spiders can’t fly, but they sometimes sail through the air on a line of silk, which is known as “ballooning.”[7]
  • 43. Water spiders are the only spiders that spend their entire lives in water. The spiders construct a “diving bell” that allows them to live and spin webs underwater. They use their legs like a fishing pole to pull in insects, tadpoles, and even small fish.[7]
  • 44. The bird-dropping spider gets its name because it looks like bird poo. This type of camouflage prevents birds from eating it.[7]
  • 45. Two kinds of jumping spiders have been found at 23,000 feet. At this height, no plants grow, but plant material blows up from lower elevations, which is enough to feed the tiny creatures.[7]
  • 46. Jumping spiders can leap up to 40 times their own body length. If humans could jump this far, they would be able to jump over 230 feet.[7]
  • 47. Jumping spiders don’t have strong muscle legs. They jump by contracting muscles in their abdomen, which forces liquid into their back legs. The back legs then straighten, which catapults the spider forward.[7]
  • 48. When a wheel spider gets scared, it tucks in its legs and rolls across the sand.[7]
  • Spider Web Facts
    Spider webs contains vitamin K, which assists in reducing bleeding
  • 49. Hundreds of years ago, people put spider webs on their wounds because they believed it would help stop the bleeding. Scientists now know that the silk contains vitamin K, which helps reduce bleeding.[2]
  • 50. Some spiders eat their webs and then reuse them.[7]
  • 51. Spiders are the only group of animals to build webs. Over millions of years, webs have evolved into a variety of kinds, such as sheets, tangles, ladders, and the elegant orb web. When most people think of a web, they think of an orb web.[2]
  • 52. Scientists in the United States Defense Department are trying to copy gold orb weaver silk in order to use it for bulletproof vests.[7]
  • 53. The Darwin bark spider creates the strongest material made by a living organism. Their giant webs can span rivers, streams, and even lakes and is 10 times stronger than Kevlar.[3]
  • 54. Most spiders live alone, meeting other spiders only to mate. A few species of spiders are social and live in groups. For example, in Africa, the web of social spiders such as Stegodyphus colonies can cover whole trees. In India, webs may cover trees for several miles.[7]
  • 55. Only the bite of the female black widow is dangerous; the male is much smaller than the female, and males and juveniles are harmless to humans. Only the female has the telltale red hourglass shape on its underside; the male has yellow and red bands and spots on the abdomen.[7]
  • 56. Only female black widows build webs and catch prey. Males do not feed as adults; instead, they concentrate all their effort on mating. A female black widow may sometimes eat a male after mating.[10]
  • 57. A red widow female spider will begin feeding on the male while they are still mating. However, the male practically force feeds himself to the female by placing himself into her mandibles. If she “spits him out,” he will repeatedly place himself there until she eats him.[11]
  • Spider Baby Facts
    Wolf spiders carry their spiderlings on their backs
  • 58. Mother spiders can lay as many as 3,000 eggs at one time. Baby spiders are called spiderlings. While most mother spiders do not stay with their babies, the wolf spiders carry their babies on their backs.[2]
  • 59. Some species of jumping spiders can see light spectrums that humans cannot. Some can see both UVA and UVB light.[10]
  • 60. A female black widow needs to mate only once. After she has mated, she can produce eggs for the rest of her life, which is about 2 years.[7]
  • 61. Some tarantulas will fling tiny, irritating hairs, known as urticating hairs, to thwart predators—similar to the way a porcupine uses its quills as defense.[10]
  • 62. During the 16th and 17th centuries, it was believed that a bite from a species of wolf spider (named tarantula, from the Taranto region in Italy) would be deadly if the victim did not dance to a specific type of frenzied music. It inspired a dance called the tarantella.[2]
  • 63. Spiders are not insects. They are arachnids, along with scorpions, mites, harvestmen, and ticks. All arachnids have eight legs and two main body parts (a cephalothorax and an abdomen). In contrast, insects have six legs and three main body parts (a head, a thorax, and an abdomen).[2]
  • 64. Most spiders have eight eyes and are very near sighted. Spiders also have tiny hairs on their legs to help them hear and smell.[2]
  • 65. Different drugs affect the way spiders spin their webs. For example, spiders on LSD spin beautiful webs, while spiders on caffeine spin terrible webs. Scientists believe that examining the shape of a spider’s web can also help detect airborne chemicals and pollutants.[2]
  • Eating Spider Facts
    Humans swallowing spiders while sleeping is a highly unlikely myth
  • 66. It is a myth that a human will swallow an average of four (or any number) of spiders while sleeping during his or her life. It is highly unlikely a spider will ever end up in a sleeping human’s mouth.[14]
  • 67. According to Greek myth, a girl named Arachne could spin so well that the goddess Athena became jealous and turned her into a spider.[2]
  • 68. A spider has no bones. Rather, it has an exoskeleton, which is like a hard suit of armor that protects its body. Because an exoskeleton does not grow, a spider molts. Typically, a spider molts about 10 times throughout its life.[2]
  • 69. The bolas spider catches moths using a thick silk thread with a large sticky droplet at the end. The droplet has the same smell as a female moth, which tempts other moths to the trap.[2]
  • 70. The venom of the female black widow is 15 times more powerful than the poison of a rattlesnake.[2]
  • 71. A tarantula can liquefy the body of a mouse in just 2 days, leaving behind a pile of just skin and bones.[2]
  • 72. Most spiders live for about a year. However, some tarantulas live more than 20 years.[2]
  • Wasp and Spider
    Tarantula hawk larvae feed on living tarantulas
  • 73. The female tarantula hawk wasp feeds her babies tarantulas. She attacks, stings, and paralyzes the huge spider. Afterward, she drags the spider into her lair and lays an egg on it—while the spider is still alive.[7]
  • 74. Some spiders don’t use webs to catch their prey. Instead, they make a sticky gum, which they fire out through their fangs.[2]
  • 75. Like rock climbers, many spiders are attached to a line of silk in case they fall. They can also run up it if they need to escape.[2]
  • 76. Most female spiders are bigger than male spiders.[2]
  • 77. The black widow and the brown recluse are the only two spiders in North America whose bite can be serious. While the CDC lists the hobo spider as a third toxic spider, some researchers argue that the hobo spider’s venom isn’t as dangerous.[2]
  • 78. Unlike insects, spiders do not have antennas.[2]
  • 79. A web is sticky because of glue droplets the spider deposits on it. These droplets are three times thinner than the diameter of a single hair. Scientists describe these droplets as being similar to chewing gum: they just keep stretching and stretching.[4]
  • 80. Spider webs are not passive traps. Instead, because of electrically conducive glue spread across their surface, webs spring towards their prey. Scientists also found that the glue spirals on the web distort Earth’s electric field within a few millimeters of the web.[6]
  • House Spider Facts
    Setting a spider free may not be the more humane option
  • 81. Most spiders found in homes have adapted to life indoors. They have little chance of surviving outdoors.[12]
  • 82. British singer Katie Melua went to a doctor after she heard a “shuffling” in her ear. The doctor discovered that a jumping spider was living in her. She believes the spider climbed into earbud earphones she had used on a flight the previous week.[5]
  • 83. Spiders are blamed for all kinds of bumps, rashes, and growths. However, unlike mosquitoes or ticks, spiders don’t feed on human blood and they have no reason to bite a human unless they feel threatened or surprised. Additionally, spiders do not typically bite sleeping humans.[4]

1. Blaszczak-Boxe, Agata. “Spider-Man: 5 Weird Effects of Spider Bites.” Live Science. May 2, 2014. Accessed: January 23, 2015.
2. Bodden, Valerie. Spiders (Creepy Creatures). Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 2011.
3. Choi, Charles Q. “Itsy Bitsy Spider’s Web 10 Times Stronger than Kevlar.” Live Science. September 24, 2010. Accessed: January 23, 2015.
4. Cimons, Marlene. “Scientists Untangled Spider Web Stickiness.” Live Science. November 12, 2010. Accessed: January 23, 2015.
5. Griffiths, Charlotte. “Katie Melua’s Horror as She Finds that Scratching Noises that Had Been Bugging Her since Using Headphones on a Flight Were Due to a Spider Living in Her Ear.” Daily Mail. November 1, 2014. Accessed: January 23, 2015.
6. “How Electricity Helps Spider Webs Snatch Prey and Pollutants.” Science Daily. January 14, 2014. Accessed: January 23, 2015.
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9. Llewellyn, Claire. I Didn’t Know that Spiders Have Fangs. Brookfield, CT: Aladdin Books Ltd, 1997.
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11. Morgan, Sally. Spiders (Amazing Animal Hunters). North Mankato, MN: Amicus, 2011.
12. Palermo, Elizabeth. “5 Spooky Spider Myths Busted.” Live Science. October 28, 2014. Accessed: January 23, 2015.
13. Smith, Chrysti. Verbivore’s Feast, Second Course: More Word & Phrase Origins. Helena, MT: Farcountry Press, 2006.
14. Sneed, Annie. “Fact or Fiction? People Swallow 8 Spiders a Year while They Sleep.” Scientific American. April 15, 2014. Accessed: January 23, 2015.
15. Solway, Andrew. Deadly Spiders and Scorpions. Chicago, IL: Heinemann Library, 2005.
16. Yong, Ed. “Bagheera kiplingi—The Mostly Vegetarian Spider.” ScienceBlogs. October 12, 2009. Accessed: January 23, 2015.