My Eight-Legged Roommate

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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In the spirit of such children's books as "The Monster Under My Bed" and "The Stained Blue Dress in My Closet," I hereby proclaim to the world that there's a wolf spider living happily ever after in my medicine cabinet.

There was a time when I would have been asked to smash the spider and that would have been the end of it. But my current mindset is closer to that of singer-songwriter John Prine. He likes to tell the story of how, after getting divorced, he and a buddy nailed electric train tracks to his dining room table "just because we could."

As long as the wolf spider in my medicine cabinet picks up after himself, he's welcome to stay. It's not only a guy thing to have a spider for a roommate, but also provides an endless source of speculation.

Why, for example, has this particular wolf spider chosen to take up residence in a cold and lonely medicine cabinet unless it's for the drugs.

The last thing I want to do is attract the attention of some drug task force for fear they might nab the wrong spider.

But rather than face the possibility my new buddy is a drug addict, I prefer to think it's the deodorant that attracts him. With eight appendages, that would surely be understandable.

I also prefer this theory because it suggests a level of civilization one would hope house spiders possess. It wouldn't much matter if the wolf spider were nonpoisonous and didn't bite. But the jury is most definitely out on this.

In typical small-town fashion, there are those who swear the wolf spider is a killer and point to the untimely death of Uncle Bubba at the age of 37 as proof. (Never mind that Uncle Bubba lived on pork rinds and beer, had a belly the size of Massachusetts, and weighed in at just a shade over 300 pounds.)

My guess, knowing how rumors gain in magnitude in small towns, is that the wolf spider is totally harmless except, of course, to fellow insects. My thinking is that this wolf spider will easily earn his keep consuming flies and other bugs.

My thoughts also turn to questions like, "Why do they call it a wolf spider anyway?" Other than the fact that it's hairy, it bears little resemblance to a wolf.

But then maybe in the tradition of Halley's Comet, Tommy John Surgery and the nonplanet Pluto it was named after the person who first encountered a wolf spider, like Sir Ferdinand Wolf.

To bring a merciful end to all these speculations, my girlfriend and a colleague did some scientific research on the wolf spider. One of the things they uncovered is that there is no record of medical problems associated with these spiders in California. (Reassuring, but then I wouldn't bite a Californian either.) They kill their prey by pouncing on unsuspecting insects and inflicting multiple bites. (Have you ever met a suspecting insect?) They also learned it's best not to handle them, but to put them outside (using, we can only presume, special spider tongs).

Earlier this summer, I was accused by a reader of "speciesism bigotry" because I failed to mention how many bunny rabbits and other critters were lost in the Dude Fire. I think allowing a wolf spider to share my medicine cabinet should, if nothing else, defuse that charge.

Besides, the research showed that wolf spiders have some qualities that make them wonderful pets. Not only are they noted for their intelligence, but also for "a high degree of parental care that is relatively unusual among spiders."

And I'll bet you didn't know that wolf spiders have "extraordinary vision" and that their eyes all eight of them glow brightly in a flashlight beam. (A friend tried it on the very spider in my medicine cabinet, and it's true.) How cool is that with Halloween just around the corner?

But I am not a fan of Halloween, and therein lies the greatest advantage to having a pet wolf spider. If I were a trick or treater, I wouldn't go anywhere near my house. Rumor has it the guy who lives there has a very hairy pet spider with eight eyes who doesn't like Californians and just might be on drugs.

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