Shifting my hands and feet below the surface of soft white sand, warmed by the afternoon sun, I imagine myself as a crab, tucked safely beneath the ground. I allow the sensations of cool moisture and grainy infiltration to spread through the rest of my body. The sea oats brush together in the breeze. The ocean pulses a melodic beat. I turn my head to the side and feel the salty skin of my right cheek merge with specks of crumbled shell. The world is an expanse of sand, strewn with cockles and tufts of American beachgrass. I wait.
Two black ovals appear behind a mound of white. Before I can make out anything else, they are gone. Only to reappear once more a few seconds later. They linger long enough for me to follow them downwards—down two custard colored stocks, onto an armored chest, a hunk of claw, and one, two, three, four bristled legs, bent at ninety degree angles and ending in a point. The ghost crab peeks out of its burrow and shrinks back inside twice more before allowing its entire body to linger in the open.
Confident in its relative safety, the crab scurries soundlessly across the sand. It seems to hover just above the earth as it moves, not disturbing a single grain, nor faltering over any sharp incline produced by a discarded can or stray rock. It makes its way several feet from its abode, freezes, and darts back underground. But I need only wait a few seconds for those two eyes—curious and kind and nearly always outweighed by a body of fear—to reemerge, survey the land, and vanish without a trace.
This time, however, the crab stays hidden. As minutes pass by, I surmise that it must have escaped through the second entrance to its burrow, and resolve to find entertainment elsewhere. Pulling myself up, out of the sand, I spot what appears to be a second crab several yards down the beach. Its shell is darker than that of a ghost crab and it stands impeccably still. With every step I expect it to scuttle away, into the ocean or sand, but it remains. I start to wonder if it might be dead, and, if so, why it does not currently sit digesting in the stomach of a gull.
Eventually, I am close enough to observe that the creature is not, in fact, a crab at all—it’s a spider. Its long legs and swollen abdomen draw me closer. This spider would barely fit in the palm of my hand. Pulling my phone from my pocket, I intend to document the unusual sight of a spider sun bathing on the beach. However, as I bring my camera into focus, I realize—it is not just one spider, it is many; a wolf spider with dozens of babies clasped to her back. This is the only breed of arachnid that not only keeps her fragile egg sack fastened to her back, but also tends to her babies until they are grown enough to hunt down prey on their own.
I am amazed by how tiny the spiderlings’ bodies are compared to that of their mother, and I am amazed also by the blog posts I come across which are labeled by titles such as “This Horrifying Spider Is The Only One That Carries Her Babies Like a Human Mother Would” then refer to the mother wolf spider as a “hairy bastard.” Why even bother to write a post about spiders if you cannot appreciate their delicate bodies, their elegant strides, and, in this case in particular, their admirable instincts to care for their young? Far too many posts about wolf spiders center around them being squashed or screamed over, with comments often pleading that the spider be taken care of with a flame thrower, rather than a shoe.
I understand that everyone has their irrational fears, but why has a spider, visually similar to a crab (minus the claws) and free from any life threatening venom, come to be the bearer of so much hate?