Can it be that they derive sustenance from the silken wrapper? Do they eat their house? The supposition is not absurd, for we have seen the Epeirae, before beginning a new web, swallow the ruins of the old. But the explanation cannot be accepted, as we learn from the Lycosa, whose family boasts no silky screen. In short, it is certain that the young, of whatever species, take absolutely no nourishment.
Lastly, we wonder whether they may possess within themselves reserves that come from the egg, fatty or other matters the gradual combustion of which would be transformed into mechanical force. If the expenditure of energy were of but short duration, a few hours or a few days, we could gladly welcome this idea of a motor viaticum, the attribute of every creature born into the world. The chick possesses it in a high degree: it is steady on its legs, it moves for a little while with the sole aid of the food wherewith the egg furnishes it; but soon, if the stomach is not kept supplied, the centre of energy becomes extinct and the bird dies. How would the chick fare if it were expected, for seven or eight months without stopping, to stand on its feet, to run about, to flee in the face of danger? Where would it stow the necessary reserves for such an amount of work?
The little Spider, in her turn, is a minute particle of no size at all. Where could she store enough fuel to keep up mobility during so long a period? The imagination shrinks in dismay before the thought of an atom endowed with inexhaustible motive oils.
We must needs, therefore, appeal to the immaterial, in particular to heat-rays coming from the outside and converted into movement by the organism. This is nutrition of energy reduced to its simplest expression: the motive heat, instead of being extracted from the food, is utilized direct, as supplied by the sun, which is the seat of all life. Inert matter has disconcerting secrets, as witness radium; living matter has secrets of its own, which are more wonderful still. Nothing tells us that science will not one day turn the suspicion suggested by the Spider into an established truth and a fundamental theory of physiology.
APPENDIX: THE GEOMETRY OF THE EPEIRA’S WEB
I find myself confronted with a subject which is not only highly interesting, but somewhat difficult: not that the subject is obscure; but it presupposes in the reader a certain knowledge of geometry: a strong meat too often neglected. I am not addressing geometricians, who are generally indifferent to questions of instinct, nor entomological collectors, who, as such, take no interest in mathematical theorems; I write for any one with sufficient intelligence to enjoy the lessons which the insect teaches.
What am I to do? To suppress this chapter were to leave out the most remarkable instance of Spider industry; to treat it as it should be treated, that is to say, with the whole armoury of scientific formulae, would be out of place in these modest pages. Let us take a middle course, avoiding both abstruse truths and complete ignorance.