I found the first skink hanging by his tail, twisting and paddling an inch above the floor. He was caught in a spiderweb underneath a chair, and he was just a baby.
Two days later, I found another baby skink under another chair. This one was still ambulatory but slow, with legs and tail wrapped in fluffs of webbing.
Both chairs sit inside my screened porch: where spiders are expected, but where skinks are not.
Skink #1, I thought, was a fluke.
But after skink #2, I started looking in earnest for ways to prevent a skink #3.
Because—and let me paraphrase a line from The Importance of Being Earnest:
To lose one skink to a spiderweb is unfortunate: to lose two looks like carelessness.
So, I took care.
After repairing the gap in the screen where the skinks scooted in, I looked closely at my spiders. Not the trashline orbweaver: her web is too small and high to catch skinks. Not the funnel spider, who waits up in her corner. And not the jumping spiders, who don’t spin webs to catch food.
No, I crawled on the floor to stare at the spiders who live under the chairs: the cobweb-building, sac-making, big-butt, House Spiders.
House spiders are a “cosmopolitan” species found world-wide, and are super chill around humans. They know our houses (and porches) give them exactly what they need: few predators but plenty of prey. While most spiders run from people, the House spider could not care less, even when we poke our fingers and phones right up in their faces.
Today I learned that House spiders aren’t just chill, they’re smart. Look:
“Bigger females can attract baby skinks inside their web by leaving fly remains hanging in it.”
My skinks didn’t just bumble into trouble, they were lured!
Maybe they scaled the screen wall, found the enormous gap, crept in and saw an easy snack dangling above the floor. And when they went for it, maybe the House spider did what House spiders do when prey is bigger and stronger than the web can handle: she shot silk at it and tried to reel it in.
From what I saw, the combo of lure, line, and reel would have worked if I hadn’t come along.
I love skinks. I work hard to give them and all wildlife safe habitat in our yard.
So, should I evict my House spiders?
No. These spiders are part of the foodweb even though they aren’t native, and even though they might target tiny, charismatic reptiles.
(Also, my chair spiders catch cockroaches and other creatures I’d rather not multiply so near my kitchen.)
The answer is to evict the skinks, or rather, to keep the screen repaired so that future darling, blue-tailed babies can’t get in to take the bait.
P.S. Both skinks were set free in the yard, minus as much strong, sticky silk as I could shift. Our yard is 100% skink-friendly: pesticide-free, herbicide-free, with no-mow zones and brush piles, logs, leaves, and rocks.
Juvenile skinks in Nashville all have blue tails and look very much alike, but could be one of three species: Five-lined, Southeastern Five-lined, and Broadheaded. For info on each, see Tennessee’s Watchable Wildlife’s page for Reptiles, here.
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Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and writer in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.
She writes about everyday marvels amid everyday habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, City Creatures, The Fourth River and other journals.