It's been a month since I've seen Emily the Spider.
She's likely either dead or hibernating.
(photos behind a cut for the arachnophobic.)
The last photo I took of her was on October 6, 2015. She was just sitting in her web doing nothing. I saw her a few more times after that but sometime within the next week she vanished. She'd done that before and I wasn't terribly concerned, although I was worried enough that I put a box under her web so that if she died & fell out I'd be able to find her (nothing) and I've sifted through the dust on the porch but haven't found anything -- though she's tiny and would be easy to miss. It's possible she's gone into hibernation, in which case I'll find her again next year.
I first noticed Emily in May of 2015 while sitting on the back porch reading -- I'd notice her every day and started to wonder what her life was like, I got worried about how she'd weather a rainstorm one night and spent the next three hours watching her. The first photograph I took of her was on the 24th of May and after that I started watching her daily and she became a not insignificant part of my life, and in the lives of people on the Internet. She was, I discovered, a feather legged orb weaver, from the uloborid family. She was without venom -- but not without charm. Her feet were rainbows, but only if you cared to look, very, very closely.
Early this year someone weeded the sidewalk in front of my dad's place and they tore up a piece of crabgrass and threw it into the street. My father thought this was sad so he rescued it and planted it in a gigantic planter on his porch. He'd send me photos of it every couple of days: "My crabgrass is thriving!" he'd say. And it did. It bothered him that someone would carelessly, though intentionally, kill something for no reason. He really enjoyed watching that clump of crabgrass grow and somewhere during the summer I realized that was something I'd learned from him -- that you don't necessarily need to go someplace else to find something grand that you care about, you just need to care about something, and it can be something very small, and very close. There's something worth caring about wherever you are, if you just invite it into your life. He sent me photos minutes apart from before and after watering his crabgrass and you can actually see it change. (The last time he sent me a photo, his crab grass was at least two feet tall.)
Emily the spider laid eggs several times during the summer and all but once they were killed by parasitic chalcid wasps -- the wasps lay eggs inside the spider egg sack and the wasp larve eat the young spiders before they're born. It was crushing to watch, again and again, wasps hatch out of her egg sacks. Towards the end of the summer I started intervening and bringing her eggs inside and protecting them. Eventually four spiderlings hatched, only one of which survived to young-adulthood. I named him Chumley. I haven't seen Chumley since the end of October. The last time I photographed him was October 24th. By that time I hadn't seen Emily in a few days and Chumley was hunting in her web -- his web, normally very meticulous, had started to fall apart. As male uloborid spiders reach sexual maturity, they lose the ability to spin webs, so this might have been a reason for that.
I'd been worrying about this day for a while and had asked some spider experts if I should bring Emily in for the winter and they decided that her chances were best if I left her outside to deal with winter the way that spiders do. What happened/happens depends on how old she is. Uloborid's hibernate once -- if she was born this year she'll over-winter, but if she was born last year, she's probably gone forever. Chumley though, he's most likely holed up somewhere in a crack.
Emily's web is still there, and all of her empty egg sacks -- and it's a bit sad to look at them, though if I hadn't invested the time, it would just be something I'd sweep up in passing, but there are hours and days of my life in those tiny little things now.
And hope for next year. I'll be out looking, and hoping.
Emily the spider, in my life May 24, 2015 - October 6, 2015.