The Driftspider is one of the more interesting insects of Nybelmar. Found only in the Drifting Woods area, these small creatures are perfectly comfortable with spending their entire lifetime on the water surfaces there, by constructing ingenious webs that serve as their private island homes.
As most spiders are, the Driftspider is equipped with
eight legs, and a two-segmented body, which is divided into a section containing
both head and chest, and the lower body or abdomen, that harbors most of the
internal organs. Completely covered in fine brownish hair, it seems, at first
glance, indistinguishable from the dozens of other small
spiders it shares its territory with, especially since even the females do
not grow to be more than one and a half
nailsbreadth, not counting
the legs. However, when observed closely, a few details that set it aside from
its neighbors can be seen.
The most conspicuous of these details, on a living specimen of sufficient size, is the marking on the back of their lower body which consists of grey hairs. On males, these markings form a simple oval or drop-shaped outline, while on the larger females they carry a slight resemblance to a humanoid skull, leading many to believe these spiders to bear a deadly venom, which is only true from an insect's point of view.
A trait shared with only a few other species of cobs (to be exact, these spiders are: the rare Cobspinner, the Venlaken Spiderleech, and the nigh-legendary Spilk Spider) is the presence of a double set of fangs. The frontmost pair is thick and strong, and used to grab and hold living prey while the smaller, slender second pair, which can be retracted at will, pierces the victim to inject its venom.
The legs of the Driftspider are a clear reminder of its watery habitat. Almost twice as long as the body itself, and quite thin, they enable the spider to walk on almost every surface, including water, whilst they can be folded against the body to allow the spider access to tiny spaces. The 'feat' are set with a pair of pincer-like claws, that aid the spider in climbing, as well as holding larger prey until the venomous bite can be delivered. Around these claws, several tufts of long hairs can be found. When standing on water, these spread out fan-like, around the tip of the leg, giving the cob a much larger, and more stable foothold. Without these hairs the spider would probably be able to travel on water, but be incapable of transporting prey or web-building materials to its island.
On the very rear of the Driftspider's abdomen, if one applies a lens from a Farseer and is able to immobilize the insect by cooling its body sufficiently, five small lumps can be seen, each only a third of a grain in size. These are where the many types of spidersilk are produced. By applying threads from different combinations of silk glands, the threads woven can vary from thick, sticky strands, all the way to a thread to thin to be seen with the naked eye. By using the four rear legs, the Driftspider can intertwine these threads into whatever 'fabric' it desires for any given purpose.
As far as spiders go, Driftspiders are fairly basic creatures. As is common
spiders, the Driftspider is
venomous, although not to humans. It is this
potent venom that actually kills the prey, usually within mere moments after
being bitten. Also, two exceptional skills vital to the
spider's survival may be noted.
Firstly, the Driftspider's long legs enable it to perform impressive jumps. It is capable of reaching up to a span above the water surface, making it able to grab prey in mid-flight and drag it down to the water again.
Secondly, the Driftspider possesses an extraordinary skill in web-weaving. Not constrained to simple 'cartwheel webs' or silk lairs in small burrows, the Driftspider can build tiny hollow spheres of silk, and tie these together to form rafts. They even include wrapped-up lumps of sand and mud on the lower side of this raft, to act as counterweights that stabilize the structure.
Territory. Found only in the Drifting Woods region in the northwestern reaches of Nybelmar, the Driftspider makes its home in the insect-rich marshes, ponds and canals that weave through the area. They can be found mainly in areas where the brine of the ocean is weak, or absent, but are scattered through most open, calm waters within the woods. Attempts to 'tame' these little creatures to be kept as pets are frequently made by Ter'ei'Vikh children, who scoop them up along with their floating webs, and keep them in bowls in their room. Usually, their parents, following the popular belief that the skull-marked female is venomous, remove the spiders overnight, claiming they have 'run away'. They needed not to have worried, for every spider caught for the research of the Compendium has so far resulted in the creatures fleeing their water bowls as soon as possible.
Habitat/Behaviour. Driftspiders are rather busy creatures that spend their days between hunting and repairing or expanding their webs. These webs are a work of art in their own right. Constructed from tiny hollow spheres, or 'bubbles', of spidersilk, they are shaped like more or less round discs, eventually reaching up to a handspan in diameter. However, natural degeneration and collisions with various objects destroy a good amount of 'bubbles' each day, which is the main reason webs cannot grow larger than a handspan across; anything beyond this size requires too much maintenance work for any but the largest spiders.
Once the cob has created a sufficiently large island raft, it starts constructing heavier spheres, filled with mud, soil and sand collected from the shores. From this, a downward tunnel is created, suspended from the middle of the island, and extending a few nailsbreadth down into the water. At the end of this tunnel a small den is built, lined with many layers of silk. Eventually, the outside of the island web is also covered in sheets of tough silk, including the submerged parts. For this, the spider just walks along the raft into the water, pulling itself down. It resurfaces whenever its air runs out, and in this way gradually reinforces its home, providing it with the protection it needs to minimize the damage from collisions, and preventing fish from eating it.
Diet. In common with nearly every other spider, the Driftspider feeds mainly on insects and creatures of equal size. Their main prey are insects of nearly any kind flying over the water low enough to be caught by jumping, but a free meal by way of a drowned or drowning insect is usually readily accepted. Insects, or even other kinds of cobs walking the water around a Driftspider usually find they have made a fatal mistake, as these creatures are not picky about their meals and will sink their fangs into their eight-legged cousins without hesitation. As a result, it would be safe to claim that these little spiders prey on anything of sufficiently small size. However, various local members of the Gembeetle family appear to be immune to the spider's venom, and usually ward off an attack without difficulties.
Mating. Driftspiders are born in the depths of their mother’s submerged burrow. There they will stay for about two days, after which they move to the surface. Once the spiderlings have arrived at the edge of their mother’s island they start weaving an air bubble contained in webbing, and set off into the water on their own. They will not mate during their first year, instead focusing more on hunting and building their webs. The next year however, the size difference between the male and female spiders becomes obvious, as the female is almost twice the male’s size. Now, the female can be impregnated. Unlike most species, the Driftspider has no set mating season. Mating can occur whenever a not-pregnant female and a male meet, and the male can persuade her into not eating him, usually by bringing a fresh kill onto her island as a ‘gift’. If she accepts his present, he can use the time she spends on feeding to mate with her, although it is probably wise for him to make sure he leaves in time, because a male careless enough to linger about could very well be her next meal. After mating, a gestation period of about three weeks passes before the eggs are laid inside the female's underwater den, and covered with silk to keep them in place. It is not uncommon for more than one egg sack to be present in the burrow at one time, as the female can mate again only a month or so after laying her eggs initially.
Depending on the weather conditions, the eggs will now take one to two months to hatch into a few hundred spiderlings, each of which will have left its parental home within the next few days.
Driftspiders rarely get to breed more than four or five times in their short lives before getting eaten by some predator, and the death rate among the spiderlings is high, which is probably the reason the species cannot maintain itself outside the Drifting Woods, where suitable waters and prey are so plentiful.