Halloween, daytime, on just another walk in the vineyards, if I hadn't been looking down for once, I'd have missed a remarkable creature creeping through the grass beside the track. I managed to get quite close, but it kept moving and quickly disappeared into the undergrowth. Mouse? Shrew?
I'm not keen on spiders. And this was one of those big headed, meaty ones, with thick legs. Not especially hairy, as far as I could see, but what really drew my attention was its body: peculiarly domed and a much darker brown than its head and legs. The 'dome' looked ridged and pitted too, like the surface of a truffle (savoury variety, not the chocolate ones!). Unfortunately there was no chance of photographing it with my phone and, after a few seconds, it had gone.
Back home, after consulting my Albera flora and fauna book, the only spider that came close to this chap was the Lycose radiée (Lycosa radiata): the wolf spider - also known as the false tarantula. Which seemed kind of appropriate for Halloween. But while legs and head looked similar, the body was nothing like the one I'd seen. So had my eyes or imagination been playing up? Was it a trick of the light, or was the poor thing I'd seen deformed?
I'd almost forgotten about it when, a few days later, on similar terrain but several kilometres away, I saw another one, with exactly the same dark brown, domed and pitted body. It too scurried away quickly, so there was no opportunity to photograph it, or even bend down to peer closely. Not that I was keen to get close.
The internet finally answered the question when I delved more deeply into wolf spiders. The females carry their young on their backs until they're able to fend for themselves. (This, after carrying the egg sack attached to the underside of their abdomen.) On one site I read that the mothers are very caring. How true this is I don't know but apparently, if one of the hatchlings falls off her back, she'll stop and wait for it to climb back on!
I never thought I'd be fascinated by a spider but have to admit this has somewhat changed my attitude. It's good to know that what I saw on Halloween wasn't a trick of the light or a deformed monster, but one of nature's treats. And if I ever manage to photograph one, I'll add it here.