In Charlotte's Web the intelligence and love of a spider saves the life of a pig.
We don't know much about the type of pig Wilbur is. The farm girl, Fern, admires his pinkish color and erect ears. This gives us the hint that Wilbur is more than likely an American Yorkshire pig, one of the most popular breeds of domestic pig in the United States. Pigs are highly intelligent, smarter than dogs, and can live for 20 years or more. But Wilbur is destined to be dinner on Christmas day unless someone else's brains help him find a way to stay alive.
Charlotte is that someone and we learn a lot about Charlotte. She tells us herself she is a Barn Spider but it is E. B. White's story that tells us about her species. A Barn Spider prefers a habitat of wooden rafters and eaves. Charlotte makes her home in the doorway of Wilber's sty. Barn Spiders are insectivores and subsist entirely on bugs they catch in their webs. Wilber is horrified as he watches his new spider friend catch, wrap and prepare a juicy fly. It takes him a while to forgive her. Barn Spiders are orb weavers and nocturnal, they hide during the day and rebuild their wheel-shaped web every night. It is always while Wilber sleeps that Charlotte creates the web-messages that convince the farmer to spare him. A Barn Spider's lifespan is not long. Wilber and Charlotte meet in spring, and by fall, Charlotte has grown old and dies.
When we finish Charlotte's Web we'll know we've read a wonderful story about loyalty, compassion and the power of friendship. What we probably didn't know is that we got a great education about Barn Spiders as well.