Learn to Like Spiders

Whether you love or loathe spiders, you may be surprised to learn of the significant role they play in controlling pests in your home, garden and yard.

| April/May 2005

  • Poisonous Spiders
    Two dangerous spiders: The brown recluse (top most) prefers to lurk in the seldom- disturbed areas of homes, such as basements, closet corners and behind furniture. The female black widow (above) is perhaps the most harmful spider to humans. It prefers outdoor habitat under many kinds of debris, but also may come indoors.
    Photos courtesy G.W. Willis/ Animals Animals
  • Jumping Spider
    The fierce-looking but harmless jumping spider.
    Photo courtesy Mark Moffett/Minden Pictures
  • Spider Webs
    Thousands of dewy spider webs at dawn in the White Mountains of Arizona.
    Photo courtesy Bob & Suzanne Clemenz
  • Spider Box
    To witness up close the amazing art of cobweb building, cut the flaps off a box, poke holes for ventilation and cover one side with plastic wrap.
    Illustration courtesy Dave Channon

  • Poisonous Spiders
  • Jumping Spider
  • Spider Webs
  • Spider Box

Pity the poor, deprived souls who think of nature as something to visit in a place defined by park borders or hiking trails. The average back yard, despite our best efforts to tame it, is a veritable jungle of extraordinary plants and animals — unseen and under-appreciated for the most part, if only because we humans live our lives galumphing around on such long legs. But take the time to stop, kneel and peer into the smaller landscapes of our world, and you will discover whole universes.

This is precisely the quality that makes any person a naturalist — not formal education or scientific training (though they certainly are useful) but simply the ability to look at the world through a child’s wondering eyes.

Fortunately, I have two curious and inquisitive sons who have helped me retain my own particular (some might say peculiar) childlike sense of wonder. Over the past several years, they’ve regularly reminded me, for instance, that some of nature’s most interesting inhabitants live right under our noses — in the unnoticed corners and out-of-the-way crannies of our homes. There are the beetles in the basement and the occasional bat in the attic; the silverfish that skitter across the pages of old magazines; the Polistes wasps that build honeycomb-like paper nests between the windows; the mouse that comes out at night in search of kitchen-floor crumbs. Add to those creatures the usual cavalcade of ants and flies, and it’s plain that the average home is not only where the heart is, but also where there’s an abundance of wildlife.

My favorite domestic denizens are spiders. In summer on the back porch, we sometimes find harmless and tiny but fierce-looking and beady-eyed jumping spiders — the Pekingese of the spider world. Move your hand toward one and it may well leap at you, not away, in a show of feigned aggression that has intimidated countless Homo sapiens. Jumping spiders don’t spin a web; they capture a meal by stalking their buggy prey and pouncing on it, like a cat.

Only a handful of spiders are actually dangerous to humans. Occasionally, in garden debris, I’ve run across a black widow, easily recognizable by its round, pea-size and polished ebony body and telltale red-marked underbelly (the marking is sometimes, but not always, hourglass-shaped). Named for the female’s alleged habit of eating the smaller male after mating, black widows are the most venomous spider in the United States. Fortunately, they prefer outdoor habitat.

The infamous brown recluse, on the other hand, not only lives outside in woodpiles and loose brush, but also indoors under furniture or in seldom-

9/15/2009 8:22:06 AM

I appreciate arachnids for the enormous amount of insect pests that they control. Matter of fact, when I find a spider in the house I carefully move him to a safe outside environment and I have never been bitten- old testament paranoia as with highly beneficial snakes.

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