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spiders around us

spiders around us

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Nature Nut at Tynehead Park

Nature Nut at Tynehead Park

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Spiders, don’t hate them but tolerate them,

Spiders are not bugs or insects, they have eight legs, most have 8 eyes, have no bones but an exoskeleton and they come in many sizes and colors. They have the amazing ability to adapt to different temperatures and situations. They can live anywhere in the world except the North and South poles. Generally most spiders live to one year, except the Tarantula, it can live to 15 years! There are 40,000 species of spiders.  Some have been discovered ballooning up to 4,000 feet high.  Ballooning or aerial dispersal is when a spider releases a silk thread and climbs as high as it can to get lifted off a surface and waits to get caught by the slightest breeze and to get carried away to a favorable location to anchor itself to start building its web. On a calm and sunny morning, early in fall, if you are lucky, you can witness hundreds of silvery threads of silk reflecting in the sun, all among the blades of grass in a meadow, these are draglines from newly hatched spiderlings!

“Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet….” It was believed in the 1800’s that crushed up spiders could cure a child’s cold, that’s when this children’s rhyme originated.

Spiders live in the shadows in our houses and outside we walk into their webs several times a day in late summer. They tend to build their sometimes invisible webs in places we find most annoying, like doorways and walk ways. We have been taught to fear them. We unwittingly teach our children to fear spiders by screaming when we spot them inside, or running for the vacuum or stepping on them to kill them.  Contrary to popular belief, the spiders you see inside, the “house spiders”, are usually a different species from outdoor spiders. They have evolved to exist in our houses and come in carried by furniture and building supplies in egg sacs. They hide in unused rooms, crawlspaces and storage areas, they could never survive outside. They have evolved to survive with minimum water or food. That’s why you can occasionally find one in the sink or bath tub, they are looking for water and did not come up through the drain. No spider or other insect can access our modern day plumbing, our drains contain a liquid filled trap through which they cannot pass without mini scuba gear.

Outside spiders are coldblooded, when it gets cold outside, they become less active and will hibernate in tree crevices, under rocks and leaves on the ground and go dormant. The few spiders that do end up indoors, will not be able to reproduce and eventually die.

The house spider you see walking around at night out of the corner of your eyes, is most likely a sexually mature male, looking for a female, just wave and wish him good luck.

The Harvestman, a skinny long-legged spider, we encounter outside, mostly in the fall (hence the name) is often wrongly called “Daddy Longlegs”. He is actually not a spider. He has only one body part, only two eyes, no venom, he makes no silk, has mouthparts but is toothless, he is an arachnid, but not a spider.  He has relatives like scorpions, ticks, centipedes and millipedes and mites. Harvestmen have been seen coming out of a tree crack by the dozens in the morning, even in summer, they huddle together for warmth. The real Daddy Longlegs is a spider, albeit skinny with long legs as well but has two body parts and has all the other attributes of spiders.

Spiders are visual hunters with multiple eyes, but they cannot hear, they pick up the slightest vibrations through very sensitive hairs on their legs and abdomen. Some spiders are hunters, or stalkers, others and jump. Some weave sheet webs or triangular webs. Aquatic spiders live in water and form a diving bell made with silk under water, and when they catch a small fish they drag it back in their bell, so that the venom does not dilute in the water. Others patiently wait for prey to get caught in their web. Not all spiders weave a web, the trapdoor spider makes a “door” on the ground with trip lines attached, to alert him that dinner is coming. The jumping spider, stalks and jumps his prey. The funnel web spider hides in his funnel underground or in a crevasse and some spiders hunt and throw a web to catch their prey. The orb weaver is the most visible one with her beautiful octagonal web. (I say “her” because it always reminds me of the story of “Charlotte’s web”). Spiders have enough silk in their body to make 3 webs per day. The spider is a great recycler, after damage to its web, she will eat it and build a new one. Spiders have 3 silk glands for different strengths and different purposes. Silk is used for shelter, catch prey, lifelines, traps, cocoons and diving bells. Spider silk is 30 times thinner than a human hair.

Spiders are good mothers, in that they take a lot of time and effort to make sure their eggs are well protected from predators and the elements, but when it comes time for her eggs to hatch, she is not even near. Spiders are carnivores and as soon as the spiderlings hatch, all they have on their mind is food, and the first food they see is their own kind! Out of every 100 hatchlings only 25 survive.

All spiders have venom, a neurotoxin, lethal to insects, but they did not evolve to hunt us humans. Their venom can only kill or numb their prey but will be sometimes be slightly painful like a wasp or bee sting to us. Spiders get a bad name, most “spider bites” have been done by other insects, like wasps and hornets, whose sting can be more dangerous than the spider’s bite. Even a black widow’s bite is rarely deadly, but if it has bitten a small child, an elderly person or someone extremely ill, it can make them very sick! If you are not sure or your bite looks really bad, see your doctor!

Imagine a world without spiders…Birds and snakes and other animals depend on them for food, and we will have more insects flying and crawling around us and eating our crops….. Let them do their work.

I hope reading this article will help you look at spiders without fear! Why waste your time worrying, it is not the spider who is dangerous but the dangerous ones are the ones that spread myths!!

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