Nature Connection: Not So Itsy Bitsy Spiders

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond Photo

It’s that time of year again, when summer sighs and slumps in exhaustion, birds fill up on bugs and seeds, and spiders look for places to hang out inside your home, garage, shed or vehicle. Before you scream and grab the poison bug spray, consider this. Spiders eat a lot of insects, many of the same ones that bug you.

Psychologists, biologists and other observant people will readily admit that many people, perhaps including some of them, are freaked out by spiders, even itsy bitsy ones. It seems spiders and snakes are universally feared and disliked around the globe. This makes a certain amount of sense as in some places some species are extremely poisonous and dangerous.

Here on Cape Cod? They may be creepy, but they are unlikely to kill you. We have no poisonous snakes here, and although we do have the occasional black widow lurking in a shadow, it is unlikely to be deadly. Brown recluse spiders can give a nasty bite but it’s pretty easy to avoid a spider bite. Just leave them alone.

Spiders are pretty clever, if you stop to think about it. They can build a complex and beautiful web overnight. They build it with silk from their own body. That’s pretty cool no matter how much they make you shiver.

If you are out walking early in the morning this month, you may be treated to the beautiful sight of spider webs glistening with dew in the early morning light, especially around marshes, ponds, and woodland trails. There are spiders that build their webs on the grass as well, so sometimes you get a double treat. In all my years of admiring webs, not a single spider has jumped out to bite me.

But they’re in my house! Well, yes, they like houses and basements and garages. If you leave your car windows open they may build a web in your car, too. They’re opportunistic that way. Spiders come in many shapes, colors, and sizes, but they are solitary creatures, one to a web. They seek light, water, and food, just like most of nature. They also like privacy, which is why so many hang around in basements left dark and quiet.

The most common spider most of us see is called, wait for it, the American house spider. These harmless spiders, like most others, use silk from their bodies to build little packets in which they can lay their eggs. How many? Depends on the species, but I can attest that house spiders can hatch hundreds of tiny immature spiders called spiderlings from one egg.

One summer I had a spider that hung out by my drawing table. It didn’t bother me, so I didn’t bother it. Enough little insects kept it fed and it probably drank some water from my water jar when I wasn’t looking. She had a web in the corner by the window and over the weeks she was there I realized she was guarding an egg case. Hmmm. This could be interesting. One spider is one thing but a hundred or more baby spiders? Even I had to give a little eeeek about that one.

And then, the egg hatched. The teeniest little spiderlings sprang from the white silken egg, ran down the wall and out the crack at the bottom of the window. Hundreds of them, one after another. I ran outside and they were all spreading out in different directions. Some spiderlings will even make their own silk strand and let the wind carry them to new places.

This past week one of my grown daughters sent me a text with a picture of a spider in her outdoor shower. It was a house spider and had built an impressive web — right across the shower fixtures. Well, we all have limits, and she removed the web. It rebuilt the next day on the outside of the shower, a better situation for everyone involved. I haven’t asked if it has an egg case.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I carry spiders outside rather than kill them, using a piece of card stock and a glass. It’s not that I don’t think they are creepy, because I can jump as high as anyone when one runs up the wall next to me. I just decided long ago that they weren’t really hurting me, so why not leave them be?

Brushing away a web or a cluster of eggs can be wise if you don’t want a booming population of spiders hanging around. The young spiders will disperse quickly but maybe you’d rather they chose a different location. They will. They sense when they are unwanted.

Spiders not only eat lots of annoying insects,they provide good food for birds, small mammals, and other animals. They are part of the, ahem, web of life, so please don’t poison them. You could be poisoning mama chickadee as well. Just take a deep breath and co-exist as best you can.