This week in Nature Club we learned about some of the common spiders in Harrison County, then went on a spider hunt around the library buildings.

Orb-weavers build what you typically think of as a spider web--round with spiraled webbing.  They are docile, timid spiders with poor vision.  Right now there are many spiderlings building tiny orb webs around the library.  We studied six species in the classroom:

  • Marbled Orb-weaver, Araneus marmoreus--This beautiful spider likes to live along riverbanks.
  • Araneus alboventris
  • White Micrathena, Micrathena mitrata--This is the smallest of our local micrathenas, sometimes called "CD Spiders" because of the shimmering CD shape they build in their webs.
  • Spotted Orb-weaver, Neoscona crucifera--This spider is easily mistaken for the Barn Spider (Araneus cavaticus).  Look at the white markings under its belly to ID it.  The Barn Spider's markings look like commas, but Neoscona's look like broken L's.
  • Star-Bellied Spider, Acanthepeira stellata--This spiky-bottomed orb-weaver is a master at pretending to be a stone.
  • Furrow Spider, Larinioides cornutus--This is another orb-weaver that likes riverbanks.

Long-jawed orb-weavers are a completely different family than orb-weavers.  While orb-weavers build vertical orb webs, the web of a long-jawed orb-weaver will be tilted or even fully horizontal.

  • Orchard Spider, Leucauge venusta--This common spider is a beautiful metallic silver and gold.
  • Long-jawed orb-weaver, Tetragnatha species--These long, skinny spiders are commonly found hanging in branches over lakes and streams.  If you've ever knocked a spider into your canoe, it was likely one of these.

Sheet weavers are the tiny spiders who build the webs you see in your lawn and flowerbeds on dewy mornings.  They are small enough that even the adults travel by ballooning--they throw up a thread of silk like a parachute and ride the wind to a new location.

  • Bowl-and-doily spider, Frontinella communis--This species gets its name from the shape of its web--a sheet or "doily" with a bowl-shaped web above it.
  • Hammock spider, Pityohyphantes sp.--As its name would suggest, this spider's sheet web resembles a hammock.

Tangle web spiders build messy cobwebs.  You can recognize them by their round, spherical abdomens.  We studied one species in class, the American House Spider, Parasteatoda tepidariorium, a common spider in and around homes.  Outside the library, we found baby House Spiders hatching and leaving their egg sac.  Another local species of tangle web spider is the Black Widow, but don't let that scare you away from the House Spider!  It is harmless and can actually help you since it eats household pests and even Brown Recluses.

Cellar spiders also build cobwebs--they are the skinny, long-legged spiders you see running away from your vacuum cleaner!  They are probably not native to the United States, but today they live all over the world.  You may have heard that this "daddy longlegs" is the most poisonous spider, but never fear--it is harmless to humans.

Funnel weavers like the American Grass Spider (Agelenopsis species) look like wolf spiders, but build sheet-shaped webs that narrow into a funnel.  When disturbed, they will hurry into the funnel to hide.  You can recognize them by their prominent spinnerets.  We found many of these shy spiders outside the Genealogy Building.

Wolf spiders come in many varieties in Harrison County.  We looked at a large species (Hogna sp.), a medium one (the Rabid Wolf Spider, Rabidosa rabida), and a small one (Schizocosa sp.)  You can recognize wolf spiders by looking closely at their faces--their central pair of eyes are much larger than the others, giving them a goofy, googly-eyed appearance.  Wolf spiders do not build webs, but hunt along the ground and live in burrows.  You can find them by spider-sniffing--just go out at night and hold a flashlight on your nose.  Look down the beam and you can see nocturnal spiders' eyes gleaming back at you.  You will be shocked at how many spiders are nearby!

Nursery web spiders look like wolf spiders, but they have longer, slimmer legs, equal-sized eyes (no googly faces here!), and they carry their eggs sacs with their jaws instead of their spinnerets.  They build nursery webs in bushes or trees, where they hide their babies.  Fishing spiders are in the nursery web spider family.  While you are spider-sniffing, see if you can find any nursery web spiders among the wolf spiders.

Jumping spiders have the best vision of any spider.  They are also the cutest and the most intelligent.  Some of our common local species include the Bold Jumping Spider (Phiddipus audax), the Tan Jumper (Platycryptus undatus), and the Dimorphic Jumper (Maevia inclemens).  On our walk, we found a male Tan Jumper on the side of the library building, and indoors we looked at a tiny male jumper.

 

Crab spiders can be recognized by their two pairs of extra long front legs, making them resemble a crab.  One of our local species, the Goldenrod Flower Spider (Misumena vatia), can change its color to match the flower it's sitting on.  Look carefully in your flowerbed--crab spiders are masters of camouflage!  In class, we looked at the Northern Crab Spider, Mecaphesa asperata.

Disclaimer: I am not an arachnologist.  Please consult a field guide or BugGuide.net to identify your spiders!

Nature Club, for 1st grade and up, meets monthly on Thursdays.  Our next session will be held on November 3 at 4 PM.  You can register online, over the phone, or in person at your local library branch.

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