By Melody Bell Wilkes
A Walk in the Woods
Take a look at the countryside this time of year and with a keen eye, you can spot some magnificent spiders. In late summer, many spiders are making their webs, finding partners and laying eggs for next year’s generation. Common in wooded and garden areas are jumping spiders, wolf spiders, funnel weavers and the orb weavers.

Contrary to popular belief, spiders are not insects. Spiders are classified as arachnids along with their relatives the ticks, mites and scorpions. Spiders have eight legs whereas insects have six. They also have two body parts, the cephlathorax (head and thorax combined) and abdomen. An insect has three body parts, a head, thorax and abdomen. Most insects have wings and antennae. Spiders do not. Their legs are covered with hairs that serve as sense organs. Scientists believe there may be as many as 50,000-100,000 kinds of spiders. 

In order to eat, all spiders have venom they inject into their prey. Juices from the digestive glands liquefy the prey before it is sucked into the mouth by the stomach’s pumping action. The empty shell of the insect is discarded after feeding. 

If provoked, a spider may bite. Spiders that are dangerous to man are few in number yet there are two species you should be aware of that live here. They are the Black Widow, Latrodectus mactans, and the Brown Recluse, Loxosceles reclusa. A bite from either of these spiders will need immediate medical attention. 

Some of our smaller spiders are the colorful jumping spiders consisting of 2,800 species. Unlike other spiders, they do not build webs and have larger eyes for seeing prey up to 4-8 inches away. They are daytime hunters and walk with an irregular gait with the fourth pair of legs modified for jumping. If an insect is in sight, they jump and pounce on their prey. Before jumping, the spider secures a silk thread as a safety line in case it misses its mark. 

At first glance, the wolf spider is a large impressive spider. You might even think you saw a tarantula. Wolf spiders belong to the genus of Lycosas that also include the European Tarantula. There are numerous species of wolf spiders, about 2,000, but the largest of them all live here. It is called the Carolina Wolf Spider and can grow up to 1-1.5 inches in length. These common spiders are primarily nocturnal but you may see them during the day.  Some hide under objects, some dig short tunnels and others dig burrows. The female attaches her large egg sac to her spinnerets. As the young spiderlings emerge, they climb onto the mother, who carries them on her back and brushes them away from her eyes. If any of the spiderlings fall off, they climb back on the mother’s legs again.

There are roughly 500 species of funnel weavers and their webs are easily recognized in the morning dew. Funnel weavers can be found on the ground or along the bush margins where insects cross. The spider hides at the narrow end of a funnel that spreads out across the grass. Feeling the vibration of an insect crossing the web, the spider dashes out, bites the insect and carries it back to the funnel.

Orb weavers build the most intricate webs in open areas, between tree branches or bushes. There are several species of orb weavers and they typically have large webs. Worldwide, they form a family of 2,500 species. You may have heard people refer to the black and gold orb weaver as the “writing spider” from the zigzag pattern that adorns the center of the web. 

The spider’s web is made from silk and is designed to trap its food. Spider silk is fibrous protein made from silk glands found in the abdomen. Silk hardens not by contact with air but by mechanical stretching. The spider uses its legs to draw out the silk through small tubes, called spinnerets, found at the base of the abdomen. 

Spider silk cannot be dissolved in water and is the strongest natural fiber known.  Scientists are using biotechnology to try and find a way to mass-produce silk. There are many uses for silk such as: military applications in parachutes and flak jackets, textiles, packages, ropes, sailboat masts and naturally biodegradable nontoxic sutures. 

Take a moment to watch the spiders in your area and get to know their names. A small pocket field guide on spiders is all you need to get started. I recommend the Golden Guidebook called Spiders and their kin, by Western Publishing Company.  Watching a spider make its web is also a great activity for children. An arachnid education for you and your child waits outside your front door. 

Melody Bell Wilkes is the owner of A Walk in the Woods, an environmental education company that provides child friendly outreach wildlife programs to schools, birthday parties, and the general public.  For more information please call 704-436-9048 or visit http://www.awalkinthewoods.us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *