The Wild Side

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Published on: Apr. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 21, 2010

Some friends of mine once played a joke on me that was fun. They wanted to know if I could smell spiders? They said they could.

"No you can't," I said.

"OK, we'll show you." It was dark outside; a beautiful summer night. Both friends had flashlights and they gave me one. We walked into the backyard with no light around except our flashlight beams.

Looking at each other with smiles on their faces, they inhaled the night air deeply, walked away from me and shined their lights around the perimeter of the yard. Both walked to different spots in the yard.

"I smell one." "So do I," each claimed.

I rushed to the one nearest me and shined my light to see a funnel web spider right where he said it was. I stared but I couldn't believe that he actually smelled it out. I went to the other friend; he too had a spider. How did they do it? After watching them locate spiders in this same fashion several times, I insisted they tell me the truth.

Scan the edge of your yard or meadow, where the grass is usually the tallest, with your flashlight, they said. Watch for tiny reflections. Those are spider eyes, green or white. You may have to practice with your light for a few minutes. Concentrate. Soon you'll be able to "smell" spiders, and show friends your strange new talent.

What kind of critters are spiders? They are creepy and they are crawly. They bug you but they are not bugs.

Bugs, or insects, are different than spiders. Insects have antennae, three body parts and six legs. Spiders have no antennae, only two body parts and eight legs. Maybe that's why, and how, they get so many insects to eat ... two more legs.

Spiders also have extra tools called spinnerets. These three small fingerlike gadgets are where the spider spins silk. The silk is produced in as many as five glands as a liquid protein that passes out the end of the abdomen through the spinnerets and turns into a solid immediately upon contact with the air.

The spider's silk thread is made up of hundreds of smaller threads that stick together as they leave the spinnerets. Even though all spiders make silk, they don't all use it for making webs.

Some young spiders use silk to help them travel on the wind. This behavior is called ballooning and the silk threads used are

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