It’s creepy. It’s crawly. It lives in the shadows and spins webs in impossible places. Then it waits… Suddenly, a bee crashes into the spider’s sticky strands. The bee struggles and tries to escape. From the darkness, our spider reappears. The drama crescendos. Ready, aim, bite. In less time than it takes our spider to wrap up its midnight snack, you’ll see how spiders are more than just creepy and crawly — they’re spook-tacular!
These large, harmless spiders spin orb-shaped webs with a zigzag up the center, called a stabilimentum. This might lure in insects, keep birds away, or strengthen the web. Most garden spiders build new webs each night. They eat the old web at dusk and start all over. In spring, look for spiderlings “ballooning” by on strands of silk that catch the breeze. Below, a garden spider wraps a bee in silk after using its fangs to inject fast-acting venom to paralyze it.
Fishing spiders are easy to spot near lakes and ponds. They hunt on land, water, and deep below. Their eight eyes and an array of vibrationdetecting organs and sensitive hairs make sure nothing slips by. Fishing spiders often rest their front legs on the water’s surface so that vibrations alert them to possible prey nearby. They walk on water and can sail by raising a few of their legs into a gentle breeze. By trapping air bubbles on their legs, fishing spiders can breathe underwater for up to half an hour.
Marbled orb weavers are common in Missouri and are one of the prettiest spiders to observe. They are generally bright yellow but also can be pale yellow, orange, beige, or white. Female marbled orb weavers build wheel-shaped webs among trees and tall weeds in moist woods and near streams. Marbled orb weavers perform a great service to us by consuming many insects that we often find a nuisance, especially moths and flies.
These hairy brutes are Missouri’s largest spiders. Despite their terrible reputation (thanks Hollywood), tarantulas are actually shy by nature and try to avoid humans. Found in southern Missouri, tarantulas live in old rodent dens and other cavities instead of spinning webs. At night, they pursue crickets and grasshoppers, and also feed on young mice, amphibians, and baby birds. Like other spiders, they have fangs that deliver venom that subdues and helps digest their prey.
Jumping spiders, though perfectly harmless, can be intimidating with their habit of jumping — sometimes even at you! Generally this is all in the name of escape. Jumping spiders don’t stay put on a web like most spiders. Instead, jumping spiders stalk their prey. They use silk as an anchor, attaching a strand before leaping on their next meal, so they can climb back to their original spot if they miss. Considering all the insects they consume, jumping spiders are quite beneficial to humans.
Wolf spiders are big enough to give you the heebie jeebies, growing as large as 3 inches across. Fortunately, they’re harmless and hugely beneficial. Wolf spiders work hard to rid us of unwanted insects like grasshoppers, moths, and flies. They can be found hunting at night in your backyard or local park, and even in your basement or garage. When the babies hatch, they ride around on mom’s back until they’re ready to be on their own.
Crab Spider Crab spiders are master hunters. Instead of building webs, they rely on stalking skills to ambush flies, butterflies, and other tasty morsels. Some crab spiders even change colors to match the flowers they are hunting from. These spiders are easy to identify because their extended front legs give them a crab-like appearance. Crab spiders are easy to find, they come in many different colors, and they are fun to watch.
Few spiders pose a threat to you, but a brown recluse or black widow bite is serious. Recluses are found in many homes, but they’re shy and rarely seen. They only bite when trapped against your skin. For ID, look for the fiddle shape on their back.
Look for the red hourglass on a black widow’s abdomen. If you see one in nature, consider yourself lucky and study it. They are not aggressive — their first instinct is to flee. If a black widow or brown recluse bites you, see a doctor.
Nichole LeClair Terrill