Grit Blogs > Nature and Gardening at the Edge

Spiders of springtime

Minnie Hatz headshotAlong with flowers, birds and insects, spring brings spiders. I know. There is an ick factor or maybe even a terror factor for some. I don’t want a spider on me and I consider that all of them are to some degree poisonous. After all, that is how they get their prey. If it can paralyze an insect, it can cause a nasty welt or worse for me. But without touching them, there are some fascinating ways to study them. Every spring, I see nests of yellow spiderlings. I looked this up on the Internet and others report similar, but somewhat different nests. The tiny ones that I find are yellow with brownish legs. Clearly they don’t all survive or I would see a huge number of one type of spider and I could better identify the particular species by the adults.

What I first see with these is a suspended mass of yellow, perhaps as large as a golf ball in shrubs. As the weather warms, the "ball" expands as the spiders move away from each other. On cooler days, the "ball" contracts again. Eventually they all dissipate to find their ways in the world, or perhaps find themselves to be lunch.

The most fascinating spiders, for me, are the jumping spiders. They really work for their meals by hiding in cracks and other hidden locations to leap out and snare a fly or other insect. I have seen them dragging flies nearly as large as their own bodies. They also will stalk flies in the open, such as on a glass windowpanes. I wish that I could show pictures of one catching a fly, but I have not actually gotten that photo yet!

I watched one stalk a fly on a window and the fly seemed to want to tease the spider. Perhaps it had a death wish. The spider would pounce at it and the fly escaped more than once only to light again near the spider. When I looked away for a moment and then looked back, the spider had the fly in its clutches.

Besides their habit of jumping, these spiders can be identified by their large heads that you can sometimes see them turn to look at you or their prey. Some of them are rather hairy in appearance. I know that is an ick factor! Their long front legs and large head rather de-emphasize their back legs, which are actually the ones that give them the ability to jump.

The jumpers do spin silk lines and apparently use them as safety tethers when on ceilings or on vertical surfaces. Occasionally they can be seen dropping down on a line.

The females, like many egg laying life forms can become quite large before laying eggs. I have seen their spiderlings as well, but they are very tiny and I only found them by looking near a previously large female spider and her little web nest.

I can’t really say that jumping spiders do not bite but, I have never been bit by one so I tolerate them. Of course, they are much more interesting to watch than an orb spinner sitting in its web for hours. If a spider in the house is alarming, they can be carefully transplanted to the outdoors where they generally live well.

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6/18/2012 1:33:00 PM

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nebraska dave
5/21/2012 1:50:38 PM

Minnie, my philosophy about spiders is if they stay outside I'll tolerate them as they will eat bad garden insects but if they invade my inside the house space they are dead. I'm not fearful of spiders but my daughter and grandson freak out when they see a spider especially inside the house. They get mushed and flushed if they are caught in the house. They never see it coming. I'm not sure that we have any spiders here in Nebraska that will cause any thing other than a bee sting sized welt but some folks like yourself have an bigger reaction than others. Have a great spider bite free garden season.