All About Spiders in America

Learn all about spiders, and arachnophobes beware, arachnids are everywhere!

| March/April 2011

They’re everywhere! Lurking in your house and garden. Crawling about your garage and toolshed. Hiding in your woodpile. Spinning their webs in the corrals, the barn and the henhouse. Fearsome-looking creatures with eight legs, six or eight eyes, and fangs! What are they? SPIDERS! Read on to learn all about spiders in America.

If the very sight of a spider sends you fleeing in terror, you’re not alone. Some researchers claim the fear of spiders – also known as arachnophobia – is one of the most common phobias, and that half of all women and 10 percent of all men suffer from it. If spiders give you the willies, then the very idea that there are 2,500 species in North America alone (and 38,000 known species of spiders worldwide) probably sends chills down your spine.

While you might not want to share your home with them, some species of spiders seem to find their way indoors. There’s a good chance you’ve found web-builders like cobweb spiders and cellar spiders in your closets, attic or basement. And it’s not uncommon to find a daddy long-legs ambling around the living room floor (although the daddy long-legs, or Harvestman, is not a spider at all, but a harmless second cousin to the spider family). My wife and I readily dispatch most spiders we find in the house, but are careful to pick up and deposit outside any daddy long-legs we discover.

Spiders eat what?

Nearly all spiders are carnivores, which means they won’t harm your flowers or vegetables. In fact, most species of spiders are considered a beneficial addition to gardens, orchards and crop fields. They feed on mosquitoes, flies, mites, crickets, grasshoppers, beetle larvae and other destructive insects. Lacking teeth, spiders cannot eat solid food. Instead, they use venom to kill or paralyze their prey. The venom is transported through a duct in their fangs, and digestive enzymes are regurgitated to liquefy the prey. The spider then sucks in the pre-digested liquid food as sort of a bug-juice milkshake.

Some of the most common garden spiders include Grass spiders, Orb Web Weavers, Long-jawed spiders, Cobweb Weavers, Wolf spiders, Sac spiders, Crab spiders and Jumping spiders (now there’s a name guaranteed to grab an arachnophobe’s attention!).

Some years ago, a horde of voracious grasshoppers descended on the tomato plants beside our home near an orchard overlooking Washington state’s Yakima Valley. Each day I’d go out to see if our plants had survived another day, and one morning I discovered that a large spider had built an elaborate web stretching between two of the plants. Ms. Spider had already trapped one sizable grasshopper and was busy wrapping it in spider silk. My wife soon became entranced by the spider’s dining habits, and started catching and tossing grasshoppers into the web just to watch the “gift wrapping” process. As quick as a cowboy hog-tying a steer in the rodeo arena, that spider trapped, wrapped and consumed dozens of grasshoppers in the following weeks.

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