The Itsy Bitsy Spider Climbed up the Page (Beautiful Spiders)
When I decided to do this article featuring beautiful and interesting spiders, I expected I would simply find pretty spiders and then research them to learn about each specimen I featured. So I sat down one afternoon and went web surfing the creepiest, darkest, most cobwebby corners of cyberspace. However, I quickly learned the Internet is chock full of misinformed spider enthusiasts.
For example, the spider in the first photo is identified in different places as a horned spider, a spiny spider, a spiny orb weaver, a spiny-backed orb weaver, curved spiny spider, and probably a couple more that I am forgetting. ARRGGGHHHH!!!!! To top it off, it was identified as being "exclusive to Malaysia," "prominent in India and Sri Lanka," and "only found on several of the Hawaiian Islands"! The only spiders I seemed to be able to nail down were the most dangerous ones, such as black widows and brown recluses, and the most popular pet spiders, such as the many varieties of tarantulas.
But never fear. I would not let a little thing like an untrustworthy Internet stop me. After all, I still have a library card. I decided I would simply head down to the library and look up some cool arachnids in those antique things with the sheaths of paper full of words and pictures that you can flip through. I forget what we used to call them in the old days, but I was pretty sure I would be able to find something that could steer me straight in those old heavy block shaped doo-hickeys.
Horned Spider (Gasteracantha arcuata)
We will begin with the confusing little lady from the beginning of this hub who I now feel fairly comfortable referring to as a horned spider. I believe it would not be incorrect to refer to her as a spiny spider, but this is apparently a less specific term that refers to an entire family of spiders. It does seem that the name curved spiny spider is also correct for this spider. But it would be incorrect to refer to her as a him as only the female has the elaborate horns that give the species its name. It is found primarily in Southeast Asia and is very small. They are orb weavers, making elaborate spiral webs. They tend to mostly stay out of sight and are harmless to humans.
Arrow-shaped Micrathena (Micrathena sagittata)
The arrow-shaped micrathena is a North American spider that is usually found near the edge of wooded areas, in meadows with abundant shrubbery and in home gardens. Its range is throughout the East Coast and as far west as Texas and Nebraska. The female grows to about 3/8" while the male is about half that size and lacks the spikes. As you may have guessed, it is part of the spiny spider family of orb-weaving spiders.
Carolina Wolf Spider (Hogna carolinensis)
Though its name might lead you to believe this arachnid can only be found in the Carolinas, it is in fact indigenous to the entire United States and even the southern parts of Canada. Like almost all wolf spiders, the Carolina wolf spider does not spin webs. Instead it burrows into the ground to make its home. It lives mainly in open fields and is the largest wolf spider in North America with females having a leg span of up 4" and a body length of over an inch. Males tend to be slightly smaller. They hunt almost exclusively at night and eat mostly insects such as roaches, crickets and grasshoppers. While generally posing no threat to humans, Carolina wolf spiders will bite if provoked, causing mildly painful swelling and itching.
Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia)
Generally speaking, female spiders are more colorful and more beautiful than their male counterparts, but there are exceptions. For instance, female goldenrod crab spiders are solid yellow or white while the males of the species have an additional red stripe down the sides or on their abdomen.
They are ambush spiders who rely on surprising prey rather than spinning a web and can change color to better blend in with their environment. The goldenrod crab spider can often be found hunting in fields of daisies or sunflowers but gets its name because it can often be found in sprays of goldenrod during the autumn. It eats mainly insects that are attracted to flowers, such as bees, and can even mimic flowers to lure prey in.
A commenter (see below) convinced me that my original identification of the top two photographs as male goldenrods was incorrect. The actual picture of a male is the last of the three, while the other spiders are apparently females.
They are quite a colorful pair and I think I might even like the male a bit better with his purple forelegs. This amazing little arachnid is well suited for hiding among the flowers of the field where it makes its home and hunts it prey.
Common Grass Spider (Agelenopsis actuosa)
Grass spiders are web weavers like the orb weavers we discussed earlier, but they are part of the funnel weaver family instead, spinning funnel shaped webs to make their home and trap their prey. (If you happened to see a horrendously bad movie starring Richard Grieco called Webs, this is the sort of web the big monster spider used. Who says bad movies aren't educational?) In the picture above a protective mother guards her egg sack waiting for the birth of her little bambinos and bambinas. Grass spiders get their name because they are mostly ground dwellers, generally making their webs either in the grass or close to the ground.
Marbled Orb Weaver (Araneus marmoreus)
With its yellow and black abdomen, orange head and torso and black and white legs, the marbled orb weaver is an exceptionally colorful spider as well as one of the most easily recognized. A very active spider during the summer and autumn months, the marbled orb weaver prefers to build its webs in moist areas often near sources of water such as ponds and creeks. When disturbed, this spider will often retreat to the perimeter of its web and hide there among a sanctuary of leaves.
Mabel Orchard Spider (Leucauge mabelae)
The mabel orchard spider does not wait in its web for its prey as some spiders do. Instead, it hangs beneath the web or waits on a nearby stem or twig with one foot on a strand of the web waiting for prey to be detected. Its web is built almost horizontally among shrubs or trees. This spider is in the long-jawed orb weaver family of spiders and is one of the most colorful and beautiful spiders found in nature.
Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans)
Black widows have the most dangerous bite of any spider in North America. The bite can cause soreness in the muscles near the bite; cramping in the abdomen, back and thighs; pain in the joints; headache, vertigo, tremors, nausea, vomiting, sweating, anxiety, general fatigue, insomnia, rapid or slow heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, and hyperventilation. Extreme cases can result in kidney failure, paralysis and even death, though these are rare occurrences. It is best to avoid interaction with the female black widow whenever possible and usually they will run away from any large creature, including humans.
The male black widow's bite is mostly harmless to humans though it can cause minor irritation. They should be avoided as well for where you find a male, a female is likely nearby. Of course, the male may not be around because he faces a fairly ominous future himself as the female tends to kill and eat the male after mating. It was this practice that got the species its death-inspired name. Definitely not the kind of thing that fosters long term relationships.
Black widows weave a less organized but no less efficient web than the orb weaver family of spiders and are part of the cobweb weaver family. Once the web is built, the spider hangs upside down waiting for prey to be ensnared. Once caught, the black widow will rush out to bite the trapped soon-to-be-main-course and then wrap it in silk for later consumption. Black widows by nature prefer to be outside where they can be found beneath rocks and in piles of brush and debris. When found indoors, they are often hidden by furniture or in storage boxes.
What to Do When a Black Widow Bites
- Reduce swelling by placing an ice pack on the bite.
- Use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to sanitize the bite and prevent infection.
- Get the bite victim to hospital as quickly as possible.
- If possible, take the spider with you to hospital in case it is needed to verify identification.
Banded Garden Spider (Argiope trifasciata)
It probably comes as no surprise that the banded garden spider is usually found spinning its web amongst the plants in the garden. This spider is one of the orb weaver family, building an exquisite web with a stabilimentum in its center where it will sit, head down, waiting for some poor unknowing bug to wander into its web. The female stays at home tending the web while the much smaller male roams the garden mating with any available female he may find. (Wow, that sounds like a few couples I know! Maybe now we know why the black widow kills and eats her man after they "do the deed"...) While basically harmless to humans, the female can deliver a mildly painful bite if disturbed while guarding her eggs.
Seemingly closely related to the banded garden spider, the "tiger spider" above is a bit more colorful but otherwise very much the same. I could only find a few references to this "tiger spider" online, and that made me a little suspicious. So a little research at the library made it clear that the above spider is not a "tiger spider" but actually a black-and-yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) -- also known as a writing spider or corn spider, and it is indeed very closely related to the banded garden spider. In fact, everything I said about the banded one is true of the black-and-yellow one as well.
Black-and-Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia), So-Called "Tiger Spider"
So Maybe This is the Real Tiger Spider?
This "tiger spider" was seen in a couple of photographs but I could not find any notations on it other than a caption which simply read... (you guessed it!)... "tiger spider." Frankly, though I am not sure what kind of spider this is, I do not believe this is a tiger spider. In fact, I do not believe such a thing as a "tiger spider" even exists. There was one web reference to a "Sri Lankan tiger spider" supposedly on exhibit at the Bristol Zoo in the United Kingdom, but it included no pictures and was the only mention of this elusive creature I could find.
Is a Daddy Longlegs a Spider?
One of the most confusing bits of spider Internet lore I attempted to unravel was the Mystery of the Daddy Longlegs. It all started when I read that the daddy longlegs (also known as the granddaddy longlegs) was the deadliest spider in the world but could not harm humans due to the small size of its fangs. Then I read that the daddy longlegs was not a spider at all. Then I read that everything I read wasn't true. There was more -- much more -- but suffice it to say I was in desperate need of a librarian by the time I was done with my Internet research on the subject.
At the library, after a brief conversation about the latest Dean Koontz book and some recommendations of other new books to read, I was directed to the section of the library reserved for spiders. Or, at least, for books about spiders. After fighting my way through the cobwebs, I was able to find the facts I needed, verified and agreed upon by several different books. Basically it boiled down to 90% of what I had found on the Internet was wrong or at least confused.
Let me lay out the daddy longlegs facts...
- There are two eight-legged creatures known as a daddy longlegs. One is indeed a spider, also known as a cellar spider or skull spider. But the more popular daddy longlegs is not a spider at all, though it is an arachnid. It is also known as a harvestman. Spiders, along with ticks and scorpions, are also arachnids, however, harvestmen are no more related to spiders than are any other non-spider arachnid.
- Harvestmen have no fangs nor any venom and are completely harmless to humans other than the occasional bonked noggin or twisted ankle resulting from the frenzied rush to escape when some poor damsel-in-distress or not-quite-so-manly man might be mercilessly pursued by one, causing him or her to rush headlong into some immovable object.
- The cellar spider does have venom and fangs that can penetrate human skin, but their venom is very mild and only causes a mild itching at most. Even most insects laugh at their puny bites
- The harvestman can be differentiated by its single-part body (unlike all spiders that have a two-part body) and its two tiny eyes (cellar spiders have eight) should you be brave of heart and get close enough to see them that closely.
- Harvestmen got their name by harvesting the souls of the dead who passed in their sleep, wrapping those souls in their web of tranquility and delivering them to the proverbial "other side". Okay... that last part I just made up. Hey, I like to contribute to the traffic jam that is the daddy longlegs exit on the super highway we call the Web. In reality harvestmen have no ability to spin webs, do not collect the souls of the dead, and only visit the other side to pick up harvestbabes who tend to hang out over there chilling with the Grim Reaper.
At some point in the future I may do a hub on these big ol' hairy beasts, but for now I just wanted to share some of their beauty with you. Tarantulas are the pet of choice among spider lovers and the creepiest of the creepy to those who are not so enamored with our eight-legged friends. Just take a look at these images below and see what you think!
A Few General Spider Facts
- All spiders have fangs and venom, though many are incapable of biting through human skin and most do not have venom potent enough or in enough volume to greatly harm humans or other large animals. It can, however, affect the insects on which the spider usually preys.
- While most spider bites are generally harmless to humans, they sometimes can be painful. And some bites, such as those of the black widow and brown recluse, can be very serious and require emergency medical attention.
- Spiders generally consume insects such as crickets, grasshoppers, moths, butterflies, bees, wasps, beetles, etc. but some larger tarantulas have been known to consume birds, rodents, lizards and snakes.
- Spiders do not actually eat their prey but instead suck the body fluids from the body as spiders cannot actually chew any food and live off a liquid diet. Some spiders can spray pre-digestive juices on their prey and then drink the remains.
- Spiders in turn are eaten by birds, lizards, snakes, other spiders, some wasps, a few bold house cats and the occasional rottweiler that thinks it is a good idea to do anything the stupid cat does.
- Spiders are not insects. Spiders can be distinguished from insects because the have no antennae, their body is not segmented, they have eight as opposed to six legs, and they usually have either six or eight simple eyes as opposed to an insect's two complex eyes.
- Spider silk has tensile strength similar to steel wire of the same thickness. Silk from black widows and other spiders has been used to make cross-hairs for gun-sights.
- Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders and also the name of a fairly decent spider movie.
- Charlotte's Web
- Curse of the Black Widow
- Earth Vs. The Spider
- Eight Legged Freaks
- Giant Spider Invasion
- Horror of Spider Island
- Ice Spiders
- Kingdom of the Spiders
- Kiss of the Tarantula
- Spider-Man series
- Spider 2: Breeding Ground
- Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo
Hey, I'm not saying they are all classics...
Arachnid. A class of arthropods, characterized by four pairs of segmented legs and no antennae, that includes spiders, scorpions, ticks and mites.
Cobweb weavers/ This large family of spiders has over 230 species in North America. They spin irregular webs and use combs on their rear legs to fling web. They tend to wrap prey caught in the web in silk and store it in an area of the web to eat later.
Funnel web weavers. These spiders weave a funnel shaped web. When flying insects hit the web, they fall into the funnel where the spider is hiding and waiting to rush out, bite the prey, drag it back into its lair, and feed. There are about 85 species of this spider in North America.
Long-jawed orb weavers. This family of spiders is represented by about forty species in North America and can be recognized by the unusual length of their jaws. Most spin beautiful spiral webs but in some species only the spiderlings produce webs.
Orb weavers. A large family of spiders with over 150 species in North America characterized by the beautiful webs the weave, usually daily, that are comprised of a spiral pattern built on support threads.
Spinnerets. Small organs near the rear of a spider's abdomen that spiders use to spin the silk for its webs.
Stabilimentum. Part of the web of some spiders that are active during the day, consisting of a close-knit zigzag pattern of silk in the center of the web. There is some question as to the purpose of the stabilimentum, but it may be to camouflage the spider that would be more visible during daylight hours as it waits in the center of the web or possibly to warn off birds that might otherwise not see the web.
Tarantulas. A family including the largest spiders in the world, characterized by a hairy appearance. There are around 900 species in this family.