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Garden Spiders

And a Little Spidey Sense…

Is the drought in your area getting to you this summer? Old folk lore says that if you step on a spider, then it will rain. I really don't recommend it because there are many spiders that are helpful around the garden, especially when it comes to combatting insect pests.

Garden Spiders – A Biocontroller’s Secret Weapon

Garden spiders are ravenous predators. They will eat almost anything. Those webs that you may not like walking into are in fact, great open nets for catching flies and mosquitoes. I don’t know about you, but I’ll pick the spiders over the ‘skeeters.

Observing a garden spider is both thrilling and meditative. These little creatures can spend all day rebuilding a web after it has been damaged in the hopes of catching yet another meal. I cannot help but cheer watching a spider catch a wasp or an earwig.

So how do you create a garden that is hospitable to spiders? Tall plants like purple coneflowers make good places for spiders to build a web. Also popular are fences, trellises, and any shrubs that are planted closely together. I have found that the underside of broad leafed perennials like hostas make good homes for smaller spiders too. When I leave a terra cotta pot lying on its side in the garden, inevitably a garden spider will build a web and catch his/her dinner there.

Now of course, if you’re arachnophobic – doing the exact opposite of all of the above will encourage the spiders to shuffle off to the neighbors’ yard.

Who Goes There??

There are many different types of spiders. Many are harmless but some of them are poisonous. I like to remember how to identify two spiders in particular. I try to keep an eye out for Black Widows and Brown Recluses.

So, look at the coloration of the spider -- if it is black with a red hourglass-shaped pattern on its underbelly, then it is almost certainly a Black Widow. These spiders have extremely poisonous venom, and make their homes close to the ground near rock piles, decaying wood or small cracks and crevices in walls and the like.

If the spider you find is brown and smooth with a violin-shaped pattern on its back -- then the spider is most likely a Brown Recluse. These spiders are also very poisonous, aggressive and hide in soft places like the arms and legs of clothing, bedding or pillows.

However, take this yellow and black colored garden spider. It has a leg span of about 2 ½ inches with a white area near the head. This is the “considerate” Black and Yellow Garden spider. Considerate, because I appreciate how they put a signal up — that zigzag weave down the middle — so that birds won’t fly into their webs. It also helps keep me out of the web too; gardeners forewarned, like the birds, will take the detour around.

If you see one of these crossing your path, literally, as in the image above, it’s an Arkansas Chocolate Tarantula. It has a leg span close to 2 or 3 inches, and it is dark brown in color with a very hairy body. Another garden-variety spider that poses no threat to we humans.

Allow me to introduce to the Bold Jumping Spider. It’s a black spider with a white marking on its back and they jump around. These spiders are aggressive and spunky, with a bite that hurts but it lacks any dangerous poison.

Some Final Thoughts…

If you come across a spider you think is dangerous, try to avoid pounding it to smithereens so you can identify it and confirm that it is indeed a troublemaker.

Always seek medical attention if bitten by a poisonous spider. If you can, try to catch the culprit that bit you so that you can present it for identification purposes.

And lastly, I’m seeing more garden spiders out since our area is dry and stressed. This makes the spider’s prey go on the move in search of moisture and shelter. Spiders are opportunists and will try to capitalize on this condition – and that could be a big reason why there are so many more garden spider webs to run into this summer.