Our Family Spiders

We’re pretty tolerant of spiders in our house. In fact, we’re downright welcoming. At any one time, there are usually a couple house spider funnel webs in the corners of our windows, helping to catch the flies that frequent those same spots. The webs made by the cellar spiders down in the basement sometimes get in the way, but I don’t really hold that against them.

The funnel web of a house spider in our living room yesterday.

Our family favorites are the jumping spiders. I’m a fan of them for lots of reasons, starting with their big eyes and (often) fuzzy teddy bear bodies. In addition, they’re just mesmerizing to watch. Unlike web weaving spiders, jumpers roam around in search of prey, so they put on a good show. The one currently living with us likes to move between the big south facing windows of our dining room and living room several times a day.

Here’s our current jumping spider, which hangs out on our living room and dining room windows.

When I work at the dining room table, I enjoy being able to keep an eye on the jumping spider as it patrols its territory. Now that we’ve had some hard freezes, the number of insects hanging out in the windows has really dropped off, but there are still a few flies around. The other day, I watched it stalk a lady bug. When it got about an inch away, it pounced, but then immediately backed off. I’m not sure if it was the beetle’s hard shell or bad taste that repelled the spider, but whatever it was worked very well for the lady bug.

A fly carcass left by the jumping spider in our dining room window.
Here’s the little jumper hiding in the corner of the window while I tried to act like I wasn’t interested in photographing it.

I recognize that spiders aren’t the world’s most popular group of organisms. Many of us have a kind of instinctive reaction when we see a spider. It’s something you can train yourself out of, but there’s not much incentive for most people to do that. The deluge of misinformation about spiders floating around certainly doesn’t help.

The vast majority of spiders aren’t at all dangerous to people. Those that can be dangerous (black widows and brown recluses, for example) are not hanging around waiting for an opportunity to attack you. It’s good to know who they are so you can be smart around them, but it’s also important to recognize that all the other spiders you see are harmless.

One of my biggest pet peeves is how often people claim to have ‘spider bites’, which – as far as I can tell – include any small red, itchy, or painful bump someone might find on their body. Hey everyone, you’re not getting bit by spiders. You’re just not. That’s not how they work. If you got bit by a black widow or brown recluse, you’d know it. Those other ‘bites’ are ingrown hairs, pimples, insect bites, or something else besides a spider bite. Good grief. Seriously.

Here’s the jumping spider on the glass, hunting for flies.

If you’re not a spider fan, I’m not here to judge you. I would encourage you to learn a little more about them just so you don’t live in constant fear of something that’s not worth worrying about. If, on the other hand, you’re like our family, and are comfortable with them, spiders can be pretty amazing to have around the house.

Regardless of whether you like them or not, you have to admit spiders are fascinating. Just the fact that they walk around using hydraulic pressure to move their legs (!!) should be enough to get your attention. The next time you watch the jumping spider on your window sneak up to a fly and pounce on it, remember that its jump is powered by fluid being pumped into its legs very quickly. How can you not be in awe of a creature like that?

Crab Spider Tent

A crab spider and silk webbing at our family last weekend.

A few of us took a short trip out to our family prairie last weekend.  My daughter was back from college for the weekend and wanted to see what was happening in the prairie, so we did a little canoeing (tight circles in the small pond), hiking, and exploring.  Later, I found myself photographing dotted gayfeather seeds, and while I was looking for more of those plants, I stumbled upon a grass leaf that was bent funny with some kind of white silk holding it in that position.  I had actually walked past the grass leaf before my brain finally registered the fact that I should go back and examine it.

Looking more closely, I could see enough of the creature inside to identify it as a crab spider.  It had been raining quite a bit during the previous couple weeks, so my first thought was that the crab spider had made itself a little rain shelter.  (Crab spiders don’t make webs, but like all spiders, do make silk and use it for various purposes.).  However, my better guess was that it was a nest and that it might contain a bunch of spider eggs.  I photographed it for a few minutes, taking lots of photos, since the breeze was making it hard to keep the spider in focus.

A tiny spiderling, accidentally photographed.

Later, when I was looking through images at home, I was culling all the photos of the spider that weren’t in focus (dang that wind) when I happened to spot something that confirmed my guess.  Right above an unfocused crab spider face, a tiny spiderling appeared – just in one photo, not in any others.  Apparently, this was indeed a crab spider nest, and at least one egg had already hatched.  

The crab spider eventually shifted around and showed its face.

Crab spiders aren’t the only group of spiders that take care of their kids.  Frequent readers of this blog will, of course, remember a previous post of mine showing a mother wolf spider carrying her brood around on her body, and even if you don’t, you may have heard that wolf spiders lug both their egg sacs and newly hatched babies around with them.  Wolf spiders aren’t alone, though, and we’re still learning more about how well various spider species care for their young.  If you’re interested, you can read more in this nice blog post from Biome Ecology.  Otherwise, you can just join me in wishing this particular crab spider’s brood good luck as they disperse and try to find safe places to overwinter.