Your Guide To Lake Living

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By Lori Wolak

Afraid of Spiders?

Arachnophobia is defined as an inordinate fear of spiders. This phobia can be triggered by just the thought of a spider, or even by a picture of one. Someone with a serious case of arachnophobia is much different than someone just who doesn't like spiders. Almost everyone does not like spiders, but after a quick shudder we are able to move on. People who have arachnophobia can be paralyzed with fear by a harmless spider.

As a lake house owner, you will surely encounter spiders. In fact, they always seem to grow extra large at the lake! I tease my husband that they are keeping the mouse population under control. Sometimes understanding what we are dealing with helps us conquer our fears, so I decided to find out more about spiders.

Spiders, Spiders, Everywhere!

Spiders are not insects, they are a different group of arthropods called arachnids, which have eight legs, two body parts and spinnerets. They reproduce by laying many eggs. More than 30,000 different types of spiders have been identified. Sometimes I think most of them live at the lake. Most of them are very tiny animals that help people by eating insects. Some are a bit bigger, and scarier looking, but they still live by eating insects. That is a good thing, as we always have many more insects than we would like to have in and around the lake house.

I keep telling myself that spiders are our friends, as I hold my hands to keep myself from getting out the broom and the bug spray. Besides humans, spiders have several other natural predators. Birds, snakes, lizards, frogs, fish, and larger insects such as wasps, will all eat spiders. Sometimes spiders will even eat each other. 

Spiders very rarely attack their natural enemies, they usually just try to get away. But all spiders will use their poison in self-defense, when escape is impossible. Most spiders are not poisonous to humans, but some are: the black widow and the brown recluse can make people very ill with their bites.

Is it Poisonous?

Black widow spiders can be found in most of the warmer areas of the world, typically up to about 45 degrees North latitude, which includes most of the United States. They are commonly found around woodpiles, and are frequently encountered when homeowners carry firewood into the house. They can also be found under eaves, inside boxes, outdoor toilets, meter boxes, and other places. The female is shiny black with a red spot or hourglass- shaped mark on her round abdomen. The male has light red and white streaks on his abdomen. The male is not as frequently seen, as the female sometimes eats him after mating. Both the male and female will bite if they are brushed against or otherwise feel threatened.

Brown recluse spiders belong to a larger group of spiders commonly known as violin spiders or fiddle-backs. They have a fiddle-shaped pattern on their head. They are usually golden brown with a dark brown or black fiddle area. They are not hairy and the fiddle pattern is often shiny. They are usually about 1/4 to 3/4 inch long. The brown recluse is found mostly in the Midwest United States. However, they can be moved around with people, and have been seen outside of this area on occasion.

Some spiders just look scary, but are not very poisonous. During the fall months, be prepared to come face to face with a wolf spider. They look for a warm place to stay for the winter. They can be up to two inches long. Wolf spiders can be found around doors, windows, houseplants, basements and garages when they are looking for a place to spend the winter. We usually find one or two in the basement at the lake house every fall. My husband typically deals with them with a shovel while I scream. Wolf spiders are not found in webs, they typically hide in corners or under appliances. They do not capture prey in webs, but are nocturnal hunters, stalking and pouncing on their victims. There are other smaller spiders like this called jumping spiders. They do not build webs, so you may see them hiding in corners. I find them on the back or underside of furniture sometimes. These spiders tend to have very good vision, which they use in their hunting. So, if you feel like a spider is watching you, you may be right.

The Web Builders

Spider webs are absolutely amazing structures. There are many different types of webs. Some are built like funnels, while others are large ovals. The strength of spider silk is about five times the tensile strength of steel. Scientists are researching to see if we can create spider web material to use in commercial and military applications. Farming the silk from spiders does not appear to work, as the spiders which build webs are territorial and attack each other.

Some spiders tear down and rebuild their web every day, as the sticky parts lose their stickiness. Spiders who do this usually ingest the old web and recycle it to make the new web. No wonder the webs are back the next day after I knock them down with the broom! That has always amazed me. I guess the reason I donít like running into spider webs is because I always feel like there must be a spider on me.

If you have a prodigious web builder outside the window it is likely an argiope, or yellow garden spider. The argiope spiders are generally quite large, up to 1-1/8Ē across, with interesting body markings. The webs of these spiders are usually identifiable by a zig-zag pattern in the center. We used to call them zipper spiders when we first noticed their webs. Apparently there are differing opinions regarding why these spiders build their webs with this design, or stabilimenta. Some theories are that they might do it to stabilize the web, to keep birds from flying into the web, or even to attract more prey. Although they are big enough to give quite a bite, these spiders are not poisonous to humans.

The Golden Orb Web Spiders are not as big as the argiope spiders, but they make the largest and strongest webs of any spiders. Their webs have been known to stop small birds in flight. This spider gets its name from the golden color of its silk. Like the argiope, the golden orb spider is not poisonous to humans. This spider is found only in tropical areas, especially in Africa and around the Pacific.

Save that Spider!

Now that you know which spiders can be harmful to humans, and which are only beneficial to us, you might spare a few more webs. After all, every time you knock down a web or kill a spider you spare the life of some pesky insects, like mosquitoes and flies. Without spiders we would most likely be completely overrun with insects. From now on I am going to try to convince the spiders I find in the house to relocate outside rather than resorting to violence. Especially the one that took over the unused guest room in the basement.


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