The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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The Spin on Spiders

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator
slmason@illinois.edu

Spiders must be confused with our apparent hypocrisy. Once a year we adorn our houses with giant plastic spiders in snow white cotton candy webs while the rest of the year we scream, squish and flush them down the toilet. Halloween is the only time decorating with spiders is encouraged. Spiders need a good spin-doctor. A tiny spider in the sink can compel the most self-assured person to scream for the designated spider killer in the family. As you take down your Halloween decorations end the hypocrisy and pledge to be a reformed spider killer.

Most spiders are shy and will avoid humans if given the chance. Cool temperatures outside and warm temperatures inside encourage insects and spiders to venture into our homes in fall. But they really don't want to live in your bath tub. The promise of a drink of water lures spiders into our tubs where they struggle to maneuver the slick surfaces. You could put in a spider ramp, but I encourage the catch-and-release method. Muster up your courage; grab a yogurt container out of the recycle bin for a spider scoop. Follow through with a quick scoop of the offending spider and a gentle release of said spider out the window. You can do this. After all, you're a gazillion times bigger than they are.

In fall the burly wolf spiders are the source of many screams with their 2-inch leg span and brown hairy bodies, often with a stripe or pattern down their backs. They do not build an orb web in which to catch their prey. Like their namesake, they run down and overpower the crickets, earwigs, and other insect prey. Wolf spiders are nocturnal and live among fallen leaves in taller grass, ground covers, and in other protected areas.

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Outdoors orb weavers are the most obvious spiders since they spin large webs a foot or more in diameter during the night across sidewalks, doorways and between garden plants. The early bird may catch the worm but the early walker catches the spider web. Most of the large, common orb weavers (Araneus) grow to a leg-span of 1-2 inches and have light and dark banded legs.

Another common orb weaver is the large yellow and black garden spider or argiope. It builds a 2-foot diameter web with a zigzag vertical strip of white silk in the center. They respond to vibration in the web by quickly running over to the prey, and subduing it by rolling it into a straightjacket of silk.

In the spirit of full disclosure spiders can understandably bite if provoked through our mishandling or accidental contact. However here in central Illinois most spider venom is not particularly toxic and simply causes a reddened area of the skin. However people can have an allergic reaction to a bite and should consult a physician, especially if the bite is slow to heal.

The dangerous spider bite reactions from brown recluse and black widow are uncommon, especially since the development of indoor plumbing. Spiders just loved those outhouses. To avoid brown recluse spiders be cautious when handling old cardboard boxes and other long term storage items. Brown recluse can hitchhike indoors in boxes and on furniture stored in infested structures. For more information, check out the Illinois Department of Public Health website http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/pcreclusespiders.htm

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To keep spiders out of your home clean up woodpiles and leaves from around the foundation. Caulk cracks and crevices around the foundation, windows and doors. If necessary use a hose with high-pressure water to remove spiders from outside walls.

Spiders are an integral part of our environment. They are prey and predator as they eat pesky bugs like flies and crickets. So next time you see a spider in your bath tub, be a spider wrangler not a spider killer.

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