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Spiders - Not So Spooky After All

Happy Halloween! As you were out trick-or-treating I am sure you saw many decorations scattered around the neighborhood. Among the witches, ghosts, zombies and gravestones, we often see gargantuan spiders with devilish fangs, glowing red eyes, and human sized legs. These arachnids are posed against some of the scariest fictional creatures imaginable, yet people still shriek over their presence. Granted, these props are rather unsettling to see, but why do we greet a wandering daddy long legs, a tiny jumping spider, or a caged tarantula with these same squeals? Setting their unique (or you may think “scary”) appearance aside, most spiders are really nothing to fear, in fact it may be good to have a few around.


Spiders are our natural pest control! Just as we rely on wild snakes, owls, and hawks to control our rodent population, spiders are experts at trapping mosquitoes, flies, roaches and moths. The spiders around the world are actually responsible for eating more insects than all of the birds and bats combined. Without our helpful spiders, we may have a lot more of these insects roaming near and around our houses, carrying diseases, eating our clothes and intruding our cabinets. Some spider venom is even being studied by scientists for medical and agricultural uses!


While there are some spiders whose venom could be somewhat detrimental to humans, it is rare that they would try to harm you unprovoked -- spiders want to avoid you as much as you do them. The important thing is knowing which spiders you should take precautions to avoid - that is you should research which species carry a venom that can affect humans. In Maryland, the only native spider that could cause us harm is the Black Widow, all other species do not have a venom strong enough to hurt us, or it is specially adapted to affect only certain prey.


Spiders may be small but they have a lot of awesome features packed into their bodies. Let’s start with their silk: a strand of spider silk is five times stronger than a wire of steel that has the same diameter. This incredibly strong and flexible material is able to stretch up to four times its length without snapping, which makes it a very protective home in most milder weather conditions. Next, almost all over their bodies, spiders are covered in tiny hairs and slits that are able to pick up vibrations from the air or their webs. Through these senses, they can determine what kind of prey has landed on their web, which can help them plan their next move if a potentially harmful animal has been trapped. Finally, jumping spiders are no frauds of their name - when trying to hunt or escape, one of these creatures can propel themselves a distance of 50 times its body length. This would be the equivalent of Shaquille O'Neal jumping the length of 7 basketball courts!


So, while we may group spiders into the same “spooky” category as our ghosts and goblins, it’s important to remember that they are really nothing to fear. As with any other wildlife, it is always a smart idea to let them be, rather than try to relocate or harm them. If you see a species you are unfamiliar with you can look on the following website (https://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Pages/habitat/waspiders.aspx) or safely snap a photo and upload it to the iNaturalist App on your smartphone.


Jumping Spider (Public Domain Image)

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