Spiders are interesting part of fall; just be on lookout for all those webs

Posted: Sunday, October 11, 2009

In the fall, I spend a great deal of time in the yard and woods surrounding my house. It is a great time to be outdoors. The weather is getting cooler and the leaves are starting to change colors.

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But one thing that I don't like is running into all of the spider webs that seem to spring up from nowhere.

Why are there so many spider webs out now?

There are more than 800 different species of spiders in Georgia, all of which are harmless if you leave them alone.

There are two spiders which are venomous to humans -- the black widow and the brown recluse. These spiders have been present all summer, eating insects and growing. By early fall, they are large enough that we start noticing them.

Another reason that we are seeing more spiders now is that they are preparing for the next generation. The first hard frost will kill the spiders that you see now. These spiders are mating and producing egg sacs so their eggs can overwinter and re-establish the population next spring. These egg sacs will be placed in protected areas, and when warm weather arrives next spring, the eggs will hatch.

Some spiders' young hatch in the fall, live in the egg sac during the winter and then emerge. After laying eggs, the female spider will die.

There are mainly three spiders that I see forming webs around my yard. The first is the yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia). This is one of the longest spiders we have in Georgia. It is frequently found in gardens and around shrubbery, where it builds large webs to trap flying insects. The abdomen has distinctive yellow and black markings while the front part of the body, the cephalothorax, is covered in white.

The female yellow garden spider typically remains in one spot throughout her life, repairing and reconstructing her web as it is damaged and ages. It may have a distinctive zigzag of silk through the middle, explaining its other common name, "writing spider." This is the spider that is in featured in Charlotte's Web .

The yellow garden spider seems to prefer sunny sites with little or no wind. It can be found in its web any time of the day or night. The male garden spider is smaller and builds its web on an outlying part of the female's web.

The next spider is the barn spider. Barn spiders (Araneus cavaticus) can be found on porches, where flying insects attracted to porch lights get trapped in their webs. These spiders are nocturnal, constructing a new web every evening and taking it down before dawn.

This rusty brown spider has legs extending about 2 inches, making it look large and noticeable. These spiders hide during the day, but at night are found in the middle of the web, waiting for insects to be trapped.

The third spider that I see most often is one that is very interesting. The first time that I saw one, I did not recognize it as a spider. It is the crablike spiny orb weaver (Gasteracantha elipsoides).

These spiders are fairly small. The female is three-eighths of an inch in length. The abdomen is broad and hard. It has two sharp points on each side of the body and two sharp points at the rear.

The abdomen has a unique color pattern. It is pale to orange or yellow with reddish-black oval spots above and reddish spines. The bottom side of the abdomen is black with yellow spots. These spines are sharp. I have run into these webs and had the spiders on me, and have had the spines break the skin when I grabbed the spiders.

Spiders play an important role in our landscapes. They catch and eat large numbers of insects. Also, they are indicators of the environment's health. If we use too many pesticides, the number of spiders will go down.

Not only do spiders eat insects, but the webs that some of them spin will add beauty to your garden. If you look closely enough, you can find spiders under rocks, in the grass, bushes and trees, and even on water.

There is one important thing to remember: all spiders are more afraid of you than you are of them.

Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at cphillipshort@comcast.net.



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