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From My Window

Issue Date: September 27, 2017

Spiders

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

While it is still insufferably hot during mid-fall afternoons here in Oklahoma, the overnight hours have finally cooled off. I still walk dogs at 5:30 a.m. in shorts, but for hot-weather creatures, it seems cool. And that includes spiders. Several times recently I saw one of our supremely bored house cats crouched down and staring intently at something on the floor or under some furniture - when I approached it was a spider.

While I welcome cooler temperatures, it causes spiders, and other creatures, to begin the search for a more temperate place to spend the winter. I find spiders in the house sinks and bathtubs, probably seeking water. They scuttle off when I move things in our garage, and climb up the window screens seeking a way in.

When it is possible for me to safely do so, I shoo them onto a piece of paper or into a container and release them back outside, unless they are Brown Recluses. Recluse spiders are small, brown spiders that are very common in Oklahoma. Lots of "helpful" guides tell you to look for a "violin-shaped" marking on their backs " but I'll tell you, if you are close enough to see that little mark on a small spider, you are already too close. They aren't aggressive to humans and don't seek out people to bite. But if they feel they have to defend themselves, they WILL bite, and the venom they carry can cause nasty, ulcerating sores.

While uncommon, people do occasionally die from the bites. I know a lady who was bitten on her forehead while putting on her gardening hat, and another woman who got a bite on her rib cage, apparently after rolling near a spider while she slept in her bed. There are two kinds of people in Oklahoma, (or in the south, period,) those who know they have these spiders in their house, and those who do, but don't know it. Lots of people hire exterminators to spray around their home on a regular basis " but I'd bet I could still find spiders inside, and I don't like the thought of insecticides hurting beneficial insects and possibly us as well.

So the Recluses I find in the house do suffer the death penalty, but I try to spare the other species. (These spiders are also the reason I've developed a habit of "crushing" my gardening gloves in my hands before putting them on, and also the reason I don't leave shoes or boots outside on the house stoop overnight. My guess is I will do this the rest of my life now, even in January in Wisconsin!) Currently, the known range of the Recluse Spiders stops in mid-Illinois, so Wisconsinites can rest easily; for now. However, like many other warm weather creatures being observed by scientists, there is a very good chance their range will expand north in the future as the climate continues to warm.

I enjoy watching the large, black and yellow Garden Spider who builds a big web in the shrub outside our game room window, anchored at the top to our roof. The web has been in the same location for three consecutive fall seasons now, and since large females can live multiple years in milder climates like ours, it's possible it's the same individual I've been watching. She sits exposed to the sight of any spider predator on her web waiting for an insect to blunder in. I wonder if her beautiful gaudy markings serve the purpose to warn birds not to try and eat her, like the black and yellow stripes on bees say, "leave me alone, or you will be sorry!" They certainly aren't there to camouflage her, since they are very eye-catching. Another source I looked at said the distinctive coloration may serve the additional purpose of keeping birds away that could otherwise inadvertently fly into the spider's web and ruin it.

We don't have "Daddy Long Legs" spiders here " at least I've never seen one. But we do have Tarantulas, big, black hairy spiders; the kind of things that scare people nearly to death. While their visual "wow" factor is huge, they aren't venomous and try hard to avoid people. Right after we moved here my son immediately found one (of course he did) and wanted to keep it overnight in a "secure" container in the garage. (I had a 24-hour release rule for his critters.) Unfortunately, in the morning he discovered it had forced the container lid off and escaped during the night, and I left the garage door open for a long, long time hoping it would leave on its own. The good thing about these big spiders is they can't get into your house on their own, due to their size, unless they knock on the door and you invite them in.

In the fall, either spiders of all species spin more webs, or I notice them more. In the early morning, they are often hung with dew drops, and are as beautiful as any human-generated work of art or engineering. Sometimes you will see an area where there are dozens of webs of a single species of spider. Either their preferred prey is abundant there, or they like to live in communities like we do.

Another spider that is very common around the house and flower gardens is the tiny Jumping Spiders. These tiny spiders have leaping ability like fleas, way out of proportion to their size. Many photographers publish close-up pictures of these fascinating little spiders - one memorable spread I saw was in National Geographic. The Hollywood movie-makers on their most imaginative day couldn't come up with something as oddly bizarre as the little creatures look in the photos.

Everywhere I look in the fall I see spiders, all kinds, shapes and sizes. And what is interesting to think about is with their excellent eyesight, probably 50 times more than I see, are watching me. And that is a thought to ponder.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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