Spiders, which are members of the arachnid family, can be found all across the world with the exception of Antarctica. Everybody knows that spiders have eight legs, but other common characteristics that all spiders share are having a body that consists of two segments, a lack of antennae, using fangs and poison to kill prey, and having an exoskeleton that is shed periodically. Though all species share these same basic characteristics, spiders employ a wide variety of strategies to make a living, and nature has allowed that almost anything goes.
Many spiders make silk, which is produced by glands in the abodmen of a spider’s body. Spiders have come to use silk in a number of ways, including catching food and making homes. Here in the Finger Lakes Region, some of the most spectacular webs are made by the equally spectacular garden spiders of the Argiope family. These spiders make orb-shaped webs that can be up to two feet in diameter, with a customary zig-zag pattern that runs down the middle on which the spider sits. Argiope spiders are the largest spiders in the Finger Lakes Region, with abdomens of up to 2 inches in length in the females.
Spotted orbweavers (Neoscona crucifera) also make orb-shaped webs, though the the webs are not as large as those of the garden spiders. Orbweavers commonly make their webs on human structures and are easy to spot from late summer to autumn. They re-make part or all of their web daily, eating that which they are discarding and reusing the nutrients to make new silk.
Other spiders are ambush predators such as the goldenrod crab spider (Misumena vatia), which patiently waits on a flower for an insect to come within striking range. Female goldenrod crab spiders have the ability to slowly change color between yellow and white, and back again.
Lastly, some spiders are hunters, actively pursuing prey and constantly on the move. Examples of this type of spider would be wolf and jumping spiders, of which there are many species. These spiders have excellent vision, quick reaction speeds, and are even comparably intelligent for an animal without a brain. When these hunting spiders find something they want to eat, they go after it.
Most spiders, particularly here in the north, generally live for only one year, long enough to hatch, shed their exoskeleton a few times, mate, and produce eggs that will hatch into next year’s population. Nevertheless, any spider that is invited into your nice, warm house to pass its final days is smart enough to do so.