Today’s post comes from naturalist Pilar Manorome of Rondeau Provincial Park.
Are you afraid of spiders? Our eight-legged friends are the kind of “creepy crawlies” that many people like to pretend don’t exist.
One of my goals as a naturalist is to break down those barriers with fun facts that can make those “less attractive” creatures look like a hoot at any of your Halloween parties.
Here are 8 of my most interesting facts about spiders:
1. Eight is the magic number in the spider world.
As a member of the arachnid family, these adorable beings are characterized by having eight legs.
This differentiates them from other members of the arthropod phylum. They also have the typical eight-eyed bead.
2. All spiders can produce silk, but not all spiders make webs.
In fact, spider silk can be used for a variety of things, from classic web-building to grouping their eggs to carry with them, or even ballooning (the dispersal of hatchlings by wind currents).
Take our beautiful and bold jumping spider for example. The jumping spider hunts by jumping on its prey, but often uses a silk dredge as a safety harness in case it misses its target.
Bold jumping spider. Photo credit: John Reaume.
3. Our spider friends understood the concept of “waste not, want not” long before we did, and on a much larger scale.
Before building a new web, orb weavers and some other web-building spiders eat their old webs to recover those proteins. By using radioactive labeling of the web material, it has been found that 80 to 90% of the material from the old web appears in the new web.
Marbled Orb Weaver. Photo credit: Pilar Manorome.
4. All spiders are predators, but hunting techniques differ between spider families.
For example: Goldenrod crab spiders use camouflage to blend in with the flowers they perch on, awaiting the arrival of unsuspecting prey. They have the ability to change their color from yellow to white, depending on the flower color they choose for the day.
Goldenrod crab spider on yellow lady’s slipper. Photo credit: John Reaume.
5. Spiders cannot eat solid food.
Instead, they use a special digestive enzyme to turn the insides of their prey into a liquid lunch, often leaving the prey behind seemingly intact but empty. You’ll never look at juice boxes the same way again.
6. You can check the gender of a spider by looking at its face.
No matter what species you are talking about, everyone always wants to know how to tell boys from girls. And here’s the trick about spiders: look at their pedipalps (the two small appendages on the front of their face).
If it looks like they are wearing boxing gloves, the spider is a male. If they are long and thin, it is female.
Garden cross. Photo credit: John Reaume.
7. Males run the risk of being eaten during courtship
Since females tend to be larger than males (and also quite voracious predators), male spiders run the risk of being eaten during courtship.
The male should be careful when approaching by gently pulling on the outer edges of the net, indicating his presence, and then slowly making his way toward the center of the net where the female waits. One wrong move and it’s dinner. And you only have about twenty seconds to impress her. Talk about a high-pressure environment!
Watch this clip of the courtship of two marble weavers on the Harrison Trail in Rondeau Provincial Park:
8. Harvesters, or daddy longlegs, are members of the arachnid class, but are not considered spiders.
While they have eight legs, which classifies them as an arachnid, they only have one body part and two eyes. They also do not have venom or a delivery system to inject venom. That should nip that myth in the bud.
Harvester. Photo credit: Josh Pickering.
Want to know more about Ontario spiders?
Get a field guide! Some of the best ones out there right now are:
- Northern Woods Spiders by Larry Weber
- Common Spiders of North America by Richard A. Bradley
Then go outside (or even inside) and start exploring. You can find spiders almost anywhere!
Some parks even offer programs geared specifically toward spiders, along with other arthropods.
If you can’t identify a spider, take a photo and tag it to us on Twitter. #AskanOPNaturalist. One of our naturalists will be happy to tell you what he saw.
Read about other Ontario “creatures of the night” here.