Year of the Spider

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Spinning on to our next group of spiders for the Year of the Spider is the orbweavers. From their physical characteristics to their webs, orbweavers are some of the most recognizable spiders in the woods. As the temperatures warm up, orbweavers become more active and begin building their characteristic orb-shaped webs, which can be seen around the house, garden and forest. Typically, questions and fears involving spiders are centered around two iconic species; the brown recluse and the black widow. However, neither of these are found in the orbweaver family. Physically, orbweavers can be daunting spiders. Some of the of the smallest orbweavers can fit on a nickel, but some of the largest can have a leg span the size of baseball. The most notable part of an orbweaver is its abdomen. It can be stripped, spotted or mottled, with colors ranging from red, yellow, green, brown, white and orange, in combinations that help camouflage them against leaves, lichen, bark and even bird droppings. This diversity of coloration isn’t the only thing that makes orbweavers unique; the shape of their abdomen can range from a simple sphere to triangular and may even include spiny projections.

Orbweavers get their name from webs they construct. These webs are constructed for trapping prey such as flies, moths, butterflies, mosquitos and any other insect that happens to land or fly into them. Unfortunately, if you are the first hiker of the morning down any given trail, you’ve inevitably experienced an orbweaver’s masterful work on your face and hair. But don’t fret, you aren’t on their menu.

Orbweavers inhabit wooded areas, meadows, fields, buildings and gardens. Because orbweavers construct their webs to catch flying insects, one of the best spots to do so is where flying insects are abundant; porch lights. If you have a porch or security light at your house, an orbweaver has inevitably built its trademark web around or nearby to catch insects that are attracted to the light. It is important to understand that while orbweavers commonly build webs around the outside of houses, they rarely do so inside a house. There isn’t any food to catch inside a house.

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The next time you find a web in the wood, take the time to see who made it. Spend some time watching and observing. If you’re lucky you will witness the architect hard at work. If you are very lucky, you may see an unfortunate insect fly into an orbweaver’s web and witness exactly why these spiders are so neat.