Daily Archives: February 26, 2014

Spider Myths Debunked! 10 Things You May Not Know about Spiders

spidd3-0043Spiders are not likely to make many “favorite animals” list. They are the cause of one of the most common phobias in our society which is not hard to explain given their prevalence in popular literature and entertainment.

But much of what we think we know about spiders is actually wrong, based merely on myths and misunderstandings that have been passed along for generations.

Here are some of the most common myths debunked. spiders-02641. Daddy-long-legs are NOT spiders. Like insects, they are related to spiders but unlike spiders they have only ONE body part. In addition, they don’t make silk, have venom or fangs. Daddy-long-legs are in a group of animals called Harvestmen. (To read more on this, Click HERE.)

A fishing spider

A fishing spider

2 Spiders RARELY BITE– not because they can’t, but because they don’t–to them humans are not viewed as prey and will not bite when contact is made. Touching a spider or getting one on you will not make it bite you! Spiders may bite if they feel threatened or to protect their egg sac, but not simply because they make contact. Most of those “mystery” bites that are often attributed to spiders are not from spiders at all. Oddly enough, this myth is perpetuated regularly by the medical professionals who usually have no specific spider training and simply repeat what they’ve heard, which, often times, is nothing more than myths.

Not all spiders build webs

Not all spiders build webs

3.All spiders do NOT build webs. There are many different species of spiders that do not build silken traps to catch their prey. Many stalk their prey like a wolf or wait motionless until something comes along.

Spiders are NOT insects though they are related to insects. Insects and spiders are Arthropods, meaning they have a hard exoskeleton, segmented body and jointed appendages. Insects are characterized by having three body parts, three pairs of legs, one pair of antennae and one or two pairs of wings. spiders-2-2Spiders on the other hand have only two body parts, along with 4 pairs of legs. Spiders also have an organ on the underside of their body called a spinneret which produces silk the spider uses in a variety of ways, including as a drag line, for a web, to surround its eggs or even as a chamber to protect itself from predators. Most spiders have 8 eyes.

5.Nearly all spiders are venomous but none are poisonous. Of the over 100 families of spiders, just two lack venom glands. However, it needs to be said that venomous and poisonous are NOT the same thing! Poisonous means the animal or plant produces a poison, that when taken into the body, or ingested, causes illness or death. Some mushrooms or berries are poisonous. Venomous animals on the other hand, produce a venom that when injected into the prey, may cause illness or death. Spiders have venom solely so they can subdue prey, not so they can bite humans. Their venom usually has little effect on humans, who are much, much larger in size.  spidd4-2

6.Spider webs are NOT always round. There are many differently shaped webs including funnels, sheets, and cobwebs. Each spider species that makes a web, has its own unique shape.

7.Spiders eat their prey. It is not true that they simply “suck the juices.”spiders-054

8.Spiders are NOT easy to identify. This might be one of the most common myths out there! Scientists have named more than 50,ooo named species of spiders though they estimate that this is only 10% of all that exist. Many have simply not been discovered or named. It is VERY difficult to identify spiders–and people who do this, use a combination of things, including eye arrangement of the spiders, body shape and a microscope–the latter of which is often crucial to identification.

With this many different species, identification is extremely difficult. A microscope is often needed.  Identification books exist, often basing id on the arrangement of the eyes but this is far from complete.

9.Tarantulas are not the deadly spiders movies make them out to be. The venom in these large spiders has a low toxicity to humans. Tarantulas do have hairs on their abdomens that they can raise to irritate the skin of someone or something threatening them.

spidd-048

A Chilean Rose-haired tarantula that I am holding…. now would I be doing that if it was dangerous?

10.Brown recluse spiders are difficult to identify and are not found everywhere in the United States. While it is true that brown recluses have a violin-shape on their bodies, just behind their eyes, this is not a reliable method of identification as there are many other spiders that have a similar shape on their bodies. Many of the bites attributed to brown recluses, even by medical professionals, come from areas where brown recluses don’t inhabitant. Often an unidentified bite is automatically attributed to a spider, even though spiders rarely bite.  Check out the  Brown recluse territory map  taken from Rod Crawford at the Burke Museum in Seattle, Washington, to see if Brown Recluses live in your part of the country.

To learn more, visit the Burke Museum’s website and the pages dedicated to dispelling spider myths which were written by Rod Crawford,Curator of Arachnids. He has been studying spiders for 40 years!

Read about how I overcame my fear of spiders. Click here or check out some of my favorite spider pictures, HERE.

References:

The Burke Museum’s website written by Rod Crawford, Curator of Arachnids.

The Book of Spiders by Rod Preston-Mafham, published by Chartwell Books Inc, in 1991

 

 

How I know that Spring is Here!

egggs-8906When I returned to the little pond on my property this afternoon, I was thrilled to find thousands of freshly-laid wood frog eggs. As is characteristic of this frog, all the eggs are left together so that they form one, giant clump. Yellow Spotted Salamanders or American Toads on the other hand will spread their eggs out so that the pond has eggs all around it. Both are survival techniques of the individual species… putting ALL the eggs in the same place means there is a good chance that even if predators come along to eat them, SOME will survive to hatch out and become adults. And on the flip side, spreading the eggs throughout the pond could mean if a predator finds some, others will remain undetected.

Which method do you think would be more successful?

Read more about wood frogs on my creature feature page. egggs-8908

What DOES the Fox Say?

2fox-098One of the most memorable songs of 2013 was called What Does the Fox Say…this song must have caused a rise in users typing those words into their search engines, wondering what DOES the fox say? To answer that question, let me first tell a story.

Several years ago I was living in eastern New York State at a house that was on the east branch of the Croton River, part of the Great Swamp which is one of NY’s biggest wetland. (Read my article in Country Extra magazine.) For many nights I had been hearing a strange noise outside. It almost always woke me in the middle of the night, shattering my sleep with its scream-like quality. It sounded like the animal was moving as it called, perhaps a bird flying from one post to another. Except that I had never heard of a bird making that sound. Days turned into weeks and the mystery continued. What was the cause of that sound?

Then one night I heard it earlier than usual. Quietly I stepped out onto the front deck of the house, listening for the sound and trying to pinpoint its origin. When it went again, I flicked on the giant spotlight I was holding. Wow! There at the corner of the driveway, just outside of the woods, sat a lovely RED FOX! I was shocked, never imagining the noise was coming from a mammal!

So for those of you who have never had the chance to listen to a fox calling in the night… this is what they sound like. (From Lang Elliot of Nature Sound Studio) Try to listen at least 11 seconds in as the sound changes to the one I heard all of those nights. This is a hard-to-describe sound!

To read more about the red fox, Click here.