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08/28/2011 / thriftomancer

How to avoid spiders in the wild

Let’s do some biology.

Spiders occupy a vitally important role in the various ecosystems where they live. They’re beneficial predatory organisms that mean us no harm and would likely prefer to never interact with humans at all. (As we’re massive, loud, scary behemoths to them.) Unfortunately, structures that humans build make ideal habitats for spiders, putting them in close proximity with us almost constantly. (It wouldn’t be unusual if there were at least five spiders sharing the room with you right now. At least.) This leads to frequent human-spider encounters which most often leave the humans stressed and uneasy and the spider dead. Poor buggers.

Now, it’s easy to understand why people react that way. I love spiders, think they’re quite adorable; but I’ve been known to start when something small, skittering, and absolutely silent suddenly darts into my peripheral vision. Might even start swinging on reflex if that something isn’t quite that small.

Even so, it’s obvious that the way to avoid all the death and stress and icky crawly feelings of encountering spiders is to actively attempt to avoid them. They try to avoid us (at least most common species aren’t aggressive), let’s start returning the favor.

While there’s not much you can do in the way of avoidance indoors, there are plenty of ways to avoid spiders when you’re outside that just take a little prior knowledge and common sense.

1) Look where you’re going. It’s not that hard. Pay a wee bit of attention to what’s ahead in your path and you might see that Orb Weaver’s web before you blunder into it.

2) Try not to walk through narrow spaces if you have other options. Spiders usually prefer to build their webs over shorter distances. It lets them use less silk, which means they expend less protein when spinning. If you’re walking through the woods and find you have a choice between a two-foot wide opening in the trees and a four-foot one, choose the four-footer. It’ll be easier for you to walk as well.

3) Don’t crash through the underbrush willy-nilly. Spiders prefer underbrush and younger trees to taller mature trees. It’s not a perfect solution, but if you’re on a trail stay on the trail and you should be fine.

4) Look into natural crevices and small, enclosed man-made spaces before you reach into them. It might not always be easy, especially if you’re climbing a cliff or moving along other wonky terrain, but if you just go sticking your mitts into every hole you find you’re just asking to meet spiders up close and personal.

5) If you feel uncertain about whether a trail is web-free or not, pick up a medium-sized stick and wave it around in front of you as you walk. It’ll break any webs that might be present before your face does.

Up until now this has all been rather simple common sense, right? Well, this is the part where I introduce the prior knowledge, as well as the event that inspired me to write this post. This is the garden by my front door. I’ve got some nice Myrtle, St. John’s Wort, Tiger Lilies, and a few anonymous weeds that I don’t really mind all growing strong.

The Garden

Lovely, if a little unkempt, right? Now, I want you to look closer at the one rolled-up leaf on the plant in the center of the picture.

Let’s have a close-up.

Nursery Web Spider

Why hello there, Ma’am.

I believe this particular crawly is a nursery web spider, but many species of spider display this leaf-rolling behavior. It might be done to create a shelter or a blind while hunting or, as in this case, a defensible place for a female to stow and guard her egg sac. Whatever the reason, it’s common. Really common. The spider will select a leaf, build a web inside that holds the rolled shape, then just sit in there like it’s a little tent. (It’s actually kind of cute, like a little kid with a refrigerator box.)

If you mess with their leaf shelter, the spider will assume a) you’re trying to kill and eat it, b) there’s some really big prey outside and it should run out to kill and eat it, or c) you’re trying to break in and steal its babies, probably to kill and eat them. All of which cause the spider to come barreling out of the shelter to either fight you off or eat your hand. (Note: Spiders usually aren’t aggressive. Unless they’re provoked. Then they’ll wreck your face.)

Story goes my brave, woodsman dad shrieked like a little girl the first time he pried open a rolled-up leaf and was startled by its large spidery tenant leaping out at him. To avoid this (that is, the story of your girly scream of terror being passed down the family and eventually reaching a global audience online), don’t mess with rolled-up leaves unless you’re fully prepared for the consequences.

Of course, being the nature and science-loving folk we are, and being thoroughly warned by dad, my little brother and I were totally prepared and went right ahead in our messing with of the rolled-up leaf. Our main motivations: “Holy-! How big is that thing?!” and “Oh gross. … Think it’ll eat?”

My bro was good enough to catch us a hapless arthropod to bait Ms. Spider with.

Feeding Time

But that got us no response and the earwig crawled away in a hurry. She either wasn’t hungry or wasn’t about to fall for our clever ruse. Our next step was to formulate another cunning plan designed to get her to move and reveal her true size.

So we poked her with a blade of grass. (Genius!)

Poke

She did not approve.

A Reaction

Attack!

Biting

Turns out she was about two and a half inches long including her legs. Big gal.

After she came out to attack the grass we backed off and she returned to her leaf. Nobody got hurt or struck down with the crawly vibes and all was well.

So, in the spirit of inter-species peace and cooperation, remember: Pay attention to where you’re going, avoid narrow passages and underbrush if possible, look in small spaces before reaching inside, and don’t mess with rolled-up leaves.

If you happen to run across a spider even after following all the rules, don’t freak out. Don’t scream, run away, flail wildly, or try to kill it. You’re outside. Outside is a big place. Just step around it and continue on your way. It’s only a spider after all.

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2 Comments

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  1. Sarah / Aug 6 2017 12:31 am

    Thank you for this! Despite the fact that I pride myself on being the person in my family who deals with anything rodent, reptile, amphibian, or anywhere in the category of bug, and find most of the above fascinating, I do have some issues with arachnids.

    I am fortunate enough to have grown up within walking distance of the Chesapeake Bay and I’ve always enjoyed walking down our 4 foot wide wood and aluminum steps to enjoy the bay at all hours of the night. While saving money to buy a house, my children, husband, and myself, have been living at my mother’s house since early spring. Being a REAL adult now, I’ve been taking advantage of these steps as often as possible, and I’m happiest when it’s just me, my dog, the moon, the horseshoe crabs (such are pretty much just massive spiders but I have no problem spending the entire night digging in rocks, crevices and in the brush and everywhere else to rescue them when they get stuck upside down), sharks teeth, and the bay.

    The steps have recently become a problem. I’m okay getting one web in the face. I’m okay having two or three even occasionally but once I get to a point where I feel like it’s raining webs on me and there’s things crawling all over my body I start to freak out a little bit. This has left me paralyzed on the beach a few times extremely hesitant to walk back up the steps, but finally conceding that if I don’t go back up those steps I will be stuck on the beach all night with the spiders. I often wonder how in God’s name I went up and down those steps, and the bamboo steps that used to exist up the beach and must have been filled spiders, without having a flashlight, a stick, or a care in the world Elementary School through college. The steps are also in much better condition now than they were when I was younger. After one particularly sticky trip, I started picking up sticks on the beach, nice long ones and keeping them ahead of me but I’ve noticed the webs stick to them and then to me. Luckily for me, one of those recent storms provided me with a 6 ft long pole with a hook electrically taped on the end of it, so I’m going to try using that tonight. It’s still wood but it’s processed wood that’s probably not as sticky . I also send my dog down the steps in front of me so at least I normally just have to worry about eye level.

    I’m thinking one of us should become rich by creating something like a golf club that webs do not stick to but also does not harm the spiders unless absolutely necessary. I don’t think your father should feel too bad spiders have a way of creeping out even the most sturdy of us. I’m pretty sure all of my neighbors must think I’m insane from seeing me go up and down the steps with one or two very long sticks in my hand normally waving my flashlight around crazily, and then beating myself at the top of the steps. I almost hurt myself last week when something landed on me after a freak out and I smacked my back with my flashlight and almost whacked myself in the head pretty hard. Its the way they silently skitter and have the ability to come down on you from above .

    I’ve been known to leave dog food out at night for Slugs (did you know that they are smart enough to appear before the food bowl get set out every night in the same place?). I’ve recently been cultivating a relationship with a young skunk that’s hanging around my house and I’m certain that will not end well for me. I was literally raised in a barn and I have no problem removing black widows from little places they find, or picking up snakes out of the road to make sure they don’t get run over. As to spiders, I’m generally okay with them as long as I see them before they see me, but still, ICK!

    • thriftomancer / Aug 7 2017 9:40 am

      I’m going to start by saying that this is an amazing comment. It’s like a little blog post of its own and I love it. Thanks for taking the time to write it!

      > “I’m happiest when it’s just me, my dog, the moon, the horseshoe crabs…”

      You have no idea how jealous I am that you have horseshoe crabs around. I adore those little guys!

      > “…once I get to a point where I feel like it’s raining webs on me and there’s things crawling all over my body I start to freak out a little bit.”

      Oh man, I feel your pain with the rain of webs. When I was little we’d go on family trips up north to Charlevoix and walk along the Pine River canal almost every day we were there. During the day it was fine, but as soon as the sun went down and the bugs started flying around the light posts there were spiders everywhere. Even if you managed to avoid the webs, it was still enough to give you the heebie-jeebies.

      A temporary fix for the webs sticking to your stick would be to take some cheap food storage bags with you and rubber-band one over the tip of the stick. That way if any webs adhere to it, you can just pull the bag off and dispose of it (in the recycling) after your walk.

      For the long run though, what I would do (and it’s funny you mention golf clubs) is go to the thrift store and buy a cheap set of old golf clubs that have metal shafts. Nice, shiny, chromed ones. Take a hacksaw and lop off the clubs’ heads and you’ll have a conveniently-sized anti-web stick with a slippery metal surface and a solid plastic grip (for when you flail about). You can also spray the working end with veggie oil to make webs even less likely to stick on.

      Another good option is getting a set of old ski poles, also from the thrift store. Snap the little plastic rings at the pointy end off and you’ll have essentially the same thing, but longer and able to be used as a walking stick as well.

      Another suggestion I’d make is to invest in a good headlamp. (Bright and well-fitting.) That way you have one less thing in your hands when you’re trying to control the dog, clear webs, and illuminate the path. It’s probably safer than holding a separate flashlight in the long run, especially since you’re climbing stairs.

      Good luck, let me know how it goes!

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