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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What Do Spiders Have To Do With Halloween?

Out with the dogs in the early morning hours I noticed the multitude of spider webs seemingly everywhere. The two types of webs most prevalent were that of the grass spider, who weaves the funnel type webs, and the garden spider, who weaves the round web we are most familiar.

I'm usually ok with spiders as long as they aren't actually crawling on me. Being a gardener I come across the orb spider fairly frequently. I know they won't hurt me but being the size they are, it always gives me a jolt. Spiders are beneficial arthropods, that survive by feeding on insects. Oftentimes they are the most important biological control of insect pests in gardens, fields, forests, and homes.

In fall and winter, spiders might be found lurking in dark corners of the house or the basement. For a female spider getting ready to lay eggs, she’d need to catch enough food so she would have the energy necessary for laying eggs. Then, she’d need someplace to tie up those eggs. For spider that makes webs, all this extra work would leave quite a few cobwebs around.

Click here for an interview with our local Penn State Horticulture Educator Emelie Swackhamer.

So why the connection with Halloween? Mainly it is a matter of association with that which people fear. People often are afraid of the dark, creepy, hidden places and any creatures lurking in such places. Walking into a spider web is rarely a pleasant experience.

The spider web is said by some pagans to represent the wheel of life and time, the turning of the seasons. In addition the spider has eight legs - and there are eight major festivals in the pagan/Wiccan year. One of them is Samheim, which is a time to reconnect with our ancestors, and honor those who have died. This is the time when the veil between our world and the spirit realm is thin, so it's the perfect time of year to make contact with the dead.

Below are just a few of common spiders who are contentedly living amongst us just trying to survive. If we leave them alone, usually they try in earnest to leave us alone. Spiders are more common in our homes than we think. According to David Bodanis in his book "Secret House" the typical clean and tidy home still houses many, many spiders. These beneficials prefer to stay hidden in the dark corners of our cabinets and basements and quietly give us a hand in keeping those insects at bay who can do us harm. To destroy their webs and then spray liberally with poisonous insect spray just seems ludicrous.
Wolf spiders are common spiders outdoors and are occasionally seen indoors. They are moderate to large-sized spiders (1/4 - 3/4 inch long). Wolf spiders are found on the ground or under stones in a wide variety of habitats, such as forest floors, grassy meadows, swamps, and bogs. Some even like to live underground. They commonly hunt during the day or at night when it is warm. Wolf spiders are dark-colored, usually brownish or grayish, with white markings.
The bite of the Wolf Spider is poisonous but not lethal. Although non-aggressive, they bite freely if provoked and should be considered dangerous to humans. The bite may be very painful. First aid and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible, particularly as to children or the elderly.
Orb spiders are common spiders outdoors near buildings, but are usually not found indoors. They range in size from small to large (1/8 - 1 inch long) and are found in a variety of colors, with some being brightly colored. Orb spiders have large, swollen-looking abdomens, including some that are oddly shaped. They make the classic round, flat, wheel-like web familiar to most people.
The black and yellow argiope (are-JI-o-pee) spider, also known as the garden spider, is familiar to many. It is large (up to 1 inch long) and brightly colored black and yellow.
Another common orb spider is the barn spider (figure 9). It is large (4/5 inch long) and brownish in color.
The bite of Orb-Weaving Spiders is of low risk (not toxic) to humans. They are a non-aggressive group of spiders. Seldom bite. Be careful not to walk into their webs at night - the fright of this spider crawling over one's face can be terrifying.


Grass spiders, a type of funnel weaver, are common outdoors and are occasionally found indoors. They are generally brownish or grayish with light and dark stripes near the head. They have long spinnerets and are moderate-sized (3/4 inch long). Grass spiders construct a large sheet web with a funnel they use as a retreat. These webs are commonly built on the ground, around steps, window wells, foundations, and low shrubs.

These spiders are non-aggressive and the bite of these spiders is of low risk to humans.

Sure spiders are ghoulish but if you really look close at them they are fascinating. Certainly not so ugly they're cute as goes the saying, but we sure can't say mother nature is dull.