Tis The Season for Spiders

 

In October around Halloween time, pumpkins and scarecrows appear on people’s doorsteps. Along with these welcome and festive decorations, another prospect of something appearing on your doorstep is something many have a phobia about. Arachnoids, commonly called ’spiders’. Since I, myself, have a horror of these eight-legged arthropods — it is said there are 40,000 different species — isn’t that enough to make a night terror?

Why am I writing about them while I have goose bumps on my arm just thinking about them? I believe in ‘knowing thy enemy’. If you don’t know their habits, you may unexpectedly bump into them with unwanted results. When we moved to South Carolina, everyone told us that there were a lot of bugs here. This is true. There are bugs here that not only have I never seen before, I still don’t know what some of them are. They are avoided at all costs. Don’t know what it is? — my motto — Don’t go near it and Go away from it.

But the spiders down here grow BIG. Super-size! Nightmare size. We had spiders up north where we lived all our lives, but they were the garden variety, but they were seen mostly in the fall when it got cold and they wanted a winter retreat inside. Since the weather is warmer down south longer, the spiders have ample time and choice to pick where they will vacation for the winter. But there’s no room at THIS inn.

I researched spiders before we moved here. Especially southern ones. I wanted to know what was here and what to expect. There is such a thing as having too much knowledge. or too much information {TMI}. Sometimes, what you don’t know won’t hurt you. But there were some very interesting things I learned about spiders and how to live with them {goose bumps again and now I’m scratching}.

As much as I have trouble writing about them, spiders are actually good for the ecological balance – and especially as part of the garden. They help reduce the amount of caterpillars, moths who do damage to trees, and especially those pesky mosquitoes. All spiders are venomous, but most of them lack the fangs to inflict damaging venom to those who have the misfortune to be bitten. Those with fangs and venom are: Brown Recluse, Black Widow {BW} and the fairly new, Brown Widow.

The other thing about the south is that in the morning, you can clean off a porch, veranda or patio or anywhere – and go to the store. When you return, the zealous little octagon-fingered nightmare will have a new home all webbed out in its place. So, at some point, you have to know who are the enemies and whom you allow to be neighbors.

Recently, I almost went face-first into an enormous web in my flower garden. It was an orb web, similar to the web in ‘Charlotte’s Web’. Before my nose touched it, my heart started to pound, realizing that some mega Gigantra Spiderosis –my made-up name — probably made this giant web which was not there the day before. It was like the sci-fi movie kind of spider web. Lo and behold, my fear turned to reality and I was inches away from a ‘banana’ spider– more formally known as nephila clavipes, banana spider of North America. They possess venom similar in nature to the venom of the black widow, but far less potent, making it quite harmless to humans. A bite from a North American banana spider will not result in much more than a welt that will pass within 24 hours. Of course, I did not know this info that before the encounter. Here is a picture and the size compared to a human hand, which definitely and positively is not my hand.

 

 

banana spider

Needless to say, my heart pounded much more violently and I stood entranced in shock for a several seconds and then beat it into the house yelling and screaming — my M.O. for when I see a spider and everyone gets on red alert. Someone responded and was ready to kill it, and I said to catch it instead – I was totally, morbidly fascinated that something so scary lived right in my back yard. It was caught and put in a Tupperware bowl with lid and put in the garage so I could peruse it when my blood pressure resumed it’s normalcy.

The internet can be a wonderful thing or it can open doors where you’ve never been and I learned all about the banana spider. They are harmless, they are very helpful in gardens, they like to build their webs close to the house. {Great}. For those of you who prefer the book info: “N. clavipes banana spiders have elongated bodies that resemble a banana in shape and coloring, beautifully bright yellow and black. The males are about half the size of females, and dark colored. Females grow quite large with a body length of about 1.1 inches {33 cm}. North American banana spiders prefer sunny areas and tend to like tall plants or trees. They will often spin a web across a walkway or trail, spanning several feet. The web of the North American banana spider is orb-shaped, golden, and is stronger than most spiders’ webs. In fact its silk is stronger than comparable threads of Kevlar or steel.” They are unlikely to find themselves indoors either as adults or as hatchlings. :)

And then I read that they are so NOT aggressive; that you could even lean into them and press against them and they may not bite even then. Furthermore, if they do bite, it is very rare and quite harmless, and I relaxed. A little. Well, somewhat. Enough so, that I went in the garage to see the monster and this was about 5 hours later. She was still alive and sitting there so I told the spider-catcher to let her go back into the garden. He did just that. I was in the house behind locked doors, of course, and he said that when he let it go – the spider scurried away as fast as she could scamper, probably to tell the Banana Family that she just saw the biggest bugs ever and they captured her in a Tupperware bowl. She is still out there making more orb webs, which are quite spectacular if you don’t think about what’s on them.

Now, my family tells me that black widow spiders, too, are helpful in keeping bugs in your yard under control, but guess what? I would wipe one of those BW’s out as fast as I could. The banana spider {who now makes her orb web far enough from the house but still in view} is big enough that she will undoubtedly keep my yard and the yards on either side of me free of bugs.   And to the next street.

Marie Coppola © Revised October 2012