[Article by contributing writer, North Bend resident and owner of Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs, Melissa Grant]
“Why did I decide to do an article about spiders?” I think to myself as I sit here trying to write, while simultaneously fighting off a wicked case of the creepy crawlies. I’ll admit it, I am not a fan of our 8-legged Snoqualmie Valley residents. NOT. AT. ALL.
Logically, I know having them around our homes and garden provides us with enormous benefit. Spiders act as tiny pest controllers and help rid us of aphids and mosquitos – without the need for toxic and expensive pesticides. In doing so, they protect our health by preventing the spread of disease carried by the pests that they eat. Medical science is finding uses for venom in the treatment of treating heart ailments and arthritis. Lastly, in some cultures large spiders are considered a delicacy and eaten.
…NO! (swats, scratches, shudders… attempts to carry on)
In Washington State we have approximately 860 known species of spiders (I looked and looked for this number and finally found it here linked from the spider specialist at the Burke Museum) and I decided to focus on a few that are common – or frequently misidentified – and the two that can be downright dangerous.
Read on at your peril and don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Spiders are not insects, but are closely related to them. Wherever you find insects you will find spiders close by, waiting to stalk, hunt and kill their prey. Spiders differ from insects in that they have eight legs instead of six, a body divided into two parts rather than three, fangs and the ability to spin silk. All spiders are venomous, but only two in Washington State have the potential to be dangerous to people: the Black Widow and the Yellow Sac Spiders.
The Western Black Widow Spider is easily the most notorious of the Theridiidae, or cob web family of spiders. They are most common in Eastern Washington, but can also be found in Western Washington. Identified by their shiny black rounded bodies and red hourglass markings, mature adult females have dangerous venom, but often will try to flee rather than bite. They are most commonly found both indoors and outdoors in dark, undisturbed places such as basements, woodpiles, bales of hay or in unused areas of garages. You can prevent bites by keeping such areas clean of clutter and wearing protective clothing if working nearby. If you suspect a Black Widow bite seek medical attention. immediately.
Yellow Sac Spiders are also found in Eastern and Western Washington. Primarily garden dwellers, they can make their way indoors in the fall. These spiders use their silk to build sacs that they hide in during the day. Emerging from their sacs at night to hunt they can become trapped in bedding or clothing, leading to bites. These spiders are quite aggressive and bite without much provocation. Their bites are quite painful, much like a bee sting. According to a WSU publication, it can produce local pain, nausea, and severe muscular discomfort lasting several hours. There is one recorded instance of tissue necrosis around the bite site.
Shudder…I need a break!
So, I’m going to move on to my favorite kind of spider, the Orb Weaving spiders – or specifically the Cross-Orb Weaver or European Garden Spider. With their classic silken webs made out of concentric circles, these are what we pictured when we read Charlotte’s web as kids. It is the best known, most widely studied spider in the world. Orb Weavers typically build their webs at night (I can attest to that, as I usually walk through one during the dog’s first potty break) and spend their days hanging upside down in the middle waiting for prey. When they snag something, the spider wraps it in silk, waits for it to be quiet and then chews up/vomits on and slurps it up!
So much for my break.
Moving on to the misidentified and misunderstood: the much-maligned Funnel Web Spiders. The scary members of this group are the Domestic House Spider, the Giant House Spider and the Aggressive House Spider, aka the Hobo Spider. They are the most common spider in the PNW and the largest, with some having a leg span of three inches long! (itch itch itch…looks over shoulder) Many of this group are known as Grass spiders, but they are also well-known to be in our houses, too. As previously stated, they do prey on other household pests which is beneficial. The European Hobo, which was introduced in the 1930’s, is VERY aggressive to other spiders, but most of us can’t tolerate having them around. The Giant House Spider, also from Europe, is even LARGER than the Hobo and preys on them.
Contrary to popular belief, none of these spiders are venomous, but since they are SO large, a bite can be a pathway to bacteria and infection can occur. Nondescript and brown, people often think these MUST be Wolf Spiders because of their size but in reality, they can be three times as large, and wolf spiders don’t generally live indoors.
Lastly, a little myth to dispel. Daddy Long Legs, aka Harvestmen are not Spiders. Even though they have eight legs, they do not spin silk and they do not have fangs, so they are not considered spiders. Don’t worry, guys. I still consider you just as creepy as all the rest, and you will remain spiders in my heart….and probably my shop-vac, sorry.