Spiders, they’re everywhere!

What a relief to turn the calendar to September this year!  The days are still warm, but the wind shifts and takes the edge off the heat and humidity.  Hikers and mountain bikers look forward to breaking a sweat on the trails, not in the parking lot.  Dove hunters revisit their favorite fields and meadows as the season begins this coming weekend, and deer hunters take to the woods with bows and arrows the next.

I’m re-energized by the promise of cooler weather and eager to spend more time in the woods.  And yet, I have a dilemma.  Spiders.  They’re creepy.  I’d rather cross paths with a snake any day.  They’re considerate, generally slithering out of your way or at least warning you not to come any closer.  Not spiders.  They sit in their intricate, translucent webs, just waiting to drop down your collar.  This time of year, females are out and about seeking the extra nutrition they need to produce egg sacs.  They’re everywhere.

Wolf spiders are under foot in grassy areas.  Instead of spinning webs, they chase down prey like their namesake.  In the process, they can scamper across your boots or, heaven forbid, up your pants leg.  Two species are common in the Uwharries.  The largest, Carolina wolf spiders, are grayish-brown.  Rabid wolf spiders are light brown with bold brown and white stripes.  The name itself makes them especially fearsome.  Wolf spiders do have an endearing quality – females carry egg sacs and hatchlings on their abdomen.

Black and yellow garden spiders are at hand as you reach for a ripe tomato.  Like other orb weavers, many rebuild their classic round webs each day.  Toward evening, they eat the old one, rest about an hour then spin a new one in the same area.  They’re also known as writing spiders because they embellish the center of their webs with a thicker, crisscrossed band of silk, called a stabilimentum.  (Sounds a lot like the main character in Charlotte’s Web, doesn’t it?) 

Worst of all, some webs smack you in the face.  Last fall, my sister and I took our favorite walk through a mature bottomland tract with a thick understory of trees and shrubs.  We hadn’t gone far when she ran into a web.  A plump spider landed on her shoulder.  It was orange with black and yellow markings on its body.  She squealed or screamed or cursed or groaned – or some combination thereof – and said, “Get it off!”  I lifted my trusty walking stick to knock it away, but stopped when my brain caught up with my muscles. I considered the proximity of the spider to her face.  I contemplated the accuracy of my aim.  I lowered my stick.  “OK, this is my sister,” I thought.  “I’m just gonna have to slap that thing with my hand.”  As I drew back, she seemed to regain her senses as well.  She quickly reached up and brushed it off her own shoulder.  We both shuddered.  Her sweater was orange.  The spider had looked awfully pretty against it. 

From the pictures and descriptions in my field guide, I’m guessing it was a marbled orb weaver.  This fall I might take along a magnifying glass so I can see them in better detail – hopefully at a distance.

 

-- Ruth Ann Grissom

Photos by Crystal Cockman.