By Ron Seifer
Special to the Sun Sentinel
Sep 02, 2021 5:27 PM
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Being afraid of spiders is a common fear, and many folks automatically reach for bug spray to kill them and their broom to brush their webs away. Spiders have received a bad rap in some circles like Tolkien’s giant, evil Shelob, or as scary Halloween symbols. Of the thousands of spider species in Florida, two are considered potentially dangerous: the black widow and brown recluse. Identifying photos and information on them can be obtained from sources like the Cooperative Extension or by googling reliable sites. Spiders are arachnids, generally not dangerous to people, and beneficial for the nonchemical, natural control of flies, mosquitoes, gnats and other insects we constantly swat away, and for landscaping and agricultural crop control of whiteflies, aphids, and other pests.
One common beneficial Florida spider is the spiny orb weaver. Observing and getting to know it can be helpful in desensitizing spider fears. These show-offs are easily distinguished from all the other spiders in Florida. Spiny orb weavers are distinctively conspicuous by their colorful appearance, shape and intricately woven webs. Females are year-round residents, with about a year’s life span. Males are much smaller, shorter-lived, and may hang around her web. Her home is found outside, constructed in a branchy shrub or tree, a few feet or more above the ground, or sometimes her home is around your home, in a window corner address.
To find a spiny orb weaver look for her distinctive, round, wagon wheel-shaped web with multiple spokes meeting at a central hub. Only about half a pinky nail in size, you’ll find her perched in the central hub, reporting for work. She’s easy to identify: from the back, she looks like a miniature white, hard-shelled crab with little black spots and six red pointy spines along her sides. Her home web decoration is also conspicuous with white silken tufts that are believed to serve as warning signs for uninvited flying birds. She remains still but becomes a busy worker when something does fly in. She makes daily repairs to her intricate woven creation. Rain or shine, she lives a dynamic life, particularly on a breezy, web-swaying day. Spending some observational time and getting information about her helps in spider fear desensitization, and builds respect for her skills and place in our shared biodiverse environment.
If you find a beneficial spiny orb weaver has chosen to construct her web in a place inconvenient to you but sheltered for her, don’t reach for your broom to attack her. Instead, look around for a low-traffic relocation spot on a branchy shrub or tree, and use your broom to place her there. Don’t try to handle spiders, especially if you have allergic reactions. She may get back in business when relocated, or move to another spot more to her liking.
Beyond your neighborhood, a good place to look and learn about spiny orb weavers and many other animals, some endangered or threatened, in their natural habitats is the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, the northern part of the Florida Everglades, west of Boynton Beach. The Refuge is the largest green space conservation area in Palm Beach County with over 50 miles of maintained hiking, biking, kayaking and photography trails at 10216 Lee Road.
Visit loxahatcheefriends.com for Refuge information, and consider joining the Friends of Loxahatchee as a member, donor, or volunteer. Follow us on social media Facebook and Instagram. See you out there!
Ron Seifer, Ph.D., is a member of the Friends of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.