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Spiders have fascinated me ever since reading “Charlotte’s Web” by author E. B. White. As the barn spider Charlotte masterfully planned and enacted her scheme to save Wilbur the pig’s life, spinning and weaving praises into her web, she shared the reality of life’s lessons of growth and change with young readers like me. Whenever I see the glorious yellow and black Argiope aurantia “writing spiders” in my garden I’m delighted. The zigzag “zipper” running through the center of the web makes me hope there will always be egg sacs hidden in the shrubs to keep the line going.
Spiders are very helpful in the garden because they prey on many insects that we consider to be true pests in our homes and gardens. I consider them part of my personal garden army that are compensated with a chow line of pests to munch. If I am careful not to get in the way of their work, we all get along well.
Encounters between people and spiders are usually accidental and bites are a response by the spider when its web or nest (or the spider itself) is disturbed. While not all spiders spin webs, most spiders produce some venom and for the most part, spider bites are insignificant unless someone has an allergic reaction similar to a bee sting allergy. However, in North Carolina there are a couple of notable ones we should be particularly informed about as their venom can cause significant problems requiring medical attention – black widows and brown recluses. Although brown recluse spiders can be found in North Carolina, they are simply not very common.
Spiders are not insects, they are arachnids. They do eat insects and web-building spiders are most likely to show up in areas where insects are abundant, e.g., woodpiles, around porch lights, windows, or water sources. Knocking down these webs with a broom or burst of water from a garden hose is adequate for “control.” Spiders in the house are after food as well and are a signal that there is an abundance of insects and other “spider food” in the area. Good sanitation practices to discourage insect foraging and properly sealing the entry points of your home will help exclude the insects from coming inside. Free food just attracts all kinds of pests – from 2 legged, 6 legged, 8 legged to the hundred legged variety.
Follow these suggestions to reduce the chances of being bitten:
- Always check for spiders before sticking your bare hand(s) into dark corners or areas where you can’t see your fingertips.
- Always wear work gloves when handling boxes, firewood, lumber, and other items that have been left in storage undisturbed for significant periods of time.
- Vigorously shake clothing and shoes that have been left undisturbed for some time to dislodge any spiders and inspect them before wearing.
If you think you have been bitten by either a black widow spider or brown recluse, carefully apply ice or a cold pack to the bite and seek medical assistance. If you can catch the suspect spider, bring it along for positive identification or take it to your local county N.C. Cooperative Extension office for identification.
For a colorful chart of common spiders in NC and lots of fun facts about our spiders check out 2017 Year of the Spider.
Minda Daughtry is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.