Cave Orb Weaver

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While visiting Carter Caves, Kentucky I frequently encounter this creature in the caverns. This species is found mainly in caves in the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. Spiders are adaptable creatures and man-made habitats such as cellars can also serve as habitat for these eight-legged beings.

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Cave Orb Weavers belong to the family Tetragnathidae – commonly called Long-jawed Orb Weavers – but they lack the huge, serrated jaws and elongated bodies and legs that characterize their nearest relatives. As with many spiders, the males this species are considerably smaller than the females.

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Life in a cave has some obvious and distinct differences from the environment surrounding it, such as constant darkness, cool temperatures and limited resources. One way the Cave Orb Weavers deal with this is to build their webs by the lights installed in the cave systems. This attracts insects, provides light and creates warmth.

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Rather than residing in the dark depths of caves, Cave Orb Weavers tend to build their webs in near the entrances and in the “twilight zones” of caves. They often sit on the edge of their web, rather than resting in the center. Cave life is a poorly studied topic, and there is still much to learn about these mysterious arachnids.

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Marbled Orbweaver

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While hiking along the edge of a swamp in southern Illinois, I came across this very cool creature. This species is impressive in both size and pattern. The unique marbled pattern of colors on the abdomen, as well its orange head and black and white legs make for visually stunning arachnid.

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This spider tends to build its web in trees and shrubs in moist, wooded settings. Unlike most other orbweavers in its genus, it hides in a silken retreat near its web. The retreat is made of leaves folded over and held together with silk. One strand of silk extends all the way the retreat. If it vibrates, the spider knows it has caught something.

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The “orbweaver” part of the name comes from its web, which the spider weaves to form a circular, or orb-like grid. The fragile web is easily damaged, so the spider spends time each day repairing it, regularly rebuilding it entirely.

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The Marbled Orbweaver often falls to the ground if it senses it is in danger. It is sometimes also called the Pumpkin Spider because of its resemblance to orange pumpkin.

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Crab Spider

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This is a fun little invertebrate that I found on my latest trip to southern Illinois. I have also seen examples in California, as well as in my home state of Ohio.

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Many species on this family of arachnids are referred to as “Flower Crab Spiders,” though not all members are limited to ambush hunting in flowers.

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Crab Spiders get their common name for the way they hold their two front pairs of legs, their flat shape and their ability to scuttle sideways or backwards.

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Some types frequent promising positions among leaves or bark, where they await prey, while others sit in the open, well camouflaged and using stealth by matching their surroundings.

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Instead of spinning webs, they are hunt-by-surprise predators that wait motionless for flies, bees and similar prey. These spiders tend to be quite small, only about a half of an inch in body length, and go largely unnoticed.

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Although not especially dangerous to humans, scientists think that the venom of certain Crab Spiders is more potent than that of most other spiders and this allows them to quickly paralyze the large and tough bees that often visit flowers (or in this case, a cicada).

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Their cool shape and wide variety of colors make Crab Spiders fun photography subjects that also present a challenge to find.

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Ant Mimic Jumping Spider

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Working in my yard this weekend, a came across this tiny, yet fascinating invertebrate. It’s very small size and body shaped more like ant than a spider, at first glance, it may be difficult to tell that this creature is a spider.

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It walks with its front pair of legs raised in the air as if they were antennae, making it tricky to identify it as a spider when first counting legs. The resemblance to ants is a defense against predators. Many types of ants are pungent to taste and are unlikely to become food for larger predators.

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Ant Mimic Spiders often live near ant hills or nests to benefit from the ant’s unsavory reputation for tasting bad. They can be found anywhere ants are found: fields, lawns, gardens, woods, on trees and under stones.

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The Ant Mimic Jumping Spider is one of the few species in genus Myrmarachne that is found outside the tropics. Its species name, formicaria means “ant-like” in Latin.

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Dark Fishing Spider

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Fishing Spiders are similar to the larger Wolf Spiders in size, shape, and coloration. They get their common name because most live near water and have been reported to catch small fish and aquatic insects from the water as they walk on the surface.

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I tend to find them in and around my shed, which is close to a creek that runs through my backyard. This creature is frequently associated with wooded areas and I’ve seen them in the local Metroparks, especially in damp areas.

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This is a fairly large spider, with females being twice as large as males. When outstretched legs, one can measure over 3” long. Both sexes are brownish-gray in color with black and lighter brown markings. The legs have dark rings and long spines.

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Ohio hosts five species of fishing spiders, all members of the nursery web spider family. These arachnids don’t spin conventional webs, instead they ambush and pounce on prey.

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Young spiderlings may be found from July through September. The young are guarded by the female in a nursery web and may number 1,000 or more.

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As horrifying as fishing spiders might appear, they are utterly harmless to people and are quite shy. They also play a pivotal role in controlling insects, which would otherwise surge out of control.

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Eastern Parson Spider

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It seems like the past few Winters I’ve found one of these in my house. This arachnid is named after the abdominal markings resembling an old-style cravat worn by clergy in the 18th century.

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The Eastern Parson Spider is part of a stealthy group of ground spiders. This family of hunting spiders spins silken retreats in leaves and under boards and stones to hide in during the day; they hunt at night.

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This spider is widespread everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, from southern Alberta across to Nova Scotia and south to Texas and Florida. West of the Rockies it is replaced by the Western Parson Spider.

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The Eastern Parson Spider is fairly commonly around buildings, often preying on small insects that are attracted to outdoor lights These creatures will run in a zigzag fashion to evade predators; for this reason, they are hard to capture when seen in homes.

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It is furry, and about nickel sized. Although this spider presents a startling appearance, living indoors as it frequently does, it is not considered harmful.

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Furrow Spider

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These spiders are most often found in moist areas, especially near water. Their orb webs are typically low to the ground in shrubbery or between grasses.

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This creature can be extremely common near the shores of lakes, particularly Lake Erie (where the examples in this blog were found), but also occur in other parts of Ohio and in fact are are common throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

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Furrow spiders are known to overwinter as adults: this is noteworthy because typical orb weaver species live for only one year, dying before winter. Orb weavers comprise a huge family of spiders, with 3500 species worldwide, 180 of which call North America home.

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Individuals ingest their web each night, recycling silk material to rebuild daily damage. When food is scarce, these spiders may make more or larger webs in a single night, in an effort to catch more prey.

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Orb weaver males are generally much smaller than the females and commonly lack the showy coloring of their fairer sex, but that is not so with this species; the males are only slightly smaller, and are equally gaudily-decorated. This creature is also commonly known as the foliate spider, after its prominent folium, or pigmented design on the abdomen.

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Long-jawed Orb Weaver

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Long-jawed Orb Weavers are named because of their large fangs, which are, in some species, longer than the spider’s cephalothorax (first body segment).

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Like all spiders, babies hatch from eggs and look like tiny adults. They shed their skin as they grow. Most spiders in this family live for less than one year. They mate and lay eggs at the end of the Summer and the young spiders hatch during the following Spring.

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Long-jawed Orb Weavers can have a two inch leg span and are skinny. Most are tan with white and yellow markings. They are common in low-growing vegetation and in row crops. I tend to see them at the edges of the Ohio & Erie Canal while hiking on the towpath. Below is a photo one one that I saw eating another of its own species.

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To avoid being eaten by predators, they drop from their web at out at the slightest disturbance, or carefully camouflaging themselves by lining up with the long axis of a twig or grass blade.

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Most members of this family do not build vertical webs, they are usually tilted and sometimes close to horizontal. The bizarre appearance of this creature with its over-sized mandibles makes it a favorite of mine.

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False Black Widow

Stepping out my front door on a warm Winter day, I saw this creature. This species is in the genus Steatoda, which are commonly referred to as False Black Widow Spiders. They are closely related to the true Black Widow Spiders, but are not nearly as venomous.

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Another common name for this arachnid is “Cupboard Spider,” because many species building their webs in dark, sheltered, undisturbed places around the house or garden, in sheds and garages, under garden furniture, bridges, wood piles compost bins and similar structures.

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For a web, the False Black Widow builds a tangled, three-dimensional “cobweb” snare. The silk is not sticky, but prey easily gets tangled and begins to struggle, which sends vibrations to the spider. Using its two back legs, the spider then “throws” silk around the prey until it can no longer escape or harm its captor, at which point it delivers a venom-injecting bite and then begins to feed.

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Female False Black Widows have been reported to live for up to six years (males live for a year to a year and a half), producing numerous offspring. These spiders have a total of eight eyes, arranged in two horizontal rows of four (a pattern typical of cobweb spiders in this family).

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It was neat to come across this creature, a spider which I’ve never seen before, and all I had to do was take a couple of steps out my front door!

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Spined Micrathena

If you’ve ever walked through a spider web in the woods, chances are it was a micrathena’s web. As an added “bonus” they tend to make their webs at face level.

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This is a small species, about 1/2 inch long, with a chunky abdomen with ten spines on it. The abdomen can vary in color, but is usually it is whitish, yellow, or brownish-black. Only female Spined Micrathenas build webs. Male are about half the size of females. They only have a couple of spines and a much flatter abdomen.

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To trap prey, this spider builgs her web between shrubs or small trees, three to seven feet off the ground. Insects that try to fly in between the trees don’t see the web and get caught.

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The female Spined Micrathena eats her web each evening and constructs a new web the following morning. I had one that is living in my front yard this past Summer, and she built each web in the same spot.

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In the daytime the spider hangs out in the center of her web, with her head pointing down. As soon as she feels the vibrations of prey trapped in her web, she runs to bite it. These spiders are slow and clums and many insects escape before they are caught.

Male Spined Micrathenas don’t build webs, though they do weave a “mating thread.” The male finds a female’s web, and weaves his mating thread onto her web. When he’s ready, he quickly runs out and mates with her. Males often do not survive the encounter.

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This is a small, yet very cool spider that I usually enjoy coming across (unless I walk face-first into one of their webs).

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