Cardinal Jumper

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While visiting a sandhill prairie in Missouri last month, I came across this very cool creature. Its bright colors mimic those of a “velvet ant” – a type of wasp that possess a very painful sting.

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The Cardinal Jumper is a Jumping Spider and part of a family that contains over 6,000 described species; it is the largest family of spiders and makes up about 13% of all known spiders.

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Jumping Spiders do not make webs to catch food, but use silk for building retreats, protecting eggs and creating safety lines while moving about. Having excellent eyesight needed for active hunting, Cardinal Jumpers tend to notice everything around them, including both large and small beings.

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This species is most often found in areas with tall grass and weeds and it frequently climbs up on the grass stems. Its main food is insects, including grasshoppers and katydids several times bigger than they are.

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Cardinal Jumpers have a well-developed internal hydraulic system extends their limbs by altering the pressure of the body fluid within them. This enables them to jump without having large muscular legs like a grasshopper. Most Jumping Spiders can jump several times the length of their bodies.

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Interestingly, it seems to be most commonly sighted during the month of October, which makes its Halloween colors quite appropriate.

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White-banded Fishing Spider

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While doing yard work I came across this awesome arachnid. This is a sit-and-wait predator with excellent camouflage. It was the first time I’ve ever encountered this species.

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The White-banded Fishing Spider belongs to the Nursery Web Spider Group and is indigenous to the United States. Females, which are somewhat larger than males, can reach nearly an inch in body length.

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Though their color is variable, it is true to its name, with a white band in the area below its eyes, around the jaws and more white bands on its legs and body.

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White-banded Fishing Spiders get their “fishing spider” name because most live near water (I have a creek in my backyard) and have been reported to catch small fish and aquatic insects from the water as they walk on its surface. Instead of building a web to catch its food, this creature goes out and hunts it down.

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Like other Nursery Web Spiders, females carry their egg sac in their jaws before eventually creating a “nursery web” amid foliage, branches and sometimes artificial structures. The female then guards the egg sac and the spiderlings that emerge from it.

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Sometimes you find cool things without even looking for them and that was certainly the case with this White-banded Fishing Spider.

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Cross Orbweaver

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The white cross-like marking on the back of this arachnid led to its common name and is its main identification characteristic.

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Originally from Europe, the Cross Orbweaver Spider was transported to North America and has settled in nicely because of the similar environment.

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Cross Orbweaver Spiders are found in a variety of habitats including meadows, gardens, woodland clearings, hedgerows, semi-arid deserts and evergreen forests.

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It is steadfast sentry in my gardens that I look forward to seeing every Summer. Females of this species are almost twice the size of the males.

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Like other orbweavers, this spider sits in the center of its web with its head down. During times where it perceives danger, it may sit on the edge of its web with its legs tucked under itself.

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In late September, females leave their webs and search for protected locations to deposit between 300 to 900 eggs. The eggs are enclosed within a cocoon of yellow, silken threads. The usual egg deposition sites are under tree bark and in cracks and crevices.

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Although I usually tend to see them in the same spot day after day during the warmer months, this spider creates a new web every day.

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Tan Jumping Spider

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Recently I found one of these creatures in my house. This cryptically-colored spider is common on all sorts of vertical surfaces like tree trunks, fence posts, and the outer walls of buildings. Many will overwinter under loose tree bark, which may explain how this one got indoors; it was looking for shelter from Winter.

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Jumping Spiders hunt by sight and have very good vision. Like some other types of Jumping Spiders, this species appears to exhibit a curiosity towards humans who come into its sightline.

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These furry arachnids have enormous front-facing eyes which make them seem almost mammal-like in appearance. The rest of their eight eyes wrap around their heads, giving them almost 360-degree vision.

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Tan Jumping Spiders are most active in the Summer and I commonly see them on the outside of my house as well as on deck rails. Despite their “tan” common name, they are often varying shades of gray or brown.

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Though small (less than half an inch), they are accomplished hunters. They approach prey slowly and when a short distance away, make a sudden leap onto an unfortunate insect. They are good jumpers and can leap many times their own body length.

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Scientifically known as Platycryptus undatus, Tan Jumping Spiders usually have a wavy color pattern on the upper part of their abdomen. This undulating pattern is why they received the “undatus” part of their scientific name.

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Their large eyes and curious dispositions help make jumping spiders one of the most appealing groups of spiders.

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Black Widow

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This dark cobweb weaver is easily identified by the bright, hourglass-shaped mark on its abdomen. It is wildly feared due to its venom.

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In humans, bites can cause muscle aches, nausea, and a paralysis of the diaphragm that can make breathing difficult; however, contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage – let alone death.

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Like many other spiders, Black Widows puncture their insect prey with their fangs and administer digestive enzymes. The enzymes liquefy their prey’s bodies and the spiders suck up the resulting fluid.

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Black Widows are found in temperate regions throughout the world. In the United States, they exist primarily in the South and West. They may be found in dark, man-made dry shelters like barns, garages, basements and outdoor toilets. I have occasionally found them under rocks and logs.

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These spiders are primarily solitary, with the exception of late spring when mating occurs. Female Black Widows can live up to three years, while males (which are half the size of females and lighter in color) typically live for one or two months.

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Although Black Widows get their name because females practice cannibalism after mating, this has mostly been observed in laboratory situations where the male could not escape being eaten.

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Widely considered the most venomous spider in North America (the venom of the female black widow spider is 15 times as toxic as the venom of the prairie rattlesnake), Black Widows are not aggressive and tend not to bite unless thoroughly disturbed.

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Arizona Blond Tarantula

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After making quite a few trips to the Mojave Desert, I finally came across my first wild tarantulas. This species has a limited distribution in the deserts of the southwestern United States and adjacent parts of Mexico, but can be common within its range.

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Tarantulas rarely venture far from their burrows unless it is mating season. In Winter they plug their burrows with soil, rocks and silk to survive in a relatively inactive state. During this time they live off stored fat reserves.

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Soft blond hair covers female Arizona Blond Tarantulas, while males are typically black. Female tarantulas have larger, stockier bodies than males. Living as long as 25 years, female tarantulas live twice as long as males. Males mate only once and die shortly afterwards.

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Tarantulas have an interesting defensive capability in addition to their bite. Some of the hairs on the top of the abdomen are tipped with backward pointing barbs. If a tarantula is threatened, it uses its legs to flick these hairs at its attacker. Once these hairs are embedded, they are irritating and very difficult to remove.

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Arizona Blond Tarantulas burrow 8 to 12 inches into the desert ground, line the burrow with silk webbing, and call it home. The silk webbing helps to prevent their burrow from caving in.

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These nocturnal hunters have a diet consisting mostly of grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, other small spiders and even small lizards, snakes and frogs. They rely on ambush and pursuit to catch their prey, which they subdue with a bite from their fangs.

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This is an awesome arachnid and it was thrilling to find my first examples of it in the wild.

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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


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.


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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