Part 2: Spiders
Spiders may resemble insects, but they are actually arachnids, with eight legs and two body segments. This is in contrast to insects, which have six legs and three body segments. Although they have venomous fangs, most spiders are too small to be a threat to humans. Many spiders eat insects and other spiders, although some eat fish and even birds.
A common type of spider is the orb-weaver, made famous by “Charlotte’s Web.” This family of spiders contains 25% of all spider species worldwide. These spiders make the familiar vertical web with a circular grid around spokes radiating from the center. The spider can move along the non-sticky spokes, or radii, while the sticky spiral grid traps prey. They need upright vegetation such as grass, shrubs, or trees to attach their webs to, so look for them in your forest or grassland habitats or along the banks of streams.
The marbled orb weaver (Araneus marmoreus) can be found throughout Canada and the United States, as well as Europe and northern Asia. This species has a yellow and black marbled abdomen; in the fall the yellow sometimes darkens to orange, giving it the nickname of Halloween or pumpkin spider. Rather than sit in the center of its web, the marbled orb weaver hides in a shelter of folded-over leaves at the edge of the web. Once it feels the vibrations of trapped prey, it rushes out to give its prey a venomous bite and wrap it in silk.
Their scurrying little legs and lurking behavior might send shivers down your spine, but orb-weavers are actually beneficial to humans. They eat many pest insects, including mosquitoes, ants, flies, and even the non-native invasive brown marmorated stink bug. Orb-weavers also serve as prey for many birds. Now that you know a bit more about these fascinating creatures, the next time you see an orb spider you may find yourself thinking about how they fit into an ecosystem and not how scary they are. So with one thing less to fear this year, have a very happy Halloween!