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Spiders: Not All Bad, Often Misunderstood

Posted Dec. 1, 1997

Spiders are often much maligned and misunderstood. It is true that there are a few spiders that are harmful to man, but the vast majority pose no threat, and are in fact beneficial. Unfortunately, their undeserved bad reputation can discourage people from taking a closer look at this group of critters. Close examination reveals that many spiders are beautiful and have interesting (and sometimes amusing) habits.

Many people incorrectly classify spiders as insects. Some of the more obvious spider characteristics that separate them from insects are:

  1. eight legs (insects have six);
  2. two-segmented body made up of the cephalothorax and the abdomen (insect bodies are made up of the head, thorax, and abdomen), and;
  3. no antennae (insects have antennae).

Spiders are a very diverse group and are found in all types of habitat. Over 30,000 species have been identified worldwide. They vary in size from having a leg-span about the size of a pin head to one of 10 inches. Spiders are predators, primarily feeding on insects. On agricultural lands, they have the potential to destroy large numbers of crop damaging insects. Methods of capturing prey vary greatly and differ by species.

The yellow garden spider, which is common in our area, uses the large web that most of us are familiar with to entangle its prey. Other styles of capturing prey involve trap doors, funnels, bolas, etc. An interesting variety of methods to say the least. Some spiders, although capable of producing webs, do not use webs to capture prey. For example, the jumping spiders and wolf spiders actively hunt their prey. Different spiders are active during different times of the day. Jumping spiders are most active during daylight hours. Wolf spiders are mostly nocturnal. As a group, spiders are truly versatile.

Out of the several hundred species of spiders found in Oklahoma, only two are considered harmful to man, the brown recluse and the southern black widow (female). The brown recluse, also known as the fiddleback, is light to dark brown in color. The body of the adult is about 1/2inch long and the legs are relatively long and delicate. It gets its name "fiddleback" from the dark brown violin shaped marking on the upper side of the cephalothorax. The female southern black widow spider is quite easy to recognize. An adult is about 1 1/2 inches in diameter (legs extended), shiny black (never hairy), and has a red hourglass marking on the underside of the abdomen. Both of these spiders are quite retiring and nonagressive.

Most bites inflicted on humans are the result of accidental encounters. While the results of a bite from one of these spiders can be quite painful, they rarely prove fatal. Prompt medical attention will minimize the effects of a bite.