Living With Spiders

By , February 16, 2010

I have friends who hate me for saying this, but naturalists tell us that no human being is ever more than three feet away from a spider. Here on the homestead, I’d say that distance is probably closer to one foot!

I’ve grown up with a fatalistic acceptance of spiders, which is not to say I’m wholly comfortable with them. In Alaska, we have plenty of them, most noticeably the one that is, I think, called a wolf spider. It’s a classically-shaped, dark colored, fuzzy, woodland hunter, excellent at web building, and fond of our comfortable little cabin, particularly in the winter. It’s not very big, although when surprised by one, it seems as large as a kitten, or perhaps a Buick. Apparently, they will bite occasionally, although none of us has ever been bitten by one.

I’ve read that these spiders commonly overwinter under tree bark and other shelters. Many stay active throughout the year, and can occasionally be seen walking across the snow. And always, always, their web strands are available for an untimely collision at unexpected moments, particularly across an eye. When Aly asks me to “break trail,” she’s usually not talking about the snow, she’s talking about clearing the trail of web strands.

We try hard to live with these little neighbors. When we find them, as we often do, on our clothes in the morning, or hiking across the floor, or trapped in the sink, we try to scoop them up gently and take them outside. We’ve learned not to sweep them out of the window corners, where their webs catch flies and biting insects that can plague us in summer. If a web grows too large, or gathers too much dust, we’ll remove it; the owner will spin another one. Occasionally the cats will catch and eat a spider. No problem, it’s good protein for the cats, and we will never run out of spiders! The ones that live in the outhouse are particularly welcome, as long as they don’t hide under the seat or in the toilet paper.

Periodically, as at present, we’ll have a hatching out. We know when this happens, because suddenly there will be an uptick in strands. These tend to be much finer and not as strong as the usual webs, and they inevitably include a teeny spider, about the size of a pinhead, at one end.

Obviously, we can do little more than live with the spiders. They’re a fact of life, and won’t go away. And yet, there are days, like one last August, when their presence becomes a blessing.

One of thousands of forest spider webs, caught in the morning light and mist on the homestead last August. (Photo: Mark Zeiger)

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