Most of the articles we have written for this column have been about relatively large, charismatic mammals or birds, but sometimes we give a turn to the less-well loved beasties at the cottage. In this piece we will talk about the under-appreciated spider.
To start, let us be clear … spiders are not insects. Insects have six legs and bodies in three parts … head, thorax and abdomen. And while insects and spiders are related because of their segmented bodies, segmented appendages, and external skeletons, spiders are arachnids … those beasties with eight legs and two body parts … head and abdomen. The spider’s head and abdomen are separated by a tiny waist. In the following photograph you can see clearly the dock spider’s head, narrow waist and abdomen.
Dock spiders live in moderately moist forest habits and by the lake, eating aquatic and other insects. Large dock spiders occasionally even catch and eat tiny fish, which explains the name fishing spider, another name for a dock spider. This particular individual dock spider was photographed on the side of the cottage and measured 6 centimetres across from the tip of one leg to the tip of the opposite leg. And while this particular spider had a rather significant ‘ick’ factor, we quietly (perhaps not so quietly) suffer its presence knowing the good it does for us because it eats mosquitoes, amongst other insects. Heaven knows, we need mosquito-eating beasties. Another characteristic of spiders is their protective exoskeleton which they shed from time to time as their bodies expand. The following photograph captures another dock spider beside its recently-shed exoskeleton.
Another type of spider we see at the cottage is the orbweaver which spins a web to capture its prey. This is the classic Charlotte’s Web spider. Individuals like to spin a web of silky threads using our cottage clothesline pole, the line itself and the deck rail as outer supports. We leave these webs in place as long as we do not need to use the clothesline that day.
There are many different types of orbweavers. The following picture is of a long-jawed orbweaver which weaves its webs over the water to catch unsuspecting water insects.
A third type of spider we see at the cottage is the funnel weaver spider which spins a funnel-shaped web in the grass. You may be able to watch as this spider sits near the bottom of the funnel, before striking out at an unsuspecting insect that steps on the outer edge of the funnel.
No article about spiders at the cottage would be complete without a word about the harvestman, frequently referred to as daddy long legs, which are not spiders at all. “I beg your pardon?”, you say. Recall the definition of the spider which says the spider’s body has two segments … the head and the abdomen. Although the harvestman has eight legs like true spiders, its head, thorax and abdomen are fused together into one body segment. Also they have only two eyes compared with the eight of true spiders. Nor do harvestmen produce silk and therefore do not/cannot spin webs. The books call them harvestmen, but many of our friends continue to use our childhood appellation of daddy long legs.
There is so much more we could say about spiders and harvestmen, those beasties with which we have a love/hate relationship. A lot of what we know about spiders and harvestmen comes from our own observations, but also www.bugguide.net. In addition, we found www.Spiders.us to be helpful.