What is That … Eight-legged Insect?

Waddells

Our friends the spiders have eight legs and are not insects, but apparently not all our friends know this, so we thought it was time to write another piece about spiders.  To be fair, some insects are frequently mistaken for spiders, and vice versa.  Let us start with a brief definition.

All spiders have two body segments and eight legs. Spiders occasionally lose legs in battle, during mating, or during molting, so if your supposed spider has fewer than eight legs, keep that in mind.  Insects, on the other hand, have three body segments, six legs, and two antennae.

Admittedly there is a certain ‘ick’ factor associated with spiders, but to use spiders are, nevertheless, fascinating creatures.  At Three Mile Bay we have a plethora of spider species, some of them quite beautiful.

One of the common spiders at the lake is the striped fishing spider, sometimes simply called a dock spider.  We see them often on the dock.  They will sit quietly for hours, if not disturbed, waiting for the perfect insect to wander or land nearby.  Fishing spiders even capture wee minnows for their meal.  One of our sources showed a startling photograph of a fishing spider with the head of a minnow still showing in its mouth!  While we do not have such a picture, we did manage to capture the following moment at the cottage of a fishing spider ‘standing’ on the water’s surface, waiting for prey.  In the first photograph, notice the tiny bubbles of air at the tip of each leg, acting as little floaties.  The second photograph shows that, despite the name, fishing spiders may wander far from shore.

The goldenrod crab spider is a very common cottage spider found not only on goldenrod but also Queen Anne’s Lace, daisies and other roadside plants.  A tiny spider, the female’s body measures approximately eight millimetres in length, while the male seldom reaches more than four.  They range in colour from yellow to white to even light green, they are voracious feeders and predate upon insects equal to, or larger than, themselves.  In the following two photographs this females goldenrod crab spider appears intent on taking on our intrepid photographer.

A slightly larger spider is the marbled orbweaver, the female measuring eight to eighteen millimetres and the male less.  Marbled orbweaver spiders have poor eyesight, so they spin a circular web and wait in place for prey to come to them.  In the following photograph, a hapless wasp is being held by the spider’s two front eggs while the second and third pairs of legs turn it to be wrapped in silk.

Our final spider for today is a nursery web spider. Our book describes them as wandering hunters whose webs provide a nursery for their young.  Imagine being the wee insect that comes across this shadow in the woods.  We would be intimidated.

Our current favourite book about spiders is Larry Weber’s Spiders of the North Woods.