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Fishing spiders big, not bad

Fishing spiders sometimes enter homes/Jim McCormac


Fishing spiders big, not bad
Sunday April 29, 2012

Cover your heads and mimic an ostrich, arachnophobes: There are about 600 species of spiders in Ohio. Spiders are probably the most numerous predators in most habitats. Sites that are rich in biodiversity might contain hundreds of thousands of spiders per acre. Fortunately for those who detest the eight-legged crowd, most spiders are so small and inconspicuous that people never notice them.

There are exceptions, however.

If there were a beauty pageant for spiders, the huge and sensational fishing spiders would be perennial front-runners for the tiara. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the leggy and intricately marked fishing spiders will always garner a reaction — pro or con.

Ohio hosts five species of fishing spiders, all members of the nursery web spider family. These arachnids don’t spin conventional webs; they ambush and pounce on prey. One might think of them as spider-cheetahs. Females with young are quite protective and spin a silken “nursery” chamber in which the juvenile spiders stay. The massive missus guarding the nest intimidates most would-be predators.

These are true titans. A female’s leg span can stretch to almost 4 inches. She would cover your driver’s license from end to end. As is usually the case in the spider world, males are far smaller — less than half the size of females in the case of fishing spiders. The size discrepancy makes mating risky business. Sometimes the suitor approaches a female with an offering of an insect, in hopes that the meal sates her appetite. If not, he might be the meal after their coupling is complete.

Fishing spiders are well-named: They’re almost always found near water. A water-repelling coat of hydrophobic hair allows the spiders to plunge into the drink if need be. They can even glide across the surface like a water strider, as their specially designed legs don’t break the water’s surface tension.
A fishing spider on the hunt lurks near the water’s edge, awaiting targets. The water’s surface, in effect, becomes its web. When the vibrations of a passing aquatic insect are felt via the spider’s sensitive palps (modified forelegs), the hunter explodes into action. Like a homicidal eight-eyed Mark Spitz, the spider effortlessly skates out and seizes the victim in its claw-tipped front legs. A bite from hollow fangs injects powerful venom, and the victim’s innards are soon sucked dry.

As horrifying as fishing spiders might appear, they are utterly harmless to people and are quite shy. The most nomadic of the group is the common fishing spider, which sometimes finds its way into homes. Seeing one of these behemoths on a wall might give you a jolt, but just prod it into a box or bag and let it go outside.
Spiders are pivotal in controlling all manner of insects that would otherwise surge out of control.

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first and third Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.

Further afield
Colorful songbirds are migrating through central Ohio in droves. If you want to see grosbeaks, orioles, warblers and more, attend the “Birding at Its Best” program at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park at 8 a.m. May 5. Meet at the Indian Ridge bulletin board at 2705 Darby Creek Dr., Galloway. For more information, call 614-508-8111 or visit www.metro


Wes Hatch said…
Hey Jim,

I was wondering if you did talks and if there was another way to contact you?

Wes Hatch
Donna Williamson said…
Hey Wes:

I can tell you from experience - Jim is a great speaker and gives wonderful talks on many topics!

spider said…
Beautiful colour and skin shares on that spider, i'm collector of all arachnid species and a lot of my work is specializing spiders! Great blog, thanks for this share
Rachel said…
Thank you for this post. We found what looks like a very similar spider on our porch over the weekend, and my two children (10 and 7) were really worried about it, even though we knew it would not be a deadly spider. It was big and hairy and scared the wits out of them (and me too, once I started looking at all other photos of spiders--one post mentioning that brown recluses like to hide in clothes has my little one rolled up into a ball of worry). We are so relieved to hear that at least these spiders are nothing to fear. I've linked your blog to my blog. Our is simply a family blog about all sorts of topics (we are homeschoolers). You will find a photo of our fishing spider there. She looks a lot like yours. Thanks again.
Miss Durkel said…
I have fishing spiders on my dock. They tend to come out when I dive into the river. They hang out right by the ladder. Although I have read the information about them, they are still very intimidating as I am climbing out of the water. They also have run across the water toward me. Mildly scary! Even when my mind is saying 'it's okay .. they are pretty harmless'- my body says 'eek!' Do they ever bite people? Is there a way I can detour them from the dock area? Or do we just need to coexist? I think a mother laid eggs because there are lots of them!
Jim McCormac said…
Hi Miss Durkel - I don't know of any tactic for excluding fishing spiders. I think you'll just have to coexist!
Tom Moffatt said…
Here, in south coastal New Brunswick (Canada) close to the border of Maine, we also have the fishing spider. My wife loves to watch them. Seen them both on the side of our house, next the estuary of the St. Croix River, and on vertical rock faces just above the surface of the St. Croix River, which is the international boundary between Canada and US.
Laney said…
We were in the creek bed at my daughter's and i am pretty sure we saw one of these beauties.
Angel O' Payne said…
Neat! I have been a severe arachnophobe for most of my life, but learning about spiders has helped a lot with that - Fisher spiders are pretty cool, I had never heard of them before.

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