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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spiders are the best

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications


Spiders are sort of the worst best. Homes and backyards in the Pacific Northwest seem to be teeming with spiders during the fall season and dewy-dropped webs float oh so delicately between the sidewalk and your face. But don’t get all antsy (ahem… spidery), we spoke with Sue Andersen, zookeeper at the Bug World exhibit, to learn more about these incredible eight-legged beauties.



Volunteer Jordan asks zookeeper Sue Andersen about her love of spiders and why everybody should appreciate them!

Sue, you have to work with spiders every day at Bug World. Were you always at ease around arachnids?

To tell you the truth, no. When I first started volunteering at Woodland Park Zoo, all I knew was that I wanted to become a keeper. My very first assignment was to help feed the golden orb weaver. They are long legged and they are web-builders, meaning they like to hang out high up in their exhibit. I’m not the tallest person in the world, so I had to really reach my arm way up into their space to feed them. It was challenging and I wouldn’t say it was my favorite thing.

After a while though, I became accustomed to them and now I’m totally comfortable with them. It’s like anything, if you aren’t used to something it can seem intimidating, but after some practice it’s a piece of cake.

Sue delicately moves a tarantula behind the scenes at Bug World. Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

It seems like there are more spiders around during the fall season. We hear people talk about house spiders coming in from the cold. What’s the deal?

I hear that all the time, but the truth is there is no greater number of spiders during autumn, we just see them more frequently. One of the most common spiders here in Seattle is the giant European house spider, Tegenaria gigantean.

House spiders do not come from the outside into your home, in fact they are always in and around your home. These spiders migrated, along with European settlers, as people brought furniture and building materials to the west. The spiders that live in your house have adapted to live there; they would not survive if people didn’t build awesome houses for them. House spiders are usually out of sight, living in the hidden parts of your home; inside walls, basement corners or attics. In early fall, male house spiders are struck with cupid’s arrow and begin running around to find as many girlfriends as they can. These guys have longer legs, so they appear larger, and they are fast, so they can startle you if you find them in the sink or bathtub.

A giant European house spider shows off its colors. Photo by Dennis Conner/WPZ.

Aggh! Yes, they can be very startling to find. So what should we do when we do see them?

Actually, you don’t need to do anything. A house spider is a wonderful creature to have around. They eat other pest insects such as mosquitoes, fleas and earwigs and have even been known to kill hobo spiders, which some people are more sensitive to. If you see a house spider the best thing to do is just wave as it crawls by. If you really can’t deal, you can carefully scoop it into a cup and move it to another part of your house.

Sure! Gently move the spider to your basement or attic and let it go, you won’t be bothered by it and you’ll know it’s helping protect you from insects that do bite people like mosquitoes and fleas.
I wouldn’t recommend touching them, since they are likely to be startled. These spiders are much more afraid of you than you are of them. Think about just the difference in size. Humans must be terrifying! Do them a favor by letting them go.

But, I will say if you can’t bring yourself to keeping it inside your home, it’s probably better to let it outside in your yard rather than stomping on it. Just remember that you aren’t putting it back, because it did not come from the outside. Most house spiders will perish if put outdoors.

Cross orb weaver hangs out in the rose garden. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.

What about all the spider webs we see in the mornings?

Another common spider in the Pacific Northwest is the cross orb weaver, Araneus diadematus, sometimes called the garden spider. This species is bigger this time of year, but there aren’t actually more of them in the fall. These pretty little orange and brown spiders start off as tiny creatures in early spring, and don’t reach full maturity until late summer. That’s when you see the larger webs appear with the plump female spiders on them. 

You also notice the webs more, because the leaves have fallen off the trees. The webs are so beautiful; just spend a minute admiring these intricate structures. They are marvelous!

Morning dew on a beautiful spider web in Ballard. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/WPZ.

What is your favorite spider to work with at the zoo?

I love all the animals I work with, but my favorites are the golden silk orb weaver and the tarantulas. I love looking at how brilliant some of their colorings are; they are just amazing. I’ve certainly felt the most personal growth by working with the tarantulas here at Woodland Park Zoo.

If you can forget for a moment that you are looking at a spider, and just study their brilliant colors you really begin to appreciate them for the beautiful creatures they are.

Amazon Sapphire Pinktoe Tarantula, Avicularia diversipes. Photo by Ryan Hawk/WPZ.

Still afraid of spiders? Whether you suffer from extreme arachnophobia or just get a little jittery when you see one crawl by, you can overcome your fears by slowly learning to appreciate them. The more you know about something, the less you will fear it. 

Visit Bug World and spend some time checking out the golden silk orb weaver. Maybe you’ll even learn to love spiders as much as Sue does.

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