Obsessed with Spiders – From Fear to Fascination

I was sitting on the couch, enjoying a bowl of popcorn as I surfed YouTube. I came across a video about keeping Jumping Spiders as pets.

“People do that?”

Well, that video led to another and another and another. Before long I’d consumed innumerable videos on Jumping Spiders, which led to additional videos about other arachnids. And I learned that there are very few toxic species. Still fewer aggressive species. In fact, most spiders are reluctant to bite, doing so only when squeezed.

As I watched species after species being handled without injury, I found my fear falling away. I started browsing Amazon for Jumping-Spider habitats.

I didn’t buy a habitat, thinking the spider would be happier living outside, where it’s free to explore. And since I already have an indoor garden, two cats and a dog to take care of, adding another living thing that requires attention seemed excessive.

Instead, I decided to supplement my bird-watching with spider-watching.

The first thing needed was a field guide. I bought a copy of Common Spiders of North America by Richard A. Bradley. The color plates are beautiful, clear, and visually descriptive.

Common Spiders of North America is an excellent field guide.
The images on the cover are representative of those on the color plates inside.

The first thing I did was to put a black dot next to each spider found in my region. I then wrote each specie’s size (in millimeters) next to the image.

What I am quickly realizing is that we are barely aware of many spiders, simply because they are gnat-sized. Some are only one millimeter in length; many are only two or three.

Although the pictures in the book were clear, how could I identify markings on a species so tiny?

At first I tried a magnifying loupe. A 10x lens wasn’t strong enough, so I tried a 30x. But both the loupe and one’s eye must be very close to the subject to get a good look. I experimented on a very tiny spider. It wasn’t terribly afraid of the loupe, but as my face pressed toward the glass, it darted. Seeing the magnified image suddenly move made me jump as well.

Next, I tried a 30x magnifying glass. But it simply wasn’t strong enough to reveal identifying details.

I tried using the camera on my iPhone, again without success.

I then pulled out my Canon SX700 point-and-shoot camera, which has a Macro setting. I found that the spider completely ignored the approaching lens. After snapping a few shots, I enlarged the pictures on my computer, and enhanced the lighting using Corel PaintShop Pro 2020. The result isn’t great photography, but ID is now possible.

And as it turns out, I didn’t need a pet spider. A two millimeter spider has moved onto my office windowsill. It was the subject of my various experiments, and it seems to have realized I intend no harm. And it’s been doing me a great service, catching the pesky fungus-gnats that emerge from my houseplants and then flit across the screen as I work at the computer.

Below are my first spider-identification images.

Oecobius navus – It amazes me that this intricate patterning is on a 2 mm spider.
She is a welcome guest in my office. I only wish she was a better housekeeper.
Theridion varians – Living on the back porch. Notice her size in relation to the screening on the left. She is roughly 3 mm.
Mimetus puritans. Living outside at the top of the garage door. She is guarding an egg sac.
This spider eats other spiders. Roughly 5 mm.

Of course, as one looks for spiders, other insects become noticeable too. So I’ve included some photos of a relatively non-destructive, herbivorous beetle and a carnivorous fly. The fly is similar to a dragonfly in that it waits on a leaf and then darts out after other insects. In Florida, the beetle is known as a Gator Beetle, because its colors are similar to the orange and dark blue worn by the University of Florida football team.

Condylostylus longicornis waiting for a meal to fly by.
Asphaera lustrans (Gator Beetle). Herbivorous, but not particularly destructive.

Photos © Carol Fullerton-Samsel 2020

Published by cafsamsel

Carol Fullerton-Samsel is a nearly-native Floridian who lives with her husband of 25 years and three rescue animals. She has a passion for day-hiking and nature, and also enjoys writing. Be sure to visit the TenPaths YouTube channel, which is still in its infancy.

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