An Homage to Spiders
by Rob Sproule
If our gardens were Hollywood movies, every good bug would be as cute as lady-bugs and every bad bug would be as ugly as a spider. Spiders are the good guys, but unfortunately for them they look like a villain and are often persecuted as such.
If we knew what spiders really did all day, we wouldn’t expect them to look pretty. They are the down and dirty foot soldiers of our gardens, eating anything they can get their 8 legs on with alarming ferocity.
People seem to be either afraid of them or fascinated by them (count me proudly in the latter). They aren’t aggressive and will only bite if threatened or squeezed. If you’re among the multitude who kill the spiders they find, I truly hope that, after reading this, you’ll live and let live. When you find one in your home, please collect it carefully in a glass and give it a fresh start outside.
What Kinds of Spiders Live in My Garden
While many people believe that the majority of spiders spin webs, the opposite is actually true. Webs are very visible, so Orb weavers get all the press.
Our most popular spiders are the solitary hunters. Wolf, Jumping, and Goldenrod spiders (the white ones lurking in flowers), account for the 8-legged majority. Flip over some mulch or look under stones, and there’s a good bet you’ll see a furry brown little Wolf spider scurrying away.
Like cats, spiders are true carnivores and will eat almost anything they can catch. Depending on the species, this can include garden pests, aphids, mosquitoes (in great numbers), flies, caterpillars, and pretty much anything that gets snared in their web.
Big, Scary, and Harmless
If I asked you to describe the biggest, scariest looking spider in the greater Edmonton area, I’d bet my bottom dollar that it would be a Jewel spider. Jewels, or Cat-Faced spiders, are orb weavers that appear in late summer and spin large, circular webs seemingly overnight, and often in the worst places (like across your front door).
Jewel spider are one of Alberta’s largest, with females often larger than a fingertip. Up close, they are straight out of a horror movie. They are also one of the best critters to have in your yard, and if people knew more about them they would be trying to entice them on their decks instead of chasing them off.
They’re harmless to humans, biting only if their life is threatened. Even on those rare occasions, their bite is very mild. They aren’t so passive to mosquitoes, however, and on high skeeter years their webs spring up everywhere. Celebrate every web you see, because Jewel spiders can eat their own weight in blood-suckers every day.
We’re lucky in Alberta to have very few species of venomous spiders, and all of them are rare in the Edmonton area. Black Widows are native, but not to Central Alberta, so unless you live south of Calgary you’re unlikely to see one. Bites from the Black Widow are serious but very rare.
The brown recluse, thought to be a Canadian native, is actually a common myth! The closest these critters come to Alberta is southern Nebraska, which means they’re nothing to be frightened about.
Despite the low number of dangerous spiders in the area, don’t make a habit of handling unknown spiders just to be safe.