Today I met every orb-weaving spider on the trails at Flag Ponds Nature Park.
I call all spiders Charlotte. It reminds me of Charlotte’s Web and makes me feel friendlier to our little eight-legged allies.
To most of the Charlottes I was exceedingly polite, making no more indent in their day than that of a short, thick, oddly mobile tree. (This is what I think humans look like to spiders.)
A few, however, I rudely insulted by walking face first into their web.
If you’ve not had the pleasure of getting web on your face, it’s a bucket list activity. You’ll never know if you could have been a ninja until you see what martial arts your body produces in response to walking through a web.
I could’ve been a ninja. (Click for hilarious spider ninja video compilation.)
My husband could’ve been the shogun. FYI: it’s not productive to the marital relationship to double over laughing and nearly wet oneself when one’s husband displays his spider-induced ninja skills on the trail. Maybe that’s why my hubby hasn’t been hiking with me in a while. . .
I’ve come to the level of nature appreciation where I don’t mind going first as we hike, though, because my training (Master Naturalist in two states, thank you very much) has nearly eliminated my fear of these web encounters. I wrote a lot about spiders and their webs in an earlier post, Weaver’s World. But here are the basics you need to know so that you don’t have a ninja-style web freak out, either:
- North American orb weavers are tiny (usually smaller than a nickel, legs included) and generally regarded as totally harmless. Black widows and brown recluses DO NOT make orb webs.
- The vast majority of spiders build their webs next to the trail, not over it. Those that do build their web on the trail usually center the web to one side or the other. A web destroyed by human, deer, or bird walking in the middle of the trail is just more work for the spider to have to rebuild.
- When you hit web, you’re usually running into the long silk threads that the spider uses to attach the web to a nearby tree. These threads are only the tiniest bit sticky, and you can easily (and calmly) pluck them off of yourself and rub your fingers together to release the strand.
- When its web is disturbed by something large, the spider will flee, usually by quickly crawling up and away from the disturbance (you) to hide in nearby foliage. If the spider chooses the wrong direction, it’s not coming to get you, it just doesn’t recognize that you’re not a slow, thick, oddly mobile tree. Drop the strand and/or your whole hand to the ground and the spider will happily skedaddle.
- By flailing your arms and legs in a “coordinated” ninja-style attack, you are more likely to destroy the center of the web and accidentally scoop up the spider. Do you want the spider on you? If not, Daniel-san (note the classic 80s movie reference), when you walk into a web follow these steps:
- Do NOT panic. (Classic 80s fiction reference.)
- Back up a few steps. The less sticky attachment strands will likely stretch a little (they’re so stretchy!) and then pop off of you, no harm done.
- If you can see the strands, you can duck under them or grasp a strand with your finger, thus detaching the main orb web, and then move the entire web to the side.
Remember, we love spiders – our Charlottes eat mosquitos and flies and all sorts of other insect pests!
If you still want to be a ninja, that’s cool, just keep it off the trails, eh?
Bonus: There are about 4,000 species of spiders in North America. Of those, only two are considered potentially harmful. Learn more about Maryland’s spiders here.