Conservation Creation: Sensational Spiders

Halloween is right around the corner – which means we’re beginning to see lots of spooky decorations around town! These decorations often include an animal that strikes fear in the heart of many: the spider.

Spiders are commonly listed as one of the things people fear most in the United States. However, these animals play an important role in our ecosystems and do more for us than people may realize. But, before we get to that, what exactly is a spider?

Spiders are arachnids, meaning that they have 2 body segments and 8 legs. In the United States alone, we have more than 3,000 spider species present – which is only a fraction of the over 40,000 species found worldwide. Even with all of these different spider species present, very few are actually dangerous to humans. In North Carolina, the black widow and brown recluse are the only spiders with a venom that is able to harm a human. However, these spiders are small and prefer cool, damp places, so meeting one of them is unlikely.

Spiders and other arachnids have a diet that consists almost entirely of insects. In fact, spiders consume an estimated 400 million tons (or 800 billion pounds) of insects every year!

In addition to spiders eliminating unwanted insect pests from our daily lives, they have also contributed to science and technology in other fascinating ways. For example, did you know that spiders’ webs inspired the creation of mosquito nets? Before mosquito nets, many people would actually bring web weaving spiders (called orb weavers) into their children’s rooms to catch mosquitos and prevent malaria.

Speaking of spider webs, spider silk is the strongest known material in the world. A strand of spider silk is up to 5 times as strong as a string of steel the same size! For this reason, spider silk is often used in research to develop materials like Kevlar and other synthetic materials.

To learn more about these amazing arachnids and help create a community web, remember to join our educators in Jeansboro Junction at the Greensboro Science Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30am and 2:30pm throughout the month of October.

 

Now that you have a new found love of spiders…

We’re sure you would like more of them around your home! We’re here to help you with that, with a DIY spider activity that will be perfect for your Halloween decorations!

What you will need:

  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • straws (or pipe cleaners)
  • scissors
  • paint
  • googly eyes
  • a paint brush

Step 1: Cut a toilet paper tube in half and glue it to the center of a whole toilet paper tube. Allow for the glue to dry.

Step 1

Step 2: Cut 4 straws in half so that you have 8. Using a little glue on the inside of the full toilet paper tube, adhere these to create the legs of your spider. (If you are comfortable, hot glue will speed up this process)

Step 2 Part 1Step 2 Part 2

Step 3: Paint your spider. For an added challenge, take pictures of spiders you find in your yard or other natural areas and try to paint your spiders to look like them!

Step 3

Step 4: Attach googly eyes (or paint eyes) on your spider. Spiders can have anywhere from 2-8 eyes so add any number that you like!

Step 4

Step 5: Allow for all of the paint and glue to dry before decorating your home with these upcycled arachnids. Happy Halloween!

Scary Spiders: Black Widows

She is known for killing her mate…  She has fangs designed to puncture her prey and liquefy their innards…  Her venom can be fatal…

Black Widow Spider

Black Widow Spider

But is the female black widow spider really the monster everyone makes her out to be?

While it’s true she may eat her mate after breeding, the black widow spider doesn’t lust for human life. In fact, these spiders aren’t very aggressive at all and tend to bite humans only in self-defense. While their venom is quite strong, the good news is that fatalities from black widow bites are relatively rare. The bite site can become swollen and painful, often followed by muscle cramps, nausea and achiness, but most people who have been bitten don’t suffer serious injury.

The same can’t be said for the black widow’s food, though…

Black widows are carnivores, feeding on other insects such as mosquitoes, beetles and moths. Once a black widow’s victim gets trapped in her web, she wraps it in silk. When at last she’s ready to eat, she uses her fangs to puncture the victim’s body, injecting it with digestive enzymes designed to liquefy its insides. Then, she uses her fangs like a straw to slurp up the fluid.

FUN FACT: Male black widow spiders are harmless to humans.

So, how can you avoid the black widow’s bite? The best way is simply to avoid the dark, quiet places such as wood piles, rock crevasses, plants and debris where black widows tend to build their webs. Females can be identified by the famed red hourglass shape under the abdomen. If you think you’ve identified a female black widow, leave her alone. By making sure you aren’t perceived as a threat, you will likely avoid a very nasty bite!

Learn more about these spiders by visiting the Greensboro Science Center’s resident black widow in the Discovery House daily from 10am – 4pm!