Spiders are one of the most common and easily recognizable and beneficial of creatures. Despite this, many people have an instinctive fear of spiders and will not tolerate the presence of spiders in their home. The vast majority of spiders in Michigan are not poisonous or dangerous.

Spider Life Cycle

Spiders are not insects. Spiders, like insects, are anthropods (invertebrate creatures with exoskeletons); or more specifically, they are a class of anthropods known as arachnids. Arachnids have eight legs and, unlike insects, have only two body segments (insects have three).

Spiders typically are born in the spring, as they come out of their egg sacs as soon as the weather gets warm. The mother spider may guard her young for a time by carrying them around on her back or build a protective “nursery web” for them. The spiderlingswill eventually leave their mother to establish their own webs.

In order to grow, a spider needs to shed its exoskeleton, a process called molting. The spider will go through successive phases of molts before reaching adulthood and sexual maturity. Spiders at maturity can look vastly different depending on species and sex (most female spiders have larger abdomens than males in order to store eggs). There can be great variations of appearance even among spiders of a single species (the common house spider, for example, can be white, yellow, brown, black or any shade in between).

When a male spider detects the presence of a female, he will do an elaborate “dance” on the web to entice the female, even “plucking” the web like a harp. Spiders do not mate by intercourse; the male will eject sperm onto a ball of silk, then dips his pedipalps (the “feelers” near the mouth) into the sperm. Then he will insert his pedipalps into the female’s genital opening and “inject” the sperm into her abdomen, where she will store it until she is ready to lay and fertilize eggs.

When a female spider lays eggs, she will create an egg sac. Different spiders make different types of egg sacs. In general, the female will lay the eggs on a sheet of silk and fertilize them with the sperm stored in her body. She will then wrap the eggs in several layers of silk to protect them, creating the egg sac.

The life span of the spider can vary. Most common house spiders can live for one or two years, but some have been known to live for five. Some species of spider can even live up to twenty years.

The Amazing Spider Web

The most distinguishing characteristic of the spider is its web, though not all spiders make them. Spider webs are made of silk, an amazingly strong material. In its density and tensile strength it is comparable to high-grade steel and is half as strong as Kevlar. Despite its strength, it is remarkably ductile (stretchable); silk can stretch up to 1.4 times its relaxed length and not break.

Spider produce webs from spinneret glands located on their abdomen. The webs are used for catching prey, but also as a home for the spider and a place for the female spider to deposit egg sacs. They also serve as a means of transportation for spiders to cross between a distance too wide for them to leap across unaided.

Besides web building, spiders also use their silk to “balloon”, a term describing the manner spiderlings use for dispersing themselves. Spiderlings will exude several threads of silk into the air that will be caught in upward drifts and will carry the spiderlings away. Though usually the spiders will only be carried a few yards, it is possible for them to travel many miles if caught in a strong updraft.

Poisonous Spiders

Most people associate spiders with poisonous bites, but the danger of spider bites is exaggerated. The vast majority of spiders are not dangerous to humans; only a small percentage are dangerous. All spiders, even poisonous ones, are non-aggressive and will not (usually) bite unless they feel provoked or threatened; even then only larger spiders are capable of piercing human skin with their fangs.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, there are only two species of poisonous spiders found in Michigan: the Brown Recluse and Black Widow. The Brown Recluse is not a native to Michigan and cannot live in temperatures colder than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so they are extremely rare in the state. It is believed that they have come in on trucks originating in the southern United States.

The Northern Black Widow, on the other hand, is native to Michigan and can be found all throughout Michigan, especially in the western lower peninsula. The Black Widow is small, only about an 1/2 inch long ( 1.5 inches if you include the legs). They are entirely black except for a bright red, hour glass shaped marking on the abdomen of the female. Males will lack this distinctive hour glass marking but may have red or yellow bands on their back. Black Widows are common around wood piles; many encounters with this spider happen when people carry firewood into the house. They may also live under eaves, in boxes, outdoor toilets, meter boxes and other undisturbed places. Take extra caution when working in areas where Black Widows may live; make sure to wear gloves and pay attention. If you are bitten by a Black Widow, you will need to seek medical attention immediately. Their bites are quite painful and can cause acute latrodectism, a condition in which the spider’s venom spreads quickly throughout the body, causing constant, strong, painful muscle contractions in all the major muscle groups followed by severe cramping. These severe muscle contractions (a condition called tetany) may occur with dizziness, anxiety, tearing of the eyes, headache, tremors and joint pain. Though death is rare from a Black Widow bite, And though symptoms will usually dissipate within 3 days, medical treatment can considerably lessen the unpleasantness of the symptoms by use of all muscle relaxers and antivenoms. Victims who are elderly, extremely young or very ill are at high risk for more serious complications.

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