The spider web was a gigantic maze of concentric circles just outside our front door. The spider’s web connected the front porch roof to the front porch railing. Right in the center of the giant spider web was a big hairy spider with striped legs.
This big hairy spider was a bit harder to identify than many of the insects I come across. The spider had reddish-brown legs which tapered into black and white striped legs. Her body was brown and covered with hair. All of these photos are of the same spider, but taken on different days.
I believe that my big hairy spider is a variety of Orb Weaver spider of the Araneus or Neoscona family of spiders which are common in the U.S. and Canada. Orb Weaver identification often involves a close-up view of their genitals with a few notable exceptions and unless you are a spider expert, you might narrow down to the family but that’s about as close as you’ll get.
I took my best shot at identifying the big hairy spider. Noting the reddish hue on her legs, she could be a Redfemured Spotted Orbweaver spider (Neoscona Domiciliorum). Her topside however, looked more like a Hentz’s Orbweaver (Neoscona Crucifera). Alternately, she might belong to the Araneus family of Orb Weavers which includes Barn Spiders. Regardless of which Orb Weaver she is, all Orb Weavers share certain traits.
Commonly seen during the autumn months, the Orb Weaver spider webs are oft photographed, especially in the early morning hours when they are covered with dewdrops. If the spiderweb gets damaged, the spider may eat the remaining portion before spinning a new spiderweb. Many Orb Weaver spiders eat their webs at dawn or dusk and then spin a brand new web for the following day even if the existing web isn’t damaged. You might think of Orb Weaver spiders as meticulous housekeepers.
As female Orb Weaver spiders are the ones who usually spin the big spiderwebs up to six feet across, I’m guessing this spider to be female. Male Orb Weaver spiders are usually smaller and instead of spinning webs, they wander around in search of a mate. The males often die after mating while the females die at first frost. Spider eggs are laid in the fall and hatch in the spring spawning several hundred baby spiders. Orb Weaver spider eggs overwinter even in freezing temperatures.
The Orb Weaver spiders come in a wide variety of sizes, colors and patterns with many of them offering striking appearances. The giant black and yellow striped spiders are Orb Weavers as are many of the spiny spiders. The bodies of the larger species of Orb Weaver spiders can grow more than an inch long and that doesn’t include the legs. So a big hairy Orb Weaver spider truly is a BIG hairy spider!
While some of the Orb Weavers are big, scary hairy spiders perched in the middle of a very big spider web, for the most part they are harmless to humans. Most Orb Weaver spider bites are dry bites meaning that they do not inject venom. Only 20% of the Orb Weaver spider bites actually inject venom and those are usually from the female spiders.
The male spiders would rather scurry away or play dead than bite you so you’ve got to really be messing with this big boy to get bitten. Even the females tend to skitter away if you get too close to their web rather than facing off with you in an aggressive stance. If you do get a spider bite from an Orb Weaver spider, it is similar to a bee sting. Keep in mind that there are quite a variety of species and their venom is not all the same so if you’re not sure what you’re messing with, keep a safe distance.
The big hairy spider is featured in the book “Over the Hummingbird’s Rainbow: An Acre of America Backyard Nature Series” which is an expanded version of the Out Loud nature blog with photos and stories.
Category: Wild Kingdom