Spiders in the House

Every once in a while an enormous wolf spider startles us when we go downstairs and flip on a light. We call him “Wolfie”.  Fortunately, most of the time he (Wolfie might be a she) stays out of sight and is helpful because (s)he eats other critters that inhabit homes with humans.

Spiders are just about everywhere.  At least 45,700 species have been identified with new ones found every year. Of all orders of living things spiders are seventh in total diversity. They live on all continents except Antarctica and in nearly every habitat except the air and salt water. Too many myths surround spiders and the stories grow around October – Halloween month. Actually, August and September in many parts of the US are prime arachnids months.

Spiders are in everyone’s home and yard. Most are tiny, harmless to humans and stay out of sight. We are most aware of spiders in the yard on mornings after a heavy dew when the lawns are carpeted with ” fairy napkins.” This is the work of funnel spiders that eat pesky insects.

All spiders share common features.  Although often called “bugs” or insects spiders are arachnids that have eight legs.  Insects have but six. All spiders, with possibly one exception, are carnivorous. They kill prey, which often is insects, with venom.

While we think of all spiders as predators, they themselves are an important prey species for other animals. Spot a warbler or brown creeper working its way along a tree and it’s probably seeking tiny spiders hidden in cracks in the bark or on leaves. For many birds a spider meal is simply delicious.

Spiders live in houses for good reason -food and shelter! It’s a wild world outside and plenty of insects, usually tiny and unseen, share the house with humans. They provide spiders with food. Houses are full of cracks and crevasses, perfect places for both insects and spiders to hide. Basements are usually humid, creating a perfect environment for small creatures, and when cold weather comes the furnace warms people and the insects and spiders that share the house.

Everyone has heard about Black Widow and Brown Recluse Spiders. These species can pose a health threat to people, but they are shy and rarely encountered especially in the upper Midwest.

Spider Bites

Spider bites are painful.

Other spider species might also bite and inject venom. While not deadly, these bits can be uncomfortable Once after we returned from having been gone from the house for several days, Marion got nailed on her legs by a spide .  She donned a pair of pants that had been hanging in a closet.  Perhaps sensing a lack of activity, and finding the pants a comfy place to live, a spider had taken up residence in them.  When disturbed by Marion’s putting on the pants, the spider defended itself by biting.

A doctor visit confirmed the bites. Antibiotics took care of the swelling and stinging.  But, even two months later the healed over skin shows the discoloration of the bites. So, we did use spray to control any more arachnids from making themselves too comfortable in our home.

Late summer and fall are the best seasons to enjoy beautiful spider webs. At Winding Pathways, we often are graced by gorgeous intricate vertical webs strung between tall prairie grass. When dew covered in early morning, they are wondrous structures.  Shelf spiders make horizontal webs, often on lawn grass, to trap insects.  Our favorite, “Hawkeye” spider, really the black and yellow garden spider, weaves an orb web and makes short work of pesky garden insects. “Skinny-legged” spiders that often perch high in corners of rooms are harmless to people and keep insects that fly in open doors well at hand by trapping and eating them. Although webs are the most visible evidence of spiders many species don’t make them and rely on stealth and speed to catch prey directly.

Many people fear spiders, but they are remarkable, common and amazing animals that help keep insect numbers muted and usually don’t create problems for people.

 

Spring Haikus

Reminiscing on some Haikus from the past. These seemed a good way to honor spring and welcome summer.

March
Quivering seed pods
Last year’s fruit, This year’s promise
Red buds produce life.

April
April ‘to Open’
Birds beckon, flowers unfold
Hope, re-birth, re-new.

May
Dampness Awakens.
Slow green shoots appear and grow.
Spring bursts in splendor.

How goes butterfly
So gaily in morning dew.
Quiet. Elusive.

Surf booms, with great roar.
Coquinas ride waves to rest
On white, clean beaches.

Pelicans I
Spring aerial art.
Wheeling, gliding all in sync
Pelicans migrate.

Pelicans II
Spring aerial art
Banks, wheel. Dive. Glide in sync
Pelicans migrate.

Mountain tall, distant
Shelters small creatures that live
In harmony there.

Laughter tumbles free,
From souls to the earth.
Children, living gifts.

Understand
Begin where we are
Understanding nuances
Plain talk ease nerves.

Butterflies Galore!

Swallowtail

Joe-Pye Weed can grow to great heights and is a favorite of butterflies and other pollinators.

Carol Lampe shared these pictures and write up of her wondrous yard and the pollinator action on Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum).  This is a particularly valuable fast food stop for migrating butterflies as it lasts into autumn. We have found it a bit difficult to start and then it takes off!  Give it plenty of space and enjoy the butterflies.

“Here is a butterfly twofer from my flower bed.  In the forefront you can see the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) sitting on a Joe-Pye Weed. There were several Swallowtails out there that day.  

“Joe-Pye Weed is an herb and the butterflies really seem to like it.  Native Americans, and later, white settlers, made much use of Joe-Pye Weed. Teas of the roots or tops were used as a diuretic, as well as for rheumatism, gout, fevers, diarrhea, respiratory disorders, and even impotence. Modern science has not confirmed their efficacy.

Red Admiral and Yellow Swallowtail

Sipping nectar on Joe-Pye Weed.

“Tucked toward the back is a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta).  The males are territorial and many times can be found in the same location day to day.”

Thanks, Carol, for sharing your wondrous yard with Winding Pathways.

The Bena’s Story of the Monarch Chrysalis

Here is a story fro Gordon and Nancy Bena about their interest in Monarchs, their chrysalis find and how they began to tend their property differently to encourage insects.
Monarch

Adult butterflies need nectar to sip and plants to rest on.

“We went to the presentation given at the library that told us the fate of the Monarch. With that we were very careful not to mow down any Milkweed plant that we saw in the yard. We also planted Butterfly Weed and I did not mow any of the clover down this year.

“This particular plant where we found the chrysalis was kind of blown over from one of the wind storms and we put a tomato cage around it to hold it up so the caterpillars would have something to munch on. When I went down to get the mail the other day, I stopped to check that the plant was still standing. This is when I found the chrysalis. I went around to the other plants but I’m afraid that this is the only success story I found so far.”
Thanks, Gordon and Nancy!

Yellow Jackets

Yellow Jacket Entering Hole

Yellow Jackets often create a nest in the ground under bark.

As Marion was looking out the window recently she saw Rich abandon the lawn mower and race across the yard swatting and jumping as he ran. What was going on?

He’d pushed the mower up close to wood mulch around a tree and disturbed a Yellow Jacket nest.   They boiled out of their underground home and attacked. Rich was stung five times as they chased him across the yard.

Many people have unpleasant encounters with this aggressive insect every year, especially in late summer. Their stings are painful and it’s a rare and fortunate person who only gets stung once.   Multiple stings are normal. First, get away from the nest and alert everyone else around about the nest. Then, put ice on the stings to keep swelling down.  Watch for and treat more serious allergic reactions.

The life history of Yellow Jackets is interesting. Many species live in the United States. Some, like the German yellow jacket, are exotic while others are native. Most have the familiar yellow and black pattern, although a few species may be black and white. Only the queen overwinters, and in spring she makes a nest that’s usually underground but can be found in other locations. She’s an egg laying machine. By late summer the colony can have thousands of members.

This insect is generally beneficial. Adults eat a wide array of fruits, meat, sweets and insects but normally they feed their larvae insect parts. Although they consume pesky insects, they often forage in trash cans and they love picnics. A definite problem because there is nothing beneficial about being stung many times. The experience can be traumatic to a child.

Yellow jackets don’t go out of their way to sting, but they do readily attack anything they believe threatens their home. Generally they won’t attack a person walking quietly in the area.  But anyone who disturbs the leaves or sticks near their entry hole will be chased by dozens of yellow jackets as they boil out of their nest and attack.

If the nest is in a place with much human traffic, it is prudent to destroy it. That requires pinpointing the entry. To find it, carefully approach the area where the nest is suspected. Look for a small hole, often under a piece of wood, with insects coming and going. Avoid making noise or disturbing leaves, mulch, or wood. A pair of close focusing binoculars can aid in the search.  Once the entry is located follow these steps:

  • Wait until after dark when all insects are down in the nest.
  • Approach the entry hole with a flashlight, a spray can of wasp killer, and a piece of carpet.
  • Spray the poison down the hole and cover it with the carpet to keep fumes and insects inside.

Remember to only destroy a nest if the insects pose a stinging threat.  Otherwise leave it alone for these beneficial, although cranky insects to live.

A side note is that several colleges and universities like Georgia Tech and Black Hills State University sport the Yellow Jackets as their mascot. Appropriate Buzz and Sting!

The Magic of Clovers and Fireflies

Clovers in lawn

Soft and fragrant underfoot, clovers naturally fix nitrogen in our lawns.

A man whom Rich hadn’t seen for years recently approached him in a parking lot. “You once wrote a newspaper column suggesting that people not spray their yards for insects or weeds. We took your advice and magic happened,” he said.

He explained that a couple of years after he stopped spraying, white clover appeared in the yard and fireflies graced the evening darkness. “We’re enjoying both,” he added.

A major problem with poison sprays is that they aren’t usually selective. Often people spray to rid their lawn of grubs without realizing they also are killing fireflies, pollinators, and a host of other interesting and beneficial insects and the animals that dine on them. If you poison dandelions, you also kill clover that fixes nitrogen naturally and a wide range of other flowering plants that add diversity to the lawn and buffer it from unusual growing conditions.

FIREFLIES

What child has not delighted in chasing fireflies on a warm summer evening and, perhaps, catching a few to watch light up the inside of a glass jar? In fact, an adult friend who grew up on the eastern plains of Colorado was enchanted with them when she visited Iowa one summer. Fireflies, or lightning bugs, are common across much of the Eastern United States. Some blink yellow while others green, but whichever color they blink it is probably an effort to seek a mate. Some firefly species live in the West, they just don’t glow! The larvae, sometimes called glow worms often live in rotting wood where they seek insect prey.

To enjoy an evening firefly display leave edges and corners of your yards unmowed. Perhaps position some wood there to gradually rot and provide homes for their larvae. Certainly avoid insecticide spray!

CLOVER

Many species of clover are common across much of North America but the one most often found in unsprayed yards is the White Clover. It can be planted but usually just avoiding herbicides for a few years will encourage it to move in on its own. Clover blooms provide wonderful pollinator food while sprinkling a lawn with attractive white flowers. The plant is a legume, meaning that it is able to fix nitrogen and improve soil health – naturally! Why anyone would want to kill such a valuable and beautiful plant is beyond us.

Sometimes the very best lawn and yard management is simply leaving it alone. Stop spraying and the result is likely…….beauty.