Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Feb. 1, 2023

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Arachnids of Clark County worthy of appreciation

Embrace spiders, nature’s pest control

By , Columbian Features Editor
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Although pest control companies may try to sell you their spider-elimination services, spiders themselves are nature’s pest control.

They eat harmful insects — and sometimes each other — but are unlikely to hurt you.

“Spiders are very good and very helpful and rarely bite,” said Erika Johnson, coordinator of the WSU Clark County Extension Master Gardener program. “But there’s still a real stigma and concern and a lot of fear.”

This time of year, male spiders reach maturity, crawl out of their hiding places and go looking for a mate. You may see more of them in early fall, but they were in your house all along.

Autumn or any time of year, it’s not uncommon for someone to show up at the Master Gardener Answer Clinic at the 78th Street Heritage Farm clasping a jar with a spider inside, Johnson said.

“People think that spider identification is something we can do here and, really, we can’t,” Johnson said. “There’s thousands of spider species.”

8 facts about spiders (one for each leg)

1. Spiders are not insects, but arthropods in the arachnid group, which also includes scorpions, ticks and mites. The other three sets of arthropods are insects, myriapods (including centipedes and millipedes) and crustaceans (including crabs).

2. There are more than 45,000 known species of spiders worldwide.

3. All spiders have four pairs of legs, unlike an insect’s three, and a body divided into cephalothorax and abdomen.

4. Spiders have a hard external shell, called an exoskeleton.
5) A spider’s pointed jaws are called chelicerae.

6. Spiders are predators, feeding on insects and other invertebrates.

7. All spiders spin silk, but they use it in a variety of ways — not just for webs.

8. Almost all spiders are venomous, but only a very few have strong enough venom and jaw power to affect humans.

Only two are considered “of medical significance” in Washington, according to the state Department of Health, and neither is common in Clark County. The black widow spider is found in Eastern Washington, as is the yellow sac spider (which is also spotted around Seattle). Although hobo spiders do indeed crawl all around Washington, according to the state health department, their bites are not as dangerous as once believed.

As for the infamous brown recluse spider, its range is in the south-central United States, nowhere near here.

“The worry is always, ‘Is this thing going to bite me?’ Or often, ‘Is this going to bite my child?’ ” Johnson said. “What we typically say is, ‘If you see a spider, leave it alone. … If you’re bitten, see a doctor.’ ”

Instead of focusing on that very unlikely scenario, think about the benefits spiders offer, she said.

“They eat other critters and insects — the ones that are problematic to us like mosquitos and ants,” Johnson said.

She encourages the arachnophobic to view spiders in a different light.

“Try to learn about them, try to have an open mind — try to appreciate their role in the web of life,” Johnson said. “I know that’s hard to appreciate when you have fear running through your system.”

House spiders

Spiders don’t come in your house because they get cold. House spiders are a type that always live indoors. You do a house spider no favor by catching it and putting it outside, according to a video Q&A with Rod Crawford, arachnid curator at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum. “It will not do well in your yard or in a forest or any place like that,” Crawford said.

So what should you do if you find a spider in your house? “Just wave as it goes by,” Crawford said.

To Learn More

• The Burke Museum at the University of Washington in Seattle has an extensive arachnology and entomology collection that includes 392,000 specimens: www.burkemuseum.org/collections-and-research/biology/arachnology-and-entomology/spider-myths

• A Portland State University website identifies the most common spiders in the Portland-Vancouver area: web.pdx.edu/~smasta/MastaSpiders.html

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