There are so many different kinds of spiders and many of them have intriguing names. Here’s a brief introduction to goldenrod crab spiders, jumping spiders, six-spotted fishing spiders, wolf spiders, pirate spiders, and money spiders.
Goldenrod Crab Spiders (misumena vatia)
Why go to the trouble of building a web if you can simply sit on a flower and wait for your prey to come to you? Goldenrod crab spiders, also known as flower spiders, are medium-sized spiders with short, flat, wide bodies. They’re usually found on white or yellow flowers where they blend in easily. They can even change colour (it takes a couple of days) to improve their camouflage.
Crab spiders have a pair of extra-long front legs that are usually spread out like a crab’s claws. When a bee or a butterfly lands on a flower to collect pollen, the crab spider reaches out with its front legs and grabs its prey, holding it tight while it pierces the prey’s body and injects a venom that paralyzes the insect as well as starting to digest it. The spider then sucks out the liquefied remains of the insect, leaving behind an empty exoskeleton.
Goldenrod crab spiders often keep an eye on several flowers before choosing the one with the largest number of potential prey, and their prey is often much larger than they are.
Humans tend to view pollinators as good so may be inclined to dislike predators, such as the goldenrod crab spider. “However, the pressure that predators impose on their prey causes those species, over many generations, to possess quick reflexes, a strong capacity for flight, and good vision of their own.”
Jumping Spiders (salticidae)
Heather Proctor, a University of Alberta professor, says, “If a spider turns around and looks at you, that's a jumping spider. No other spider is going to cock its little head and say, 'I wonder what that big thing is.'”
Jumping spiders have 4 large eyes on their face and 4 smaller eyes on the top of their head. They have excellent vision, which they use to search for prey and then leap to the attack. Wayne Maddison, a BC researcher specializing in jumping spiders, explains they can jump up to 50 times the length of their body, propelled by blood pumped into their strong rear legs.
Bold jumping spiders (phidippus audax) are found in Alberta. The males perform an elaborate courtship display to impress the females, raising their front legs, flicking their forelegs, and shaking their pedipalps, while moving sideways in a zigzag pattern. As bold jumpers rely on their vision to hunt, they are only active during the day. At night, they shelter near their hunting ground in a sac made of silk.
Male habronnatus decorus, also known as paradise jumping spiders, are brightly patterned and coloured, similar to birds of paradise. Some have furry red legs, while others have metallic blue and purple bodies. Their elaborate courtship displays have a strong visual component due to their excellent vision. Take a look at Wayne Maddison’s movies of jumping spider courtship as well as his photographs.
Six-Spotted Fishing Spiders (dolomedes triton)
Fishing spiders are large greyish-brown spiders with 6 spots on their underside as well as pale stripes on each side of their body. They’re often found near ponds and lakes where they feed on insects, tadpoles, and even small fish up to 6 times their own size. They hunt by attaching their rear legs to the surface of the water and using their front legs to sense vibrations, just as other spiders do on their web. Fishing spiders can run across the surface of the water and dive for prey. They can remain underwater for several minutes as their bristly hairs trap air bubbles that they use to breathe.
Females lay their eggs on a silk mat and wrap it up into a ball that they carry in their jaws as they look for a good place for the eggs to hatch. They will spin a web or join several leaves together with silk to form a nest for the eggs and will then stand guard over their young.
Wolf Spiders (lycocidae)
Wolf spiders are big (10-35 mm), furry, brown-and-white spiders. Their eyes reflect light so you may have spotted them shining in the dark. They sometimes build webs, but they don’t use them to catch their prey. Instead, they lie in wait for an insect to pass by when they rush out to capture it, sometimes dragging it into a burrow from which it can’t escape. They have three tiny hooks at the end of their legs to help them grip and hold when running and climbing.
The female wolf spider carries her unhatched young around with her in a sac attached to the spinnerets at the end of her abdomen. When the baby spiders are born, they clamber up their mother’s legs and onto her back where they crowd together for several weeks until they’re big enough to look after themselves.
Pirate Spiders (mimetidae)
Pirate spiders can be found on Prairie grasslands and aspen forests. They typically eat other spiders. They pluck the strands of the other spider’s web, imitating the movements of a trapped insect. When the prey spider goes to investigate, the pirate spider captures and eats it. There are also pirate wolf spiders (pirata) that are most often found in Europe.
Money Spider (linyphiidae)
Money spiders are very tiny spiders also known as sheet weavers due to the shape of their webs. They’re hard to spot as they’re so small (2 mm), but you may well have seen their webs spread out on your lawn. Sheet weavers are one of the Western Hemisphere’s most common spiders. They build their webs close to the ground, often taking several days to complete them, and then staying in the same location for several days.
Thanks to their small size and light weight, sheet weavers can move from one site to another by ballooning. They produce a long string of silk, which catches in the wind, picking up the spider, and moving it across long distances.
If you spot one of these tiny spiders on you, you’re in luck. Folklore would have it that the spider has come to weave you new clothes, meaning financial good fortune. Hence the name of money spider.
Spiders: The Misunderstood Jewels of Alberta’s Biodiversity [Nature Alberta]
Alberta Spider Identification [Facebook group]
Spiders of the Canadian Prairies [Arthropods of Canadian Grasslands]
Spiders of British Columbia [E-Fauna BC]
Spiders, Not So Scary After All [EcoFriendly Sask]
Nature Companion, a free app/website introducing many of the plants and animals found in Canada's four western provinces [EcoFriendly West]
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/apmckinlay/27525463463
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