The time has come to turn inward and shrug off the months of gray with coffee, good reading, and a little more personal insulation. As we roam the house looking for excuses for not going outside, we sometimes encounter others who also inhabit our environs. No matter if you like it or not, you share your Capitol Hill home with spiders.
There’s nothing you can (nor should) do about spiders in your home. There are spiders in Capitol Hill that can inflict a painful bite — some of these even live in our homes — but mostly they are harmless, beneficial pest control. The vast majority of spider species we see indoors are actually adapted to the indoor environment, which they’ve been part of in Europe (most are exotics that established here) for thousands of years. They are not, as you’ve been told, escaping cold weather but in fact always live inside. And when they end up in our bathrooms? That’s where water is commonly available, but they often find themselves unable to escape the slippery porcelain traps we call bathtubs and sinks.
Spiders are beautifully diverse, occupying a huge variety of niches on every continent except Antarctica and over 43 thousand species described worldwide. In most of our minds they all have eight legs, weave webs, and creep around in the dark, but they take a myriad of forms that don’t involve our pre-concieved notions of what is and isn’t a spider.
You may shiver to know that in Washington we have over 760 species of spiders. That said, none, according to the Burke Museum Arachnologist, Rodney L. Crawford’s website on spider myths, pose a threat to our lives. I repeat, there is no spider commonly found in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington that will come close to killing you (for that matter, this is almost unheard of in all of North America and infrequent worldwide).
Think about it. Why would almost any spider be armed with venom that powerful, when the vast majority of what they eat are other invertebrates?
At this point a few of you are raising your hands urgently to share: “Oh, no no, my friend was bitten by a brown recluse two years ago” or “We have hobo spiders in our home. One bit me in my sleep and my finger nearly fell off.”
These sorts of statements largely spring from poor media coverage and rampant misinformation about spiders.
Here’s a problem with either statement: Brown Recluse spiders are from the Southeastern United States, it’s highly unlikely they’d show up in your house and bite you. And, spiders are also not terribly easy to identify, even by experts.
Hobo spiders (Tegenaria agrestis) have adapted well to the urban environment, but these introduced species are not a true house spider, still preferring the out of doors. People have developed the notion that hobo spiders have necrotic venom (think decaying flesh), but there’s no substantial evidence of this. In the thousands of years they’ve lived a native existence near humans in Europe, there are no substantiated records of necrosis from their bite. Half the time when we’ve been “bitten” we don’t know what actually punctured our skin, so saying we’ve developed necrotic symptoms means very little.
If we want to focus on an actual common inhabitant, the Giant House Spider (Eratigena atrica), another transplant from Europe is a good choice.
During late summer and early fall, mature males are on the roam for mates, which makes them a bit more visible than usual. Mostly they are tucked away in a tangle of webs with a funnel shaped lair (they’re called funnel web spiders colloquially), waiting for wandering prey to become entangled.
They are alarmingly large, which is why they inspire fear; leg spans can be several inches. In the extreme circumstances where a Giant House Spider might bite one of us, it would likely be in defense. How would you respond to a giant hand moving in your direction?
Previously in Pikes/Pines