Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of jumping spider © Kate Redmond

Jumping spiders have eight eyes. The two front eyes are the biggest.
© Kate Redmond

October 2012

Creature Comforts

Getting a jump on spiders – or is it the other way around?

Amanda Laurenzi

I have a personal pact with spiders: pick a corner in my ceiling, make your web to catch the nasty pests that fly around my house, and stay where I can see you at all times. When the spider breaks this pact, I feel like I am suddenly thrown into an arena much like the gladiators of Ancient Rome, fighting off lions and other wild beasts as a crowd cheers me onů

Okay, so that is a bit dramatic. They're just little spiders, right? And they can be very beneficial if you live in an area that attracts pests like mosquitos and house flies.

I'm not sure if it's the eight eyes that seem to look into my soul when a spider is perched on a shelf above me, or perhaps the eight legs that scurry in a blur from (what must seem like) my ginormous body; I just don't like to be in contact with them. And I think many people can empathize with that notion.

Now that fall is here and the spiders are looking for a place to escape the frigid winter only Wisconsin can deliver, it's time to decide whether you want to be bunking with them for the season or take action to prevent their stay.

I have always had encounters with jumping spiders in my home. They have made my skin crawl for years and until now I have wanted nothing more than to have them out of my house. But after looking at some of the benefits of their stay (such as eating other vermin) and how rarely they actually bother humans, I have a little different outlook. They still creep me out, but at least I can honestly say I'm not as scared of them as I used to be.

Jumping spiders (Phidippus audux) have thick bodies and prominent eyes. Usually green in color, the two front eyes are the biggest of the eight, with two smaller ones on the side, and the last couple rows positioned on the cephalothorax. They usually have a red or white dot on their abdomen and smaller spots around the rest of their body. Their size ranges from 3 to 12 mm in length.

Jumping spiders are unique in their hunting style in that they do not create webs and wait for prey to fall victim to the silky strands of death. Instead, they use their quick jumping skills to catch insects such asflies and mosquitos. They are one of the fastest arthropods due to their jumping ability.

Phil Pellitteri, Insect Diagnostician for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Entomology, provides insight into what attracts these creepy crawlies and how they can be stopped from moving in.

"Spiders can be found by windows and doors because that's where the insects come in," says Pellitteri. "The other problem is structural weakness in a house – the weakest point is where the siding meets the foundation. Make that space tighter and you should see a decrease in numbers of spiders and insects alike."

Although it can be startling to run into a spider, they really don't bother anything unless provoked. Jumping spiders will most likely move away from you if you attempt to get close. But if you corner it by, for example, putting your foot in a shoe where it has created its living space, you may be bit. Jumping spiders do not deliver a serious or life-threatening chomp and they rarely bite more than once.

"Ninety-five percent of what people call spider bites have nothing to do with spiders," says Pellitteri. "Spiders have two fangs; therefore, if the bite has two holes, it came from a spider. Usually there is only one hole, and that results from insects."

If you still would rather not have spiders in your home, the best thing to do is to vacuum corners that have spider webs. If another web appears shortly after, you can see where the spider is and go from there, says Pellitteri.

Another error people make is having an outside light right above their front door. The light attracts a plethora of insects that spiders consider food. Since the insects are close to the door, spiders also reside there to catch them. To fix this problem, Pellitteri suggests having a pole with a light at the top and shining the light at your door. This way, the insects are attracted to the top of the pole and away from your door.

Amanda Laurenzi is an editorial staffer at Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine and battles spiders at the family's rural home in Blue Mounds.