Not such an itsy bitsy spider!



You just never know when you’re going to have a wildlife encounter. A friend of mine was enjoying a moment on his porch when he noticed movement on the wall nearby. He turned to look, and there was a very large spider looking at him. He snapped a photo and sent it to me. He is not particularly fond of spiders, but he couldn’t deny that it was a handsome brute, and he sent the photo to me for identification. I like spiders but always respect their space and privacy. I actually enjoy watching them build their webs on my porches and other out-of-the-way places.

Some naturalist friends here on the island identified the spider as a barn spider. If you want to see some excellent photos, look it up on the Internet. Barn spiders are very big, about three-quarters of an inch long with a large abdomen. They look quite fierce but are harmless and not at all poisonous. They are found all over the eastern United States. Porches are favorite places for them to build their large orb webs. They also like window frames and high ceilings in your house.

In the late afternoons, evenings and through the night, they usually can be found in the center of their large webs. Their webs are the original Zentangles and very beautiful. Lights, of course, attract insects, and the spiders are busy catching moths, flies and other insects as they get entangled in the webs. It doesn’t take long for the large spider to wrap up its catch once it has become entangled in the web.

These spiders prey on any flying and crawling insects. At first the webs are perfect and very beautifully made, but as prey gets caught and the spider deals with each catch, the web becomes ragged and full of holes. After several days, the spider eats the web, recycles the silk and builds a new web!

All spiders are predators mainly living on all sorts of insect and other small arthropods. Spiders are very beneficial because of all the insects they consume. Spiders are able to produce silk throughout their lifetimes. Young spiders use the silk to do what is called ‘ballooning’ as they get transported by air currents to new territories. Spiders very rarely bite people and most are harmless.

Not all spiders build webs, some are hunting spiders, and they rely on their speed to catch their prey. Fishing spiders catch small fish. Jumping spiders jump on their prey. The colorful crab spiders found on flowers are passive hunters and wait until prey comes close enough to be ambushed! These rarely come indoors unless they are brought in with a bouquet.

A redbellied woodpecker barely missed a collision with a friend’s car this week in Southwest Harbor. This woodpecker is considered a rare visitor here on MDI even though a few seem to appear each year. More often, I hear about them in the winter when they come to a feeder. Red-bellied woodpeckers are quite handsome birds for they have zebra-like backs and red caps. On the male, the whole crown is red, and on the female, only the nape is red. The zebra stripes on the back identify this woodpecker if the bird is a juvenile with no red anywhere. These woodpeckers are normally residents of Florida and about the Gulf of Mexico north to Delaware on the East coast but each year, they are sighted here and there on this island and the outer islands at feeders.

I well remember a couple of years ago watching them in Hulls Cove at a friend’s feeder. They are quite beautiful and easily join in with our resident woodpeckers feeding on the suet and whatever seeds have been offered.

This red-bellied woodpecker has a very long tongue. The tip is hard and pointed like a spear and is used for spearing insects such as grasshoppers. The tongue also is covered with sticky saliva that helps it lap up ants. The red-bellied woodpeckers in Florida make themselves unpopular in orange groves when they use their unusual tongue to draw in the succulent juices and pulp from oranges.

The flickers you see along the roadsides now are using their long and sticky tongues to extract ants from their nests. These summer woodpeckers will be leaving soon for their southern wintering grounds, but just before they leave, they feast on the ants on this island. You’ll notice them flying up from the sandy areas along our roads by the noticeable white patch on the tail of this larger woodpecker. This is a good way to identify the bird. The pileated, downy, hairy and blackbacked woodpeckers are year-round birds here. Yellowbellied sapsuckers, flickers and red-bellied woodpeckers are visitors. Birds, of course, are unpredictable, and with the climate changes going on, birds are extending their range. When I moved here in 1972, cardinals and mockingbirds were only summer visitors. Now in 2014, they are yearround residents .

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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