According to Jeff Hahn, Extension entomologist i.e. bug identifier, there are essentially no dangerous spiders native to Minnesota. There is always an exception however. There is a northern widow spider found only in the southeast corner of the state. Even with this information several spiders show up in the Extension office every summer for identification. A person, seeing a round web on the outside of her house was sure it housed a brown widow spider. She had looked it up in the internet. Yup, it matched the picture of a brown widow including a red hourglass shaped marking on the underside of its abdomen. When Jeff Hahn got the spider, he identified it as an orb weaving spider. The coloration wasn’t even close to a brown widow. They are similar in shape and form, and are in the same family. An expert can tell the difference by the arrangement of their eyes and the hairs on their legs. If you chose not to look that closely at your spider, the orb spider makes a round web and the brown widow makes an irregular, tangled web.
We do occasionally run into a brown recluse spider. You would really have to work at it as they are reclusive. Wonder if that is why they got their name. You can usually tell a brown recluse by a distinctive violin shape on its body, but that is not a reliable ID mark. To tell if it is the deadly one, count the eyes and observe the arrangement on the spider’s face. Most spiders have eight eyes while a brown recluse has six arranged in three pairs of two. One gardener was sure he had one. (He probably hadn’t looked into the spider’s face to count eyes). The spider he found did have a brown body however it also had red banded legs, a bulbous body and lacked the dark colored markings on the body that identifies the recluse.
The lesson here is don’t depend on the internet to ID a spider or other bug. The Extension office can send a picture of the spider or the actual corpse to the University for Hahn to identify. The best thing to do with a spider is to leave it alone to collect its bug lunch. You are much too large for it to eat.
Spiders in the house are an indication that there is food for them. So, do you want spiders that you can see or the smaller ones they are eating? Basement spiders or daddy long legs are great predators. The only down side is that they leave spots of excreted inedible bits in the corners. Petunia discovered that these leftovers are really hard to wash off. She usually makes Bunkey do it as, if you remember, she has a horror of any kind of bug, especially spiders.
This is the time of year to collect seeds for planting next summer. Pick a dry day for your harvest. Any heirloom plant, flower or fruit will produce the same plant next year. Hybrids won’t. They have been crossed, maybe even several times, to produce bigger, brighter or more productive plants. If you plant these seeds you never know what will result. If your squash and pumpkins or cucumbers had a romance this summer, the seeds you save may result in an unexpected fruit next year. They do cross pollinate.
The lesson for the day is, if you don’t want to look a spider in the eye, just leave them to do their thing. They are the good guys.
Bev Johnson is a Master Gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension. Her column appears in the Weekend Edition.