Anyone who’s ever seen the film Arachnophobia probably has a creeping mistrust, if not an outright terror, of spiders. I’ll admit to being uncomfortable with large spiders in, or near, the bedroom. I’m not sure what I think they’re going to do to me when I turn off the light, but I’m not taking any chances. Into a glass then out into the night they go!
Spiders in the garden are a different matter. There, it’s best to allow them to go about their business undisturbed, because their business is being eight-legged pest-control officers.
It’s true – there’s probably no other predator that deals with all manner of insect pests so relentlessly. If the mere mention of spiders hasn’t made you lunge for the Close button on your browser window, let’s look at just what makes spiders such an indispensible part of the home garden.
One legend surrounding Robert the Bruce tells of how he observed a spider struggling time and again to build its web. It eventually succeeded, proving that persistence pays for spiders (and subsequently for the Scots in their battle for independence from the English). More recently a barn spider called Charlotte A. Cavatica wove her web into messages that would save her friend Wilbur’s life. And of course the World Wide Web has ensnared us all!
If that wasn’t enough to inspire admiration, web-spinning spiders like orb weavers and funnel weavers use their silk to create naturally sticky traps that will capture all manner of bugs. When it feels the vibrations caused by a struggling bug the spider will dash out, tightly wrap the unfortunate insect in silk, and inject venom into it before retreating. The bite liquefies its victim, to be slurped up later.
A web-based spider doesn’t have the luxury of being picky, and will eat just about anything that is unlucky enough to become trapped in its web, from flies to butterflies to wasps.
More discerning are the hunting spiders such as wolf spiders, crab spiders and jumping spiders. Wolf spiders live in shallow burrows and patrol the soil surface for their preferred prey, or more lazily lie in wait near their burrow entrance to pounce on passing bugs and slugs. They are attentive mothers, and are sometimes spotted carrying their egg sacs or spiderlings on their backs.
Canny crab spiders camouflage themselves by changing colour to match a flower. They lie in wait on a promising blossom to capture their prey, their elongated front two pairs of legs outstretched as if inviting a hug. (I’ll pass.)
Most spiders prefer to hunt by night, but jumping spiders hunt flies and other tiny airborne beasties during daylight hours. While they don’t spin webs, they use their silk as a tether in case they misjudge their leap. Safety first!
How to Attract More Spiders
Arachnophobes – well done for making it this far! Persuading more spiders to take up residence may be at the bottom of your to-do list, but honestly, your garden will thank you. Most spiders aren’t dangerous, and a major benefit of having them around is that they’re usually active from early spring, right at the start of the pest season.
It’s not difficult to make our gardens accommodating for our natural pest controllers. These methods will make your garden amenable to other beneficial wildlife too.
Wolf spiders like mulch, so keeping soil covered with a layer of grass clippings or woodchips affords them cover from where they can launch an ambush. Adopting a no-dig approach will avoid disturbing their hunting grounds.
Grow as many trees, shrubs and perennial plants as you have space for to provide habitat for web-spinning and jumping spiders. Crab spiders need flowers where they can lurk in wait for prey. Don’t be too tidy – where practical, allow webs to remain on sheds, greenhouses and other structures. Leave plant stalks standing in winter and don’t clear away plant debris until spring.
And it goes without saying that avoiding the use of pesticides will help keep your garden healthier by allowing nature – including spiders – to take care of pest control for you.