Please Explain: Spiders

Friday, August 24, 2012

This week we'll take a look at the creepy crawly world of spiders. Dr. Norm Platnick, curator emeritus in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, and Hazel Davies, Associate Director of Living Exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History, talk about spiders, which are among the most versatile animals on the planet—they're able to inhabit every continent but Antarctica and are able to survive in environments that range from deserts to rainforests to crowded cities. There's an exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History called "Spiders Alive!" It's on view through December 2.

© AMNH\R. Mickens
Indian ornamental (Poecilotheria regalis)

These ornamental tarantulas (along with the Gooty Sapphire Ornamental and Ivory ornamental) are as colorful as tropical birds, a sharp contrast to the fearsome , dark, and dangerous creatures many imagine.

© AMNH\R. Mickens
Gooty Sapphire Ornamental (Poecilotheria metallica)

These ornamental tarantulas (along with the Indian ornamental and Ivory ornamental) are as colorful as tropical birds, a sharp contrast to the fearsome , dark, and dangerous creatures many imagine.

© AMNH\R. Mickens
Ivory ornamental (Poecilotheria subfusca)

These ornamental tarantulas (along with the Indian ornamental and Gooty Sapphire ornamental) are as colorful as tropical birds, a sharp contrast to the fearsome , dark, and dangerous creatures many imagine.

© AMNH\R. Mickens
Trapdoor spider (Liphistius dangrek)

These spiders spend most of their time in underground burrows, emerging mainly to grab prey. Their rear half is segmented, a trait visible in some of the earliest spider fossils.

© AMNH\R. Mickens
Wolf spider (Hogna antelucana)

This active hunter searches for food on foot, aided by sharp vision and its ability to sense vibrations—like those of the beating wing on an insect or the patter of steps on the soil.

© AMNH\D. Finnin
Fishing spider (Dolomedes okefinokensis)

Large fishing spiders rest their front legs on the surface of the water on the shoreline trying to sense vibrations from prey. When something gets close, the spider pounces.

© AMNH\R. Mickens
Brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa)
© AMNH\R. Mickens
Western black widow (Latrodectus hesperus)

One of the few species harmful to people in North America, a black widow often features a red hourglass shape on its underside.

© AMNH\R. Mickens
Mexican red knee (Brachypelma smithi)

This stunning tarantula, which lives mainly on the Pacific coast of Mexico, resides in burrows, hurrying out to prey on insects, small frogs, lizards, and mice.

© AMNH\R. Mickens
Goliath bird eater (Theraphosa stirmi)

One of the biggest spiders in the world, it preys on snakes, mice, and frogs but, despite the name, rarely birds.

© AMNH\R. Mickens
Golden orb-web spider (Nephila pilipes)

Found throughout parts of Asia, this large spider has yellow on its abdomen and spins a golden web.


Hazel Davies and Dr. Norm Platnick

Comments [23]


An Irish friend once explained to me that she never killed spiders because A spiderweb woven across a cave opening had saved the baby Jesus from Herod's soldiers--an Irish Catholic tale to be sure.

Aug. 24 2012 02:06 PM
JFreely from NYC

Can someone explain spider beetles?

Aug. 24 2012 01:57 PM
MoFungui from NYC

I am fascinated by webs, symmetry, design and instinct to build and how they cross vast expanse of air / space

Aug. 24 2012 01:53 PM
peter from Ulster County NY

I have heard that the hummingbirds in my yard use spider silk to make their nests. True?

Aug. 24 2012 01:53 PM
Berit from Windsor Terrace

I was house sitting once and was bitten all over my body every night for several weeks before I discovered and exterminated a bunch of spiders living outside the window the bed was pushed up against, at which time the biting stopped. WHY? Am I the only person ever to be actually bitten by these so-called non-aggressive creatures. The bites were painful and itchy and burned. IT WAS AWFUL!!! But I always hear this doesn't happen.

Aug. 24 2012 01:51 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Do the pedipalps of spiders correspond to the claws of lobsters & crabs?

Aug. 24 2012 01:49 PM

How many bugs can a typical household spider catch? Are they really effective as pest control?

Aug. 24 2012 01:49 PM
corrinne from manhattan

Why don't we use spider silk? Is it not as good/strong as silkworm silk?

Aug. 24 2012 01:48 PM
Steve from Hoboken

I've always heard that Daddy Long Leg spiders actually have venom that would harm humans, but their mouths are too small to bite human skin. Any truth to that or just an old wive's tail? Also what is the scientific name for the Daddy Long Legs?

Aug. 24 2012 01:47 PM
Kate from Washington Heights

When I woke up as a child with little bites received during the night, my mom always said they were spider bites, so even today when I wake up with little bites, I blame teeny weeny spiders that visit me during the night. Am I making unfair accusations?

Aug. 24 2012 01:47 PM

I grew up in Sydney, Australia.
There are 2 scary, poisonous but tiny ones we were taught to avoid, the Funnel Web Spider, and the Red Back Spider.
They DID bite, and anti-venene was developed.

Aug. 24 2012 01:46 PM
andrew carter

Hello I find this spider discussion fascinating. I have a fear of spiders but I am at the same time very intrigued bt them. i have heard that if a spiders web is destroyed it cannot build it again or can not do the same kind of web. Is that trur or a myth?

Aug. 24 2012 01:43 PM
Amy from Manhattan

dan kaplan: No, they said spiders are arachnids (8 legs), not insects (6 legs).

To the guests: Aren't mites also arachnids?

Aug. 24 2012 01:42 PM
Jackie from Brooklyn

Decades ago, I copied family friends, both of whom grew up on farms, and I stopped killing spiders. There is a little village of arachnids that build funnel-type webs along the hinge side of the entry gate beneath our stoop. They seem unperturbed by our comings and goings, even though their handiwork is ripped anew each time we open the gate. I'm guessing they decrease the mosquito population, for which I am grateful.

Aug. 24 2012 01:40 PM

Is there a way to discourage spiders from your home and in the backyard? Every morning I have a spider that spins a web overnight blocking the staircase on my deck. Everyday we break the web and every morning it rebuilds it.

Aug. 24 2012 01:39 PM
Margaret from Red Hook, Brooklyn

Could your guests describe the differences between female and male spiders?

Aug. 24 2012 01:38 PM

I've heard that spider web is very healing on human wounds. Is that true?

Aug. 24 2012 01:37 PM
dan kaplan from Park Slope, Brooklyn

I believe he said that spiders are insects. Wiki says that they're not:

Aug. 24 2012 01:36 PM

do spiders eat bedbugs?

Aug. 24 2012 01:34 PM
Andy B from Plainsboro, NJ

Leonard, most certainly they're listening to your show.....But don't expect a contribution during your next pledge drive

Aug. 24 2012 01:29 PM

After moving to NYC from California 10 years ago, i noticed a comparative dearth of spiders in the NYC and Brooklyn apartments i lived in. however over the past 2 years it seems like their numbers are increasing, at least in my environment. is the NYC spider population on the rise?

Aug. 24 2012 01:29 PM
John A

There are many social insects. Are there any spiders with complex social behaviors?

Aug. 24 2012 01:28 PM
Elaine from Baltimore

SPIDERS! A hot topic this time of year in my household! Why does there seem to be a population explosion of spiders mid-august through septemeber? My front door looks like the entrance to a haunted house! HELP! Can I train them not to build their mansions at the entrance to my house? Is there such a thing as a spider deterrent?

Aug. 24 2012 12:58 PM

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