Spiders are important to Florida ecosystem

Posted 11/28/22

An acre of South Florida pasture can contain thousands of spiders.

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Spiders are important to Florida ecosystem

OKEECHOBEE -- Moisture from morning fog makes it easier to see a spider web on a pasture fence. [Photo by Katrina Elsken/Lake Okeechobee News]
OKEECHOBEE -- Moisture from morning fog makes it easier to see a spider web on a pasture fence. [Photo by Katrina Elsken/Lake Okeechobee News]
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Moisture from early morning fog highlights spider webs on fences, in the grass and between trees.

An acre of South Florida pasture can contain thousands of spiders. According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, spiders are vital to a healthy Florida ecosystem and to agriculture.

Spiders help keep insect populations in check. Think mosquitoes are bad in Florida? Without spiders, the problem would be many times worse.

Spiders also help control pests that feed on crops that are an important part of the human food supply.

Arachnids are part of the food chain themselves, serving as a food source for other wildlife such as birds.

Jumping spiders belong to the family Salticidae and are sometimes called salticids. All species are small, usually less than 15 mm long. They are easily identified by their eye arrangement, which is in three rows. Jumping spiders do not construct webs, but actively hunt prey during the day, pouncing on their luckless victims.   

Crab spiders are so named because they hold their legs to the side in a crab-like fashion. They are commonly 5 mm to 10 mm long. These spiders do not spin webs, but wait in ambush on flowers and foliage for their insect prey.

The Golden Silk Spider, also known as the Golden Orb or Banana Spider, is found throughout Florida and the southeastern United States. The female is distinctively colored, and is among the largest orb-weaving spiders in the country. The female is 25 mm to 40 mm long and has conspicuous hair tufts on her long legs. Males are about 4 mm to 6 mm long, dark-brown, and are often found in the webs of females. These spiders feed primarily on flying insects, which they catch in webs that may be greater than a meter in diameter. They are most commonly found in forests, along trails and at clearing edges. 

Wolf spiders belong to the family Lycosidae. They are very common and usually found on the ground, where they are well-camouflaged. The Carolina wolf spider (Lycosa carolinensis), at 25 mm to 35 mm, is the largest in the United States. These spiders do not spin webs but some dig burrows or hide under debris. Like other hunting spiders, they have good eyesight and are sensitive to vibrations.

The spiny orb-weaver spider is one of the most colorful and easily recognized spiders in Florida. The dorsum of the abdomen is usually white with black spots and large red spines on the margin. Females are 5 mm to 10 mm long and 10 mm to 14 mm wide. The webs typically contain tufts of silk, which may prevent birds from flying into them.

Five species of venomous spiders are found in Florida: the Southern Black Widow, the Northern Black Widow, the Red Widow, the Brown Widow, and the Brown Recluse.

Black Widows prefer to hide outdoors and favor dark places such as the undersides of rocks, woodpiles, and boards.

The Brown Recluse is not native to Florida. Brown Recluses do occasionally come into Florida on out of state shipments. They are recognizable by a distinctive violin shaped marking on the head and thorax.

If you are bitten by a spider, try to preserve the spider in rubbing alcohol for identification. Most spider bites are not dangerous, but if you suspect that you were bitten by a Widow or Recluse it is important to seek immediate medical attention. 

spiders, Florida

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