Published 5:51 pm Friday, September 20, 2013


Spiders and their webs are driving Pike County residents ‘bananas’

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey. Along came a spider and sat down beside her and frightened Little Miss Mufffet away.

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Now, Mother Goose didn’t say so, but that spider just might have been a banana spider like the ones that are frightening so many Pike County people away.

“Never in all my born days have I seen this many spiders, big yellow spiders.”

Many times a day that “sentiment” is being spoken in the county.

Grant Lyons, Pike County Extension coordinator, said that when he’s out and about, he hears again and again that people are seeing more spiders than they’ve “ever seen before.”

“In conversations with people, spiders come up more often than not,” Lyons said. “The weather conditions this summer have been such that we are seeing more spiders than usual. Cool and wet weather brings out the spiders and we’ve had a cooler and wetter summer than usual and the spiders are out.”

Lyons said that he also has gotten more calls about spiders than normal.

“People call with questions and they email pictures mainly because they are worried about the spiders biting their kids,” he said. “Although we have an abundance of garden spiders, the one that is getting the most attention is the golden silk orb weavers or banana spiders, so called because of their color and shape.”

Lyons said the banana spiders are large spiders that build elaborate webs and they are new to Pike County.

“The golden silk orb weavers or banana spiders are a tropical spider that has moved north over the past years and now inhabit our area.” Lyons said. “Banana spiders are very interesting creatures. They are big and scary looking and a lot of people are freaking out because they are afraid the spiders. The think the spiders might bite them and make them very sick or kill them but people shouldn’t panic. Spiders are shy and are not going to attack.

“Although there are 900 different species of spiders in Alabama, there are only three toxic spiders around – the brown recluse and the black and brown widows. It would be a good idea to know how to recognize the toxic ones. But a banana spider won’t bother you unless you try to handle it and even then only if you mash it.”

As a result, the bite would burn and hurt much like a bee sting.

Banana spiders build webs that can connect between two trees that are yards apart.

Some of the webs have trapped small birds so the silk of a banana spider is very strong and the web is very complex.

Banana spiders make big webs that can be up to three feet wide and are usually woven at eye level but are sometimes woven into the lower branches of tree canopies.

Lyons said that the webs are spun in the flight paths of other insects.

The webs spun in sunny areas take advantage of sunlight locations to trap bees that are attracted to the bright yellow strands that are bathed in sunlight. The webs that are spun in shady areas blend into the background and act as camouflage.

Once an insect is trapped in its web, the banana spider wraps it in a silk-like cocoon and takes it back to the hub of its web. Researches believe the spiders do this to reduce the amount of food stolen by kleptoparasites.

“Banana spiders eat many different kinds of flying insects, including mosquitoes, wasps, flies, butterflies and even stinkbugs,” Lyons said. “What is really interesting is that banana spiders are afraid of cockroaches, which we have too many of.”

It’s interesting that the spiders would ignore

such a plentiful and hefty meal, Lyons said.

Among spiders, the banana spider is “top dog.” Nine of its Australian kin perished in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

Also, the silk of the banana spider is said to be stronger than the strength of Kevlar, which is the fiber used to make bulletproof vests.

Lyons said he didn’t know that the banana spiders’ silk is that strong but “have you ever tried to get it out of your hair?” A tangled web it does weave.

There are many tales about the banana spider. Perhaps tales too tall to tell. But there are reports of the silk being formed into balls and used to bait fish. Another tale is that the pregnant females are a good protein supplement that has nutty flavor like peanut butter.

Lyons said that he’s not privy to the recreational or culinary benefits of the banana spider but he can speak to the benefits of having them hanging around.

“Spiders get rid of a lot of insects that we could rather not have around,” he said. “The webs they weave trap other insects that we don’t want around, mosquitoes and flies especially. Spiders do more good than harm so they are good to have around.”

Much like a good guard dog can keep prowlers away, spiders can keep intruding insects away.

“But you don’t want spiders to overtake your yard or to be inside your house,” Lyons said. “Spiders love the outdoors, so if you have piles of debris, like firewood, and other clutter then you are creating a great habitat for them. Keep the foundation of your house clear of bushes and branches and debris.

And the same goes for inside. Keep around the house and inside free of clutter.

“Don’t give spiders places to hide.”

When doing yard work or cleaning dark, out of the way places inside sheds, garages or even the house, Lyons said that it is wise and best to wear gloves.

Insecticides or pest control services are the best way to keep spiders under control.

Spiders are interesting insects and they can be beneficial, but they are unwanted guests so it’s best not to invite them in, Lyons said.