Spider identification made easy starts with the types of spiders that people normally come across in daily life. They are often found in home, garden and lawns across North America.
Formally spider types get arranged according to families. Less formally, spider types are often categorized according to their hunting methods. Some spiders use webs to trap prey. Some spiders hunt prey in their territory. Both formal and informal ways of thinking about spiders help with spider identification.
The spider pictures presented in this section use both methods.
And if spider pictures are worth one thousand words for spider identification, a nice spider video can also help. Take a quick look at some common house spiders and garden spiders found mostly in the southern areas of the United States.
All spider webs are made from silk, produced by an organ called spinnerets, which are located on the spider’s abdomen.
All spiders, including the hunting spiders, use silk for one reason or another. Jumping spiders, for example, although formally classified as hunting spiders, use silk as a type of bungee cord for added protection as they literally jump from leaf to leaf or branch to branch in search of prey.
Because of their specialized hunting method, web building spiders typically have a larger number of silk glands than hunting spiders.
Spiders are often further classified according to the types of webs they build. Three of the better known groups of spiders that build different types of webs are the orb weavers, cobweb spiders and funnel weavers. Many common garden spiders, such as the writing spider, are orb weavers.
Long-jawed Orb Weavers have the name orb weaver, however they belong to a different family (Tetragnathidae) than the spiders in the Araneidae family.
The obvious question to ask is if they build orb webs, why are they not in the orb weaver family? Good question. Members of the family share a similar physical characteristic of an overly large jaw compared to thee other orb weavers.
The picture also shows another dominant physical characteristic of the family. They have elongated abdomens and legs. They can often be found sunning on a leave with their legs extended.
Their are nine genera in the family. All but three of the genera have two or less species. Those species have a limited range.
The genus Tetragnatha basically represents most of the family on a coast to coast basis.
In the east, two members of the Leucauge genus, Orchard spiders are recognized. Here’s an Orchard Spider, another member of the Long-jawed Orbweavers.
Cobweb spiders belong to the family Theridiidae. They make their multidimensional webs in many homes and gardens.
Most references you read on the internet also point out that black widow spiders belong to this family. In fact there are over three dozen genera of cobweb spiders.
They share some physical characteristics such as comb foots, leading to the other nick name, Comb-Footed Spiders.
The picture shows Enoplongnatha ovata. Note how the first set of legs are the longest. That’s another physical characteristic shared by members of the family.
Funnel web spiders (family Agelenidae) also go by the name grass spiders because their webs are commonly found at ground level. Like cobweb spiders, their webs are multidimensional, with the added feature of a built in funnel shaped hole. It serves as protection as the spider waits to catch prey.
As the picture hopefully shows, spider identification with respect to funnel web spiders is easy at the family level. Just look for all the funnel webs on the ground in the year.
There are close to one hundred different species of funnel web spiders in the United States. Individual funnel web spider identification can be a bit of a challenge.
The three buttons at the top of the page, house spiders, garden spiders and Orb Weavers provide spider pictures and information to help with basic spider identification issues.
Hunting spiders is the catch all term for all spiders that do not spin webs to catch prey.
Often they hang out on flowers and plants seeking an unsuspecting insect to stop by. As a matter of fact, for all most spiders, including the hunting spiders, have eight eyes, each arranged differently around the head.
The eye arrangement of the spider in the picture indicates it is a wolf spider.
Well over two dozen North American Phidippus jumping spiders inhabit the brush and walls around residential areas.
Differences among Phidippus deal more with color than with body form. Generally, Phidippus species have darker banded legs, with shades of black, brown, red or yellow on the cephalothorax and abdomen.
The majority of Lynx Spiders (family Oxyopidae) live in tropical and subtropical areas of the world.
However, species in three different genera can be found in the United States.
The are small to medium sized hunting spiders, and like the crab spiders and jumping spiders, their preferred habitat consists of low growing plants and bushes.
Tarantulas are timid spiders that inhabit southern areas, especially the Southwest.
Yellow Sac Spiders (Cheiracanthium) commonly inhabit residential areas and can wind up on walls. While they are not considered spiders of medical importance (more commonly known as poisonous), their bite can be painful.
What Do Spiders Eat?
Spiders, long considered carnivores, (although there might be exceptions to that rule), traditionally choose insects and other arachnids as their primary source of food.
Arachnologists, scientists who study spiders, have long been intrigued by spider diets. One question they consider, “Are Spiders Picky Eaters”, has been the subject of both observation and scientific experimentation.
Like all scientists, when arachnologists conduct experiments on spider diets, they are trying to stay as objective as possible with respect to the potential answers.
Objectivity in scientific experimentation often loosely translates into scientists trying to prove their thinking is wrong, rather than prove their thinking is correct. Scientifically, the process is known as testing the null hypothesis.
A pair of arachnologists conducting experiments on the pickiness of spider eating habits, started with the hypothesis that spiders eat any insects that come their way.
They conducted an experiment with an Araneidae species, an orb weaving spider (Micrathena Gracilis).
Over an extended period of time, they counted the number and size of insects that flew into the web. They also recorded the number and size of the insects that the spider captured for dinner.
Testing the null hypothesis meant that the researchers thought that the spider would eat all the insects that landed in the web, regardless of insect size.
At the end of their experiment, they concluded that when given the choice between large and small insects caught in the web, the spider preferred larger insects.
In scientific terms, they concluded there was a statistically significant relationship between spider diet and insect size. The hypothesis that spiders are picky eaters still stands.