How to Identify Spiders in Florida

How to Identify Spiders in Florida
Spiders can elicit fear and loathing due to their venomous seduction of prey, and yet, can inspire awe and wonder at their masterful weaving of silk webs. Florida is home to many varieties of spiders, including fishing spiders, crab spiders, widows, orb weavers, house spiders, wolf spiders, and jumping spiders. With the exception of widows and the brown recluse, Florida spiders are not considered dangerous to humans. Learning to identify spiders in Florida can increase your appreciation of their role in the ecosystem.

Instructions

Difficulty: Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • Spider identification guide for Florida (or North America)
  • Spider identification guide for Florida (or North America)
Step 1
Verify that the creature is a spider. All spiders are members of the taxonomic class Arachnida, along with their relatives the scorpion and the tick. All members of this group have two main body parts, a cephalothorax and an abdomen. They have eight legs. Insects differ by having six legs and three body parts.
Step 2
Observe the habitat and surroundings of the spider. Many spiders are restricted in their geographic range or live in a very specific habitat. For example, crab spiders are found on leaves and flowers, where they wait to ambush their prey.
Step 3
Look for any web structures in the vicinity of the spider. Some spiders, such as orb weavers, spin intricate webs with which to ensnare their prey. Others, such as the widows, spin disorganized cobwebs and are known collectively as cobweb spiders. Some species, like the brown recluse, use silk only to make nesting structures.
Step 4
Note the size of the spider. Many spiders are characteristically small. Both the black widow and brown recluse are a half-inch or less in size. Others can reach several inches, such as the black and yellow garden spider.
Step 5
Identify any physical markings and colors on the spider. For example, the southern black widow is black with a red hour-glass shape on the underside of its abdomen. The brown widow, on the other hand, can be colored from near-black to near-white with an orange hour-glass shape on the underside of its abdomen. Additionally, white spots appear on its back, though these spots can vary in color.
Step 6
Note any other physical features of the spider. How many eyes are there and where are they arranged on the head? Does the spider have fine hairs or spines on the legs? The brown recluse has six eyes arranged in three pairs with a central pair in the front and the other two pairs to the sides with a space in-between.
Step 7
Sex the spider. Spiders exhibit a great deal of sexual dimorphism. This means that the males and females appear different. Female spiders are typically larger than the males and can differ in their markings and physical features. If you cannot sex your spider do not despair. Immature spiders can be difficult to identify.
Step 8
If possible, take a photograph, or make notes on your observations. A picture and description of the surroundings can be useful if you need to seek help from an entomologist or arachnologist, a person who studies spiders.
Step 9
Compare your data with the spiders listed in your reference guide. If you are unable to identify your spider, there are a number of professionals who will identify it as a courtesy. Provide as much information as possible, and be patient in awaiting a reply.

Tips & Warnings

 
Avoid handling spiders. While many spiders are benign to humans, some can inflict bites that hurt. The widow spiders and brown recluse can inflict a bite that requires medical attention. As with all wounds, there is an additional risk of secondary infection from a spider bite, that can potentially be more severe than the original bite.

Article Written By David Chandler

David Chandler has been a freelance writer since 2006 whose work has appeared in various print and online publications. A former reconnaissance Marine, he is an active hiker, diver, kayaker, sailor and angler. He has traveled extensively and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida where he was educated in international studies and microbiology.

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