How to Identify Spiders of Pennsylvania

How to Identify Spiders of Pennsylvania
Spiders are arachnids that serve a useful purpose by consuming insects. Pennsylvania is home to an array of spiders, ranging from colorful orb weavers, common grass spiders and large wolf spiders to potentially more dangerous types like broad-faced sac spiders and black widows. Most of Pennsylvania's spiders are content to live in the woods. But when the mercury drops in autumn some species will try to find warmer winter quarters in barns or homes. Learning how to identify spiders of Pennsylvania will enhance your appreciation for these eight-legged creatures and the natural environments where they live. (Pictured: Orb Weaver)


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

How to:

Things You’ll Need:
  • National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders
Step 1
Increase your knowledge of spiders by studying the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. Review online sites with information about spiders found in Pennsylvania (see links in Resources below).
Step 2
Observe flashy orb weavers like yellow garden spiders, arrow-shaped micrathena and venusta orchard spiders, all of which tend to hang out in spiral-shaped webs within wooded areas and near gardens. Yellow garden spiders are among the biggest of Pennsylvania's spiders. Featuring a yellow and black patterned exoskeleton, females of this species reach up to 1 inch in length. Arrow-shaped micrathena are smaller but equally colorful. These spiders have a spiny abdomen that acts as protection against predators. The venusta orchard spider is a long-jawed orb weaver with silvery-white and bright green body markings.
Venusta Orchard Spider
Step 3
Peer at grass, weeds and other types of ground cover for sheet-like webs with funnels extending off to one side and you'll likely see their architects: grass spiders. These spiders are often seen indoors during the fall as they seek refuge from the coming winter cold.
grass spider web
Step 4
Beware of broad-faced sac spiders, which can deliver a painful bite that is prone to infection. This reddish-brown spider scavenges on dead spiders and insects and is commonly found under leaves, stones and foliage.
Broad-faced Sac Spider
Step 5
Use caution when pawing through firewood piles--they are a favorite hiding place for large wolf spiders and smaller but more sinister black widow spiders. The bite of a wolf spider, which is a nocturnal predator, can be painful but they are not poisonous. The same cannot be said of venomous female black widows, which are adorned with a distinctive red hourglass on their abdomen. A black widow bite can cause breathing problems, chills, muscle aches and nausea, though these symptoms usually dissipate in a matter of days.
Black Widow Spider

Tips & Warnings

The feared brown recluse spider cannot survive the Pennsylvania winter outdoors. Thus the odds of encountering a brown recluse in Pennsylvania are very remote.
Children, elderly individuals and anyone else with compromised health should receive prompt medical care if they are bitten by a female black widow spider. Healthy adults may feel ill after receiving a black widow bite but they are usually fine in a few days.

Article Written By Kirk Brown

Kirk Brown is an award-winning freelance writer with two decades of diverse media experience. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he also was managing editor of an acclaimed scuba diving magazine. Brown has written scripts for more than 50 half-hour TV programs focusing on technology and health topics.

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