Black widow.jpg

In the Northeast, there are two dangerous spiders worth recognizing, the female black widow being the most feared of all North American spiders.


Q: I am frightened by spiders in general and wonder if you can give me some thoughts that might calm me a little?

— Gene, Pittsfield

A: I would hope Gene that these comments might help, but believe me, I was brought up by a family to be frightened by a lot of things, not only spiders, as a child until I began learning about nature studies as a child by Miss Palmer and Bartlett Hendricks at nature classes at The Berkshire Museum in the late 1980s.

You are not alone, and many have a fear so fierce that the sight of even a small, harmless spider stops them. Their fear is unrealistic, a phobia. The intense fear of elevators, heights, public speaking, or spiders are all "simple phobias." They are all disruptive but less so than Agoraphobia, a fear of open places which would keep the sufferer locked securely within his or her home, for instance. Fear and exaggeration go hand in hand, often destroying other living creatures. If we fear spiders, we exaggerate their danger.

Persons with a phobia of spiders probably know this, but "knowing" does not alleviate their smothering fear.

In the Northeast, there are two dangerous spiders worth recognizing, the female black widow, the most feared of all North American spiders, and the violin or brown recluse. Both have potent venom, though the former would rather run than bite, and the recluse bites only when disturbed. Most all other spiders in this area of the country are too small to pierce our skin if they had a mind to bite in the first place. Some larger spiders, if cornered, picked up or threatened with being squashed, might attempt to bite, but the effect would be no worse than a wasp sting if that bad. A recent immigrant from the Mediterranean region is a 1/2-inch whitish-yellow spider. Though I have never seen one, it has been found in some houses in the United States, and the bite, which is painful for a few minutes, is sometimes accompanied by complaints such as fever for a day or so.

The average person will go out of their way to kill a spider with a broom or squash it with one's foot; the real phobic cannot tolerate the sight of a spider. Arachnophobia is tragic. More than 3,000 spider species abound in North America and over 50,000 worldwide. Spiders are ubiquitous, found almost everywhere, inhabiting even the cleanest homes. Unfortunately for the spider and its liking for the roach. It is quite simple; people regard spiders as either pests or dangerous. Some people knowing they are neither dangerous nor pests eliminate eight-legged neighbors because they don't like them.

The arachnophobia, if true to its name, has more than spiders to contend with. Mites are tiny spider relatives and may total more than one million species. Mites are nearly everywhere, in the ear of a moth, the nostril of a seal. Mites are found in the desert and the sea; they are common in meadows and woodlands and the Antarctic. Our homes and even our own bodies offer mites residence. Scorpions, false scorpions and the familiar daddy long-legs are all arachnids.


It is in late summer that began widespread a few weeks ago and is now most evident in our lawns and gardens as their webs, highlighted by the morning dew, catch our attention. During this season, shrubbery, low tree branches, porch, and deck railings sport glistening webs through early autumn and killing frosts.

As summer wanes, the most obvious and familiar of the webs we encounter — sometimes 2 feet across — is made by the black and yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia. Look for its web in weedy fields and tall grass meadows where at times of the year, more than a million individuals of different species may be hiding per acre. Look in shrubs and trees, or perhaps just outside your doorway. Like other spiders, it is a retiring neighbor and will retreat upon noticing your approach.

Spiders do make good neighbors. They are quiet and clean, and usually, we don't even know that they are there. In parts of the world, Asia, and the Middle East particularly, spiders are welcomed as a sign of good luck. And if that doesn't sell you on spiders, remember they were here first by a half billion years.

Alen J. wrote: Last year, I received several monarch butterflies in our garden, and they laid eggs that produced caterpillars in our garden. But this year, the same time of year, there were monarchs here, but apparently, none laid (eggs) or caterpillars. Any specific reason?

NatureWatch: As far as I know, I do not know. Perhaps a reader might know.

Marty wrote: I am late this year making sugar water, and we have hummingbirds at our flowers and want to make some sugar water again but forgot the combination. Can you suggest it?

NatureWatch: One part of sugar is four parts of water. I usually pour hot water into the mix and put it out when it cools off.

Tony G. wrote: After reading your column this morning, I thought you might be the right person to ask. My husband and I saw this "flying thing" hovering over some small alliums at White Pines in Stockbridge. It never stopped moving and was there for more than 10 minutes. My research tells me it's a hummingbird moth, but I can't figure out which kind. Or I could be completely wrong. Do you know? I'd appreciate any help you can give me. Whatever it is, it's amazing looking.

NatureWatch: From the included photograph, you are perfectly correct, it is one of the hummingbird moths.


A few years ago, I received several NatureWatch queries about jumping worms, a.k.a. Asian jumping or crazy worms, also sometimes snake worms. These invasive earthworms (first found in Wisconsin, I was told) were found in 2013 and have spread widely in recent years. I am not sure if they have been found here, or if they were, although Naturewatch received apparent comments about them here a few years ago, but have heard nothing lately, if actually. I would like to hear, if now hereabouts.

Email Thom Smith at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 South Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.