Pest control isn't always conducted by people and it doesn't need to include chemicals. Sometimes nature has its own system of control. For example, the nine critters listed below all prey on spiders. That's good news for the millions of people around the world who are afraid of spiders. That fear—known as arachnophobia—is so common, that it is considered to be one of the top 10 phobias around the world.
As with most phobias, it doesn't really help most sufferers to know that nearly all spiders are harmless, or that they themselves are predators for any number of nuisance insects, from buzzing house flies to aphids and beetles that feast on your garden plants. If you have a fear of spiders, it is hard to change your feeling about these eight-legged creatures. So pest control readers who are not only squeamish but positively fearful about even the smallest of spiders will be pleased to know that nature has its own way of handling them.
In no particular order, the top spider predators include:
- Lizards. Geckos and chameleons are common lizards of the southern U.S. that feed on spiders as well as other small insects. A study by scientists from the University of California showed that lizards are so voracious when it comes to spiders that they can eradicate them in controlled environments. When scientists introduced lizards to several of the Bahama Islands to attempt to control orb spiders, an invasive, non-native species, within five years the spiders were eradicated on all islands where the lizards were present.
- Fish. Trout, archers, and mosquito fish (despite their name) are among those that feed on spiders. Of course, the spider must be or live in or around the water for the fish to have access, but there are several species, such as the water spider, that do just that.
- Birds. It comes as no surprise that birds are a significant threat to spiders of virtually all kinds (except perhaps the extremely large spiders, such as tarantulas). In fact, some of the most common birds of the U.S., such as robins and wrens, routinely make meals out of spiders. But small birds that prey on spiders also have to be careful that they don't get caught in the sticky webs—although the spiders rarely eat birds they snare. A garden that is full of song birds rarely has problems with spiders, and even domestic birds kept indoors have been known to feed on spiders if they are given free flight opportunities.
- Tarantula hawks. This is actually a wasp, not a bird, but the tarantula hawk does hunt down tarantulas in their burrows. The wasp "knocks" on the spider's web to attract attention, then, when the tarantula appears, it paralyzes the spider with a sting and drags the tarantula to its own burrow to feed to its young.
- Spider wasps. The larger family of insects to which the tarantula wasp belongs are the spider wasps. The females of each species sting and paralyze the spiders for feeding to their young, but each has a different way of getting the spider to its nest. Some carry the spider, some drag it, some pull it across the water, and others fly with it. But regardless of the method of transport, the end result is the same: fewer spiders for you to deal with.
- Monkeys. Though it may not be the most practical of matters to keep a monkey in your home to keep spider populations down, there are a number of species of monkeys that do enjoy a bite or two of spider at meal time.
- Centipedes. Although they are often considered even more repulsive than the spiders themselves, this many-legged arthropod can actually be a control against spiders in your home, Centipedes are carnivorous and use their claws to paralyze spiders and other small creatures.
- Scorpions. Although they rarely attack humans except in self-defense, scorpions generally create as much—or more—fear for humans than do spiders. But if you are arachnophobic, you may still prefer the slight threat of an accidental scorpion sting to the panic-inducing sight of a spider.
- Other spiders. Some spiders feed on their own kind—preying on and eating other spiders. This can actually be beneficial to humans because it is often the non-threatening spiders that feed on those that can be dangerous to humans. For example, the innocuous daddy long leg spider feeds on both the hobo spider and black widow spider.
Information Is the Antidote to Fear
Most phobias are by definition irrational, but if you're the type willing to fight against your fear, you might want to spend some time learning to identify spiders that are truly dangerous and work at tolerating, or even welcoming, those spiders that provide helpful services, such as eating garden pests and houseflies. In the U.S., the small handful of spiders that have problematic bites include:
- Widow spiders. The black widow (northern, southern, and western varieties) are the most well-known of these famous poisonous species, but there are also brown widow and red widow spiders you should be aware of. All the widow spiders are dark brown or shiny black with red hour-glass shaped markings on the abdomen of the female spider (only females have a dangerous bite). Although this is the most poisonous of North American spiders, its danger is vastly overrated. There are only about 12 bites each year that are rated as serious, and it has been more than 100 years since any human died of a widow spider bite. The vast majority of bites are "dry," in which no venom is injected. When threatened, the spider usually plays dead or flees. Most bites that occur are accidental, such as when the spider is pinched between skin and clothing.
- Recluse spiders. The second-most famous venomous spider in the U.S. is the recluse. The brown recluse is the species most people know about, but there are at least 12 others recluse spiders, several of which are also found in North America. These small spiders can often be identified by a violin-shaped marking on the back, although many other spiders have similar markings. Recluse spiders prefer warmer climates and are found from the southern Midwest to Georgia in the east and Colorado in the West. There is some concern that global climate change is now extending the range of this spider. The recluse, as the name suggests, is a shy spider that often cohabits in human dwellings with no problems ever reported. It feeds on small prey and prefers scavenging to active hunting. When bites to humans occur, it is usually because a spider has become trapped in clothing, such as when workers are performing maintenance operations in attics or crawl spaces. Most bites may go unnoticed, but very rarely they can cause open-sore bacterial infections that may take weeks to heal and may leave a scar. Deaths from recluse bites are almost unknown.
- Hobo spiders (also known as the aggressive house spider or funnel web spider). The hobo spider is generally considered non-toxic by most experts, but it can be aggressive and bite when its egg sacs are threatened. Except in this situation, the spider rarely bites. Reports of toxicity are now attributed to bacterial infections that sometimes occur if the bite site is not properly cared for—a problem that can occur with any insect bite.
- Yellow sac spiders. The yellow sac, too, is a non-venomous spider, but one whose bite can sometimes result in an open sore that may become infected. It is a small pale-colored spider with a yellow or beige abdomen.
Out of thousands of spider species, this small handful of spiders are the only ones that offer any danger, and even here, the reputation far exceeds the actual danger. Before taking efforts to kill any spider you see, you might want to learn a bit about what creature you have spotted and what benefits it might be performing in your house or garden.