Spiders of KY: Sounds Good Takes a Closer Look at Our Eight-Legged, Bright-Eyed Friends

Oct 22, 2020

Although often associated with all things spooky, most spiders found in Kentucky do far more good than harm. Woodlands Nature Station naturalist, Shannon Brockway, speaks with Tracy Ross about our eight-legged, bright-eyed friends.

While most spiders found in Kentucky are harmless, there are two, in particular, that should be avoided if at all possible. The first is the black widow. "If you think of your stereotypical 'scary' spider, all black with the red markings, that's a black widow," Brockway explains. "That's a red hourglass marking on its abdomen. They're pretty easy to recognize, and they like to be in hidden, out of the way places. They're more often going to be coming into contact with humans if someone reaches their hand in a dark area, or let's say you had a boot or something you had left outside for a while...they may have gotten inside there."

Brown recluses are another venomous spider native to Kentucky. "They don't really create webs...they like to be in places like cardboard, so they'll have these kind of sheet webs they go into and hide in there." Similarly to black widows, brown recluses prefer solitary corners and crannies. Both spiders tend to avoid humans unless directly provoked. 

However, more often than not, spiders found in Kentucky aren't harmful to humans. In fact, some have even taken over the interwebs as ultra-cute arachnid superstars: the jumping spider. "[Jumping spiders] are very small, but they're very fuzzy," Brockway says. "They have eight eyes, but the center two eyes are very, very large, so you can really see them looking and focusing in on you. If you ever see a post or meme of a fuzzy little spider, that's usually a jumping spider."

Other Kentucky spiders include orb weavers, which can sometimes be fairly large. "If you ever go hiking, they tend to make those webs right across the trail that you hit if you're the first hiker on the trail in the morning. There's a variety of sizes, but they have the classic spider parts: the cephalothorax and the abdomen. Of course, the eight legs. You often see ones that have kind of spiky looking abdomens this time of year, micrathenas and such; they're really very cool looking if you stop and take a close look."

"Another one people will often see are wolf spiders," Brockway continues. "They are typically fairly large, brown [or] black spides that have a lot of hair on them. Unlike those orb weavers, they're not going to be sitting on a web. They're called wolf spiders because they hunt like wolves. They will chase down their prey. You'll often see them running along the forest floor."

For other spiders, most of their hunting takes place on a web. "If an insect gets tangled in [the web], they can feel that, and they'll run towards it. [The spider] can wrap it up with more silk and inject it with a bite -- so that venom, that toxin, we're often thinking of is really used to help subdue their prey. It will liquefy the insides and basically slurp everything up like an insect milkshake," Brockway says. 

Spooky insect milkshakes aside, spiders' trademark eight legs are often the cause of many people's creepy-crawly feelings. "It seems...with a lot more legs, people get a little nervous. But with the spiders, they're going to be using all those legs to help them manuever through the world. SO when you're climbing through a web, you'll be able to use those legs to hold on."

"One thing I always recommend this time of year is to keep an eye out at night for spider eyeshine. So if you were to take a flashlight, go in your backyard, and kind of scan through the grasses, it takes a little bit to catch it and know what you're seeing, but their eyes will actually shine a very bright white-blue color. So you can move the lights through the grass and the trees, and after you get a hang of angling the light, you'll start to see all of these eyes shining back at you."

Don't be spooked by the number of pairs you see, though. "They wouldn't necessarily be wanting to come near us for any reasons and unless we were seeming as though we were chasing after them, they wouldn't be too concerned with us, either," Brockway concludes.