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Arkansas Spiders

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Most everyone you meet has a pretty solid feeling when it comes to spiders. They either think they are pretty cool, or they are terrified of them. When you read articles with headlines that read, “The number of flesh-eating spider bites is on the rise in Arkansas,” it’s no wonder people have some level of fear. Let’s look a little closer at the facts and learn more about Arkansas spiders.

A spider is an arachnid in the class of arthropods. We can simplify it a bit and say that spiders have eight legs, fangs used to inject venom and spinnerets that extrude silk, so they can spin a web. The idea of all those legs and venom and getting caught in a web can be quite frightening. Arachnophobia (the extreme/irrational fear of spiders) is one of the world’s most common phobias. But should we be afraid?

Arkansas Spiders

Spiders are related to ticks and scorpions and are not in this world without purpose. Yes, you read that right. Spiders are important and not just to scare Little Miss Muffet. Spiders play a pretty important role in our ecosystem.

They are considered predators, and they mainly feed on other insects. Spiders are phenomenal at helping to control cockroaches, flies, moths, fleas and even the dreaded Arkansas mosquito. They also eat other spiders. They are essential to our farmers to control pests and do the same for your backyard garden. Without spiders, other insects would become a huge problem, and while a world without spiders sounds glorious to some, the consequence could be severe issues with insects and other pests.

Venomous Spiders in Arkansas

If you want to sound knowledgeable when you talk about spiders (or snakes), make sure you use the term venomous rather than poisonous. Poison enters the body through ingestions, inhalation, or absorption. Venom is injected through a bite or sting, so venomous is the proper term. Although most spiders have venom, Arkansas is home to only two medically-significant venomous spiders that can pose a serious threat to humans.

Arkansas Spiders - Brown Recluse
Brown Recluse (Loxosceles reclusa) photo by Joe Sparks. 

Brown Recluse (Loxosceles reclusa)

Key Characteristics:

  • Grayish brown to yellowish-brown.
  • Sometimes also called a fiddleback spider, they have a dark fiddle-like shape on their cephalothorax.
  • Live indoors and outdoors and prefer dry locations.
  • It can go long periods without food or water.
  • Most active at night.
  • Non-aggressive and only bite when provoked or trapped in clothing.

What to do if bitten:

Sometimes bites from a brown recluse can go unnoticed for several hours. The victim will begin to feel localized pain around a bite mark. The wound may swell, and a large, circular red area may appear. Carefully cleaning the wound and applying an ice pack can minimize the damage. Victims should seek medical attention as some bites can be particularly severe and may require hospitalization.

Arkansas Spiders - Black Widow

Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans)

Key Characteristics:

  • Identified by the bright red hourglass shape on the underside of its abdomen.
  • Two species are recognized in Arkansas.
  • Only the females will bite.
  • Often found under outdoor furniture, in piles of lumber and dark corners of basements and sheds.
  • Non-aggressive – will usually only bite when provoked or if trapped in clothing.

What to do if bitten:

Black widow spider bites can be serious and potentially life-threatening. The venom may cause some localized issues, but the primary concern is the toxin’s neurological effects. Cramping can occur throughout the body and nausea, fatigue and even coma are possible side effects. A victim of a black widow spider bite should see a physician as soon as possible.

 

Non-Venomous Spiders in Arkansas

The exact number of spider species in Arkansas is often a subject of debate. One study found evidence of 435 species in 35 families, while other sources indicate as far fewer. Regardless, spiders that do not pose a medically-significant threat to humans outnumber venomous spiders and are the ones you will most likely see. Here are a few of the most common ones found in the state:

 

Arkansas Chocolate Tarantula (Aphonopelma hentzi). Photo provided by Noah Kerry. 

Tarantulas

Found primarily in Arkansas’s hilly areas, tarantulas are often what spider nightmares are made of because of their large size and hairy bodies. The Arkansas Chocolate tarantula (also called the Texas Brown) is the only confirmed species in Arkansas, although several others have been spotted.

Key Characteristics:

  • Prefer dark, rocky areas – especially in the Mississippi Delta region.
  • Average about 2” in length
  • Live in silk-lined burrows.
  • Feed on ground beetles, grasshoppers, June beetles, cicadas, caterpillars and crickets.
  • Spiderlings usually hatch in August.
  • Males search for females in late summer and early fall and are often seen crossing roads.
  • Bites from tarantulas are generally not considered medically significant.

Carolina Wolf Spider (Hogna carolinesis) female carrying slings. Photo by Noah Kerry.

Wolf Spiders

Wolf spiders are very common in Arkansas and can be frightening. Although they prefer outdoors, cooler weather can send them seeking shelter indoors. If you see a large spider zipping across your living room floor, it is likely a wolf spider. Fortunately, they look much scarier than they are and pose little threat to humans beyond their scare factor.

Key Characteristics:

  • They are usually brownish and have hairy legs and two visible fangs.
  • Wolf spiders ambush their prey and don’t spin webs.
  • Female spiders will carry their spiderlings on their abdomens.
  • Their bite is considered similar to a wasp sting.

Arkansas Spiders - Yellow Garden Spider

Yellow Garden Spiders (Argiope aurantia)

If you’ve happened upon a large spider building a web in your garden, it’s probably a Yellow Garden Spider. The large body of these spiders is impressive, as is the size and design of their webs. They are sometimes called writing spiders.

Key Characteristics:

  • Large yellow and black body with a dark or silver head.
  • Weave large webs, often with a zipper pattern in the middle.
  • Yellow garden spiders catch their prey on their web, wrap it in silk and inject it with venom. They will come back later and suck up the meal like a smoothie.
  • They eat insects and small vertebrates.
  • Their venom is harmless, but a bite may feel similar to a bee sting.

 

Arkansas Spiders - Bold Jumping Spider

Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax)

Commonly seen in grass and on plants, these spiders will jump about to attack their prey. They are daytime hunters, so you will likely spot them in your yard. Their primary prey includes several crop pests like boll weevils, cotton leafworm and mosquitoes. This spider is excellent to have around.

Key Characteristics:

  • Small in size.
  • Black with orange to white spots on its body.
  • Their chelicerae (pincer-like claws) are a metallic green color.
  • Their bite creates a mild stinging sensation.

 

Arkansas Spiders
Black-footed yellow sac spider (Cheiracanthium inclusum). Photo by Andrey Zharkikh. CC by 2.o.

Black-Footed Yellow Sac Spider (Cheiracanthium inclusum)

Sac spiders are common spiders that likely cause more bites than any other spiders. Their bites often cause a mild reaction, including itching, swelling and redness. A rash may also develop, which often leads to doctors misdiagnosing these as brown recluse bites. The itching and swelling usually clear in a few days, and the bite will go away within two weeks.

Key Characteristics:

  • Grayish tan with no significant markings
  • It has a small body with long legs, and the front pair of legs are quite long.
  • In Arkansas, it is commonly found in cotton fields and pine forests.
  • They typically hunt at night and feed on insects and spiders.

Harvestmen (Opiliones)

Known as Daddy Long Legs, which I recently learned are commonly called Grand Daddy Long Legs throughout Arkansas, are not true spiders. However, they do belong to the group of arachnids that also include ticks and scorpions along with spiders. Harvestmen have an oval body (with no separation) and do not produce silk or weave webs.

Key Characteristics:

  • Tan, brown or gray oval body.
  • Long delicate-looking legs.
  • Common during the harvest season.
  • May congregate in large groups, especially near a water source.

It is worth noting a common myth surrounding Daddy Long Legs. It has long been told that these arachnids are deadly but lack the ability to bite through human skin. Research shows that this is not entirely true and may stem from the fact that many harvestmen will prey on venomous spiders. Their fangs are relatively small but can produce a small bite. Their venom is not medically significant and doesn’t even appear to be necessary for survival as they primarily scavenge for their food.

Whether or not you are a fan of spiders, they play an essential role in controlling insects and other pests. If you wish to keep spiders at bay in your home, keeping a tidy home is the best way to do that. Once you ensure that you have good seals on your doors and windows, removing piles of books, boxes and bags of clothing will help reduce the number of spiders in your home. Since most spiders prefer dark areas, the best thing to do is eliminate the dark places.

Want to learn more about Arkansas spiders? Check out these resources:

Arkansas Arthropod Museum
Spider ID

University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Research and Extension

Looking for help with identification?

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Arthropod Museum provides insect identifications at no cost. Visit this site for more information.

Visit these Facebook groups for more fun and information:

Arkansas Entomology

Spiders, Bugs and Bites in the USA

Photos provided by Julie Kohl unless otherwise noted.

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Julie Kohl works from home as a writer and virtual assistant while raising her young son. A former Yankee who was "converted" to the south by her husband, Julie has grasped on to rural life in a sleepy, blink-your-eyes-and-you'll-miss-it town in central Arkansas. Julie loves adventure. Not necessarily "scare-your-pants-off" adventure but the kind where you seek out new and exciting things. New foods, new places, new experiences. On her blog, Seek Adventures, Julie shares about the outdoor and travel adventures of her family as they camp and standup paddleboard across the South. You can also learn more about her writing on her site Seek Adventures Media.

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One response to “Arkansas Spiders”

  1. Anthony says:

    Thanks for doing the research. Loved the article!

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