Hunting spiders in Ohio? Check out these amazing creatures
Arachnophobia, the irrational fear of spiders, is widespread. Some estimates claim that about 6% of the population suffers from arachnophobia. If you’re one, I apologize for this column. But you may have already stopped reading.
Spiders are all around us. About 650 species are found in Ohio alone. There are many species, most likely, present on your property and in your home. In warm seasons, a light rain of spiders falls into the air. They disperse to new terrain shortly after hatching by “ballooning”. They send out a silken thread that catches the breeze and lifts them high. Fortunately for people with arachnophobia, these spiders, and the vast majority of spiders, are never seen by most people.
Spiders are an important part of food webs—both as predators and prey—and engage in amazing behaviors. Many are artistically painted in garish colors, or ornate in their markings. Their production and use of silk is highly advanced, and some species have the ability to spin incredibly complex webs.
White-banded hunting spider
On September 7, 2013, I was with a group of colleagues late at night in the wilds of Adams County. We were looking for caterpillars and therefore inspecting the plants with flashlights. Suddenly, my beam picked up the eye shine of a large spider about 20 feet away and eight feet away in a tree with red buds. I climbed up some logs to get to the spider’s level, and enjoyed the sight of a tarantula-sized web spider guarding the nest.
I knew it was a hunting spider, a group in the nursery web spider family. The family is so named because the females make silken nests (broods) and guard the spiders for a week or so until they disperse. Many species of fishing spiders in this group are highly aquatic and can even catch small fish.
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But this hunting spider was unlike any spider I had seen. The head was a striking ivory white, very different from the common hunting spiders I was familiar with. I took photos, one of which is attached to this article. It didn’t take long to identify it: the white-banded hunting spider (Dolomedes Alpinius). A subsequent review of the literature showed no records in Ohio for this southern species. Great excitement! A new spider for Ohio, and it’s particularly impressive!
A few weeks later, I learned that another case had been documented near Akron, around the time I found mine. Later, it was found that a white-banded hunting spider was found in 2012 in Perry County. The latter, discovered by moth expert Diane Brooks, was the first state record.
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There is no doubt that white-banded hunting spiders are expanding northward. Spiders are not as well known as birds or mammals, so published literature is often sparse. However, many documents mentioning this species from more than a century ago describe it as a southern swamp species, sometimes around cypress trees.
By 1973, white-banded hunting spiders had arrived in Kentucky. A research paper on hunting spiders published that year documented the northern limits of white-banded hunting spiders as two southern Kentucky counties.
Fast forward to today. There are now dozens of records from Ohio, most of them east of the line from Cincinnati to Cleveland. There are also many records from Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Pennsylvania. At least one has made it to the state in the north, thanks to a 2020 record from southern Michigan. The first records from all of these states appear to date back to the last decade.
Why the recent expansion? Average winter temperatures probably play a large role in determining the northern limits of white-banded hunting spiders (and many other insects and spiders). They overwinter as adults and can live for two years. As winter gets warmer, spiders can expand their boundaries, and their rapid expansion is stimulated by the dispersal of highly mobile balloons of juveniles. There may be other factors at play as well. Whatever the case, the very cool spider is now a resident of Ohio.
Naturalist Jim McCormack writes a column for the Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature inwww.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.