Arachnophobes beware: spiders taking over yards this fall

La Cañada Flintridge residents are noticing some new guests in their backyards and gardens as fall arrives — spiders, usually brown, with striped legs, that are stretching their webs all over the place.

Leanne Lowden Mothershead, who has lived in La Cañada for five years, said that this summer the spiders have proliferated to the point of being a nuisance.

“They come every summer, but this summer has been the worst since I’ve lived in La Cañada,” said Mothershead.

UC Riverside arachnologist Rick Vetter, an expert in brown recluse and brown widow spiders, looked at photos of spiders from Mothershead’s home and identified them as members of the common orb weaver family. Vetter described orb weavers as “basically the same spider as [in the book] ‘Charlotte’s Web.’”

Vetter said orb weavers are annuals, and this is the time of year when the current generation of spiders is fully grown.

“This is when people find them,” said Vetter. “They sprout in the spring and grow up and get big; they’re making eggs right about now, and then die off.”

Mothershead said she won’t run at night because she can’t avoid the spiders’ webs in her neighborhood. According to Vetter, the orb weaver cuts down and eats its web each morning, recycling the protein to build a new web once night falls.

“I’m worried about getting bitten by them,” said Mothershead. “It’s really unfortunate, because I love being outdoors, this time of year. [This summer] we’ll barbecue outside but we’ll come back inside to eat.”

Larry Moss, who lives on Palm Drive near Palm Crest Elementary, said that despite his broom-wielding efforts to clear his driveway of the spiders’ webs, they keep coming.

“I walk down to get the paper and there’s about 10 or 15 little webs of spiders; and then by the time I walk back, they’re back again,” said Moss. “They aren’t really a bother except when you walk through them and they start climbing on you.”

Vetter said the venom of the orb weaver isn’t toxic for humans, so they pose no real danger, even though they might be a nuisance.

“It’s annoying to run in to the webs,” said Vetter. “[The spiders are] big enough that if they bit you, it’d be painful from the mechanical piercing of the skin.”

Though orb weavers have several common characteristics, like a multicolored abdomen, spiny and striped legs, and their trademark circular web, Vetter said that they can come in many shapes, sizes and colors.

“Because they make sticky webs … there’s a greater diversity of species along the coast, where it’s humid,” said Vetter.

While there might be a variety of orb weavers in La Cañada right now, Vetter said that they’ll die off around November, after they’ve laid the eggs for the next generation of spiders.

Vetter said they’re easy to appreciate while they’re here.

“It’s amazing that this little pin-headed creature can make such a gorgeous architectural structure, and do it fast, and it’s an amazing piece of work,” he said.

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