The days are getting cooler and all those spiders you've been seeing all summer long are seeking shelter from this change in a different ways. Have you ever wondered how spiders survive the winter? They are cold-blooded creatures after all. That's why we don't see them during the colder months, but many of them are still all around us. Where they do it depends on the species and how their natural life-cycle occurs.

Wolf Spider
Wolf Spider

Image via Wikimedia

Many people believe that spiders head indoors when the temperatures start to drop. This is a myth. House spiders are from different species than the others.. House spiders have adapted to indoor conditions which include a fairly constant temperature and poor food and water resources. Basically, spiders have evolved to shelter in place when the cold weather sets in.

Spider in the Snow
Spider in the Snow

Image via Wikimedia

For spiders that have an annual life cycle they lay eggs in sheltered areas like sheds and under homes. The eggs are wrapped in spider silk and attached to wood surfaces or hidden in a web. The spider parents die at the end of the season. A contractor working under my mobile home last winter said that there were hundreds of these silk egg cases beneath my living space. Each case, or sac, may contain hundreds of eggs. They look like this:

Spider Eggs
Spider Eggs

Image via Spiders in Ohio

Not all of these egg sacs survive, but those baby spiders that hatch during the winter months stay inside the protective silk until spring arrives.

Outdoor species, being cold blooded, are generally not attracted to warmth. They are unable to shiver and don't find discomfort in the cold. As the weather gets cold they become less active and may eventually become dormant.

Temperate Zone Winter Spider Web
Temperate Zone Winter Spider Web

Image via Wikimedia

Most temperate zone spiders -- where most of us live -- have enough of an anti-freeze-like substance in their bodies to help keep them from freezing. This may either lower the freezing point for the spider or prevent the formulation of large ice crystals that would damage cells. For the most part they are good to 23°F, some can handle even colder temps.

Frosty Spider Web
Frosty Spider Web

Image via FotoThing

Some species of spiders do live a number of years and they must find places to survive and they may retreat or burrow to hide from the cold weather. Those that retreat use logs, rocks, or leaf litter as protection while wrapping themselves in silk cocoons.

Spider in Leaf Litter
Spider in Leaf Litter

Image via Spiders in Ohio

Spiders that burrow will do so in a few inches of soil and debris. Just this small of a distance being underground can make the winter milder for them. A layer of snow and/or ice on top of that can keep them even warmer.

Potential Spider Burrow
Potential Spider Burrow

Image via Wikimedia

There are even a few species of spider that are so well-adapted to cold weather that they just need to find a protective nook somewhere and essentially freeze in place until winter is over.

Spider Walking Across the Snow
Spider Walking Across the Snow

Image via Spiders in Ohio

Some spiders are surprisingly active during the winter and may take advantage of a warm day to go walk-about over the snow. What they are doing with this behavior is still unclear and they may just be in "dispersing" their numbers. After all, spider prey is very rare in the winter.

One of the many myths about spiders is that they start coming indoors as the weather gets colder and that the more spiders you see means that the winter will be harsher. This is just not true. Any spiders you see have probably been in the house all along. Spiders becoming more apparent in August and September are likely to be more active for mating season.

Rare Sighting -- Outdoor Spider Found Indoors in Winter
Rare Sighting -- Outdoor Spider Found Indoors in Winter

Image via Wikimedia

Only about 5 percent of the spider species that you are likely to find in your home have ever been outdoors. House spiders have been with us since before the Roman Empire and most of those species are from Europe and have traveled with us around the world. These spiders end up in brand new houses from egg sacs carried on building materials, furniture, and decor. You may even bring them along with your possessions. They are just not adapted to outdoor environs.

Chances are that the house spiders you may see in larger numbers in August and September are males in search of hot chicks. They have made their way into your home from more neglected spaces, such as garages, lofts, attics, crawlspaces, and storage areas. Thankfully they don't care much more for our company than we do theirs. At least most of us. It is a fairly natural thing for humans to be afraid of spiders. It is a part of our instinct for self-preservation.

Ice Spiders -- Movie
Ice Spiders -- Movie

Now, if you are really into spiders in winter, I recommend the science fiction movie Ice Spiders from 2007. These over-sized arachnids love the snow and kill and eat everything and everyone they see. That should satisfy your fear of spiders just fine. I'm terrified of spiders and enjoyed it a lot.

Sources: Spiders in Ohio, Burke Museum, Metro, Independent

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