Quoddy Nature Notes – Sophie the House Spider

House Spider and Fly

Sophie the House Spider with a fly ready for eating

Sophie lives at the foot of the stairs by the doorway into the office.  She doesn’t seem to mind the normal traffic, but she will hide in a beveled crack behind the door trim if I noisily drop something going upstairs.  She has pretty poor eyesight for a spider, and doesn’t mind me shining a light on her as I watch her daily routine.  Sophie’s daily routine is pretty boring: she hangs upside down inside her web.

Now Sophie’s web is not a beautiful two dimensional work of art like Charlotte’s web, but a three dimensional creation with silk strands that go in all directions, with no recognizable pattern.  It looks like a pretty tangled up shoddy job, but Sophie seems proud of her handiwork and is capable of running through her messy nest with remarkable speed.

From what I can gather, Sophie seems to be a Common House spider, Parasteatoda tepidariorum.  There is a little disagreement among the spider scientists if the genus name is as noted or Achaearanea.  Maybe by the time you read this they will have come up with a worse tongue twister.  There is also a question if Sophie is a native here or from away, like South America, where most of her similar relatives reside.  Because of the ease that these spiders can hitch a ride on almost anything, P. tepidariorum  is found worldwide, and internationally is known as the American House spider.

Although Sophie belongs to the spider family Theridiidae, as does the notorious Black Widow, Sophie does not possess the same degree of neurotoxin as her cousin.  Nevertheless, all spiders are poisonous, and Sophie’s bite can raise a welt like a bee sting, and can be dangerous if the unfortunate victim is allergic to Sophie’s venom.  Sometimes it’s better to behave like Little Miss Muffet.

After a week or so of noticing Sophie do nothing and no sign that she had eaten anything, I caught a cluster fly, calmed it down in the freezer for a few minutes, then dropped it into her web.  That didn’t work.  House spiders are timid, and by the time Sophie came out to see what she had caught, the fly had warmed up, got his engines going, scared Sophie away to her hiding spot, freed himself from the web and buzzed off somewhere.

The next day I tried a little different tactic and snipped the wings off the cluster fly.  That worked, and Sophie proceeded to wrap up the fly in silk, move it to a spot more to her liking, then, Dracula-like, suck the juices out of poor Mr Fly.  I could tell when Sophie was finished, as she would snip off the holding silk strands and drop the carcass on the floor.  It took her less than a day to finish one fly.

House Spiders with Fly

Sophie and Sam the House Spiders

Periodically I brought Sophie a fly, as we still have plenty in the garage, and then one day I noticed she had a visitor.  I don’t know if Sam was attracted to the well rounded Sophie or to the fly I had fed to Sophie a little while before. I didn’t see any aggressiveness and even at one point they seemed to tenderly hold hands (legs).  I wondered if I had bungled into a web based dating service.

Sam was around for one day.  The literature says that males may come into a female’s web for a while, but doesn’t mention if they end up on the menu.  I’m not sure when the females lay their eggs, but there may be up to 400 offspring.  Indoors, House spiders may live up to 2 years if they are first noticed by a nosy naturalist and protected from a dedicated housewife. In the outside world House spiders are harvested by other spiders, birds, wasps, and many other different predators. An interesting predator /prey relationship is with the assassin bug Stenolemus lanipes.  Supposedly this bug eats young House spiders exclusively, but if it isn’t careful can also be caught and eaten by an adult House spider.  I hope I can find a careful assassin bug pretty soon.

About Fred Gralenski

The subject of any of my columns is whatever comes to mind or inspired by whatever I see or otherwise sense. After this inspiration I usually consult my own books and search web pages to insure the correct scientific name and any unusual characteristics, etc., then begin writing.
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3 Responses to Quoddy Nature Notes – Sophie the House Spider

  1. Hi Fred,
    I enjoyed Sophie’s story. My old house has any number of spiders, large and small. I have often wondered about their bites as I am sure that sometimes at night they run across my hands or face……In the morning I may have an itchy bite to wonder about.
    I also have a thriving community of Daddy Long Legs by my kitchen sink. I find them interesting to watch while I do the dishes. I know they are not spiders, however. Can I assume that they do not bite?
    When the gardening season arrives I will have lots of outside varieties to view and will no doubt send photos for your ID………….Joan

  2. Joyia Cyr says:

    Things are slow outside, right?

    • Frederick Gralenski says:

      Hi Joyia
      You’re right. No different critters outside to take pictures of. But I am researching spiders. I didn’t positively Sophie from any of my books or the internet. Maybe MES will.
      Cheers,
      Fred