Spiders tell Allegheny that they really are not all that bad

On the evening of Sunday, Sept. 18, Lexi Costanza, ’25, was studying at one of the tables outside of the Lawrence Lee Pelletier Library. It was a nice night, and given the approach of fall, she wanted to enjoy the nice weather while she did her work. But when she saw the glint of a spider’s web leading down to her sleeve, she had a brief moment of panic.
The spider was light brown with a thinner body, about the size of a quarter. Costanza flung the spider off of her and stepped away for a moment. After the initial adrenaline rush disappeared, fear was replaced with curiosity. She returned to look for the spider and found it sitting on top of the umbrella, quickly disappearing into a hole when she shone her phone flashlight on it. Looking closer, Costanza found that there were spider webs all over the umbrella she had just been studying under. However, this is not the first time Costanza has had such an encounter here at Allegheny.
“I see spiders constantly on campus,” Costanza said.
Costanza claims that she has not only found them at Pelletier Library, but also in her own dorm room and all around Brooks Hall.
However, it is not just academic buildings and residence halls that the spiders tend to frequent. Jake King, ’23, who lives in a house on Sherman Street, claims that he and his roommates see a lot of spiders there as well.
“It’s an old house, there’s spiders everywhere,” King said.
Beth Choate, associate professor of environmental science and sustainability, explained that despite the high volume of spiders that can be spotted around campus and the Meadville area, they should not be feared. Unlike the spider that Costanza encountered outside the library, most spiders tend to avoid humans.
Choate said that spiders tend to frequent undisturbed spaces where their webs are less likely to be destroyed and usually prefer darker environments. Most species of spiders breed in the autumn, which may explain why students are encountering them more often around campus right now. After the breeding season is over, they will likely be spotted with less frequency again.
Once they have mated, the onset of colder weather will make some of these spiders migrate indoors for warmth, but many will go through a process common in many insects: diapause. Through this process, these creatures will find a safe and cozy space, like wedged between some rocks, under a fallen log or in the crevices of a metal umbrella, and their bodies will slow down to reach a nearly dormant state. As temperatures rise after the end of winter, they will gradually come out of this dormancy and become active again.
Despite how scary they may look, spiders are absolutely vital to the ecosystems that they are a part of, said Choate. Spiders are generalist predators, meaning they eat whatever is most available to them at any given moment. They’re essential to the population control of pest insects, like mosquitos, ants and flies, which helps keep the ecosystem balanced and healthy.
“I love seeing spiders around my house, because I hope that they’re eating the mosquitos and all the things that I don’t want,” Choate said.
The most common types of spiders in this region of Pennsylvania are wolf spiders, garden spiders, house spiders, funnel weavers and orb weavers. Harvestmen — commonly known as daddy long-legs — are also worth mentioning, though Choate clarified that the species is technically not a type of spider but a close relative to them.
Though less likely to be encountered, another type of spider that can be found in this region is the brown recluse. This species is one of only a few venomous types of spiders in Pennsylvania, and should be avoided.
The brown recluse can be identified through its coloration; this species will be tan with a darker marking on its head, often described as being violin-shaped. Other than this mark, the brown recluse is completely uniform in color and will have no other markings on its body or legs.
Choate advised that if a student sees a brown recluse in an area that it could potentially harm someone, the spider should be killed quickly and humanely. However, if the spider is in a place that would not risk harm to humans, the best thing to do is to walk away from it.
This philosophy is not just applicable to the venomous types of spiders, but all species. If you see any spiders lurking around campus in the coming weeks, Choate advised that you leave them alone.
“Most of them are really benign, and they’re just hanging out doing their thing, and they’re not going to hurt humans,” Choate said.