Have you ever wondered what happens to spiders in the winter? Many people hope that they just die…but do they? Or do they just hide and wait to catch us by surprise? Spiders are cold-blooded, meaning that their body temperatures fluctuate with their environment. So, what do spiders do in the winter to avoid dying in the freezing temperatures? Over the years, they have become quite resourceful and have found ways to survive. Some spider species handle the cold winter months by hibernating while other species remain active.
Common Garden Spiders
Some spiders, like the common North American black and yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia, only live one season and die off once the cold sets in, but by then they have already taken care of things for the next generation. Adult spiders are able to sense when cold temperatures are coming so they begin to prepare by mating and laying eggs in the early fall. Eggs are prone to freezing and the cold temperatures could destroy them. So before the females lay their eggs, they carefully choose a safe, dark place for the egg sack to protect it from the harsh winter temperatures. The best places for spiders to lay their eggs are in dark secluded locations which will help keep the eggs warm. The spaces under tree bark, rock piles, leaves, or even in your nice, warm home are the perfect places for spiders to protect their babies. The eggs of some species will not hatch until spring while the eggs of others will hatch in the winter and the baby spiderlings will live together in the egg sack communally. Once it is warm enough for the spiders to survive, they will eat their way out of the sack and set off to find new homes.
Some spiders, like the fishing spider and the tarantula, live longer than a year and will hibernate during the cold months. Both adult spiders and young spiders will prepare for the winter by making an insulating cocoon type nest out of webbing under tree bark, under rocks, or in other places that will keep them safe. There are some species that do not spin webs, like the wolf spider, which burrow underground to protect themselves from the elements instead.
No spider can live without a little help, though. Once the weather starts to change, so does the spider. Their bodies slow down and they begin to produce an antifreeze-type chemical, polyhydroxy alcohol, that works with the existing fluids in their bloodstream to help prevent ice crystals from forming inside their bodies. The combination of their insulated shelter and this natural antifreeze helps the spiders survive the winter. Once the weather starts to warm up, their bodies stop producing this antifreeze and they become active once again. The spiders will then mate and produce eggs in the early spring, allowing the lifecycle to continue.
Winter Spider Activity
Remarkably, there are some spiders that remain active during the winter. Most of these spiders remain hidden under leaves and other items on the ground to take advantage of the warmth from the decaying debris and the geothermal heat. They are not as active in the cold and are not usually seen but will come out on warm winter days and can sometimes be seen taking a stroll across the snow. They are able to stay alive during the winter months because their metabolism and digestion are slower in the cold so they need less food.
There are also some spiders that have learned to live with humans. The common house spider is a great example. It lives its whole life in a house, barn, garage, or some other kind of protected structure. These spiders have become accustomed to indoor conditions to survive the winter and to continue to mate and reproduce. Keep in mind that generally only about five percent of the spiders you see indoors have ever been outdoors.
How to Get Rid of a Spider in Winter
If you find a spider in your home in the winter and you want to save it by putting it outside, you are actually giving it a death sentence. It takes a while for the antifreeze-like chemical to build up in a spider’s body so if you put it outside, the little creature will probably end up freezing to death. The best thing for the spider is for you to leave it alone and to just let it live peacefully alongside you. If you cannot deal with a spider living in your home, find a safe place for it to live in a garage or a barn. Spiders have gotten a very bad reputation over the years, but most spiders are harmless and are not aggressive unless provoked or unless their homes are destroyed. They actually prefer to avoid humans and would like for us to avoid them as we are much more dangerous to them than they are to us. Spiders are very good for the environment and kill other pests including the disease-carrying mosquito and the pesky house fly. There are a few poisonous species such as the black widow and the brown recluse, but their bites are very uncommon. If you do have these living in your home, take the proper measures to have them removed.
So, where do spiders go in the winter? Well, that actually depends on the species. Some adults and young will survive by winterizing themselves while others will die and let the next generation take their place. Does having an extremely cold winter mean that there will be fewer spiders? Probably not. In some cases, there may be a few less, but all that depends on how well the spiders have prepared themselves and their egg sacks to withstand the harsh winter conditions. Getting ready for winter is a natural instinct for spiders and they have learned many ways to protect themselves and their young. Some spiders will not make it through the winter, but you can bet there will be plenty more to take their place.