Have you ever wondered what happens to spiders in the winter? Many people hope that they just die, but do they? Or, are they just hiding and waiting to catch us by surprise? Spiders are cold-blooded, meaning that their body temperatures fluctuate with the environment. Because of this, they are not able to survive outside in the freezing temperatures. So, what do spiders do in the winter if they will die from the cold? Over the years they have become quite resourceful and have found ways to survive. Different spider species handle the cold winter months by hibernating and some species stay active.
Some spiders, like the common black and yellow garden Argiope spider, only live one season and die off once winter sets in, but they have already taken care of things for the next generation. The 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 so that it will be protected from the harsh winter temperatures. The best places for spiders to lay their eggs are in dark secluded locations that are able to keep the eggs warm. Areas under tree bark, rock piles, leaves or in your nice warm home are perfect places to protect their babies. Some of these eggs will not hatch until spring, but some species of spider eggs will hatch in the winter and the baby spiderlings will live together communally in the egg sack. Once it is warm enough for the spiders to survive, they will eat their way out of the sack and find their new homes.
While other spiders, like the fishing spider and the tarantula, live longer than a year and they will hibernate during the cold months. Adults and the young spiders will prepare for the winter by making an insulating cocoon type nest out of webbing under tree bark, rocks or in other places that will keep them safe. There are some species that do not spin webs, like the wolf spider, that will burrow underground to protect themselves from the elements. No spider can live without a little help though. Once the weather starts to change so does the spider. Their bodies slow down and start to produce an antifreeze type chemical, called polyhydroxy alcohol, in their bloodstream that works with the existing body fluids to help prevent ice crystals from forming inside the arachnids. The combination of their insulated shelters and this naturally made antifreeze helps the spiders survive throughout the winter. Once the weather starts to warm up their bodies stop producing the antifreeze allowing them to be active once again. These spiders will then mate and produce eggs in the early spring allowing for the cycle to continue.
Remarkably, there are some spiders that stay active during the winter. Most of these spiders stay under leaves and ground litter taking advantage of the warmth from the decaying debris. They are not as active during the cold and are not usually seen, but they 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 by feeding on the fungi, bacteria and other organisms that are decomposing the ground debris.
On top of that, 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 kind of protected structure. These spiders have become accustomed to indoor conditions so they survive all winter long and continue to mate and reproduce. Some other spiders will also find their way indoors during the cold months trying to find warmth, but since they are used to living outdoors they will more than likely die from the lack of a good food source.
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 the little creature will probably end up freezing to death. The best thing for the spider is for you to leave it alone and just let it live peacefully side by side with you. If you cannot fathom the idea of having it living in your home find a safe place for it to live in a garage or barn. Spiders have gotten a very bad reputation over the years, but most spiders are harmless and are not aggressive unless they are provoked or their homes are destroyed. They actually prefer to avoid humans and they would like for us to avoid them. 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 and yet some 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 might be a few less, but all that depends on how well the spiders 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 of the spiders will not make it through the winter, but you can bet there will be plenty more to take their place.