Kids & Nature Connections: Spooky fun with spiders

Submitted on Thu, 03/24/2016 - 13:41

This article originally ran in The Wenatchee World in October 2016.

It’s officially fall! Kids are back in school (those who are old enough, anyway), the orchards are almost all picked, and the leaves are changing. At the Land Trust, we’ve been having great fun on our Fall Family Day Hikes in partnership with the City of Wenatchee.

Halloween is fast approaching as well. As this month winds on, we start to see spooky webs of spider silk decorating our doors, offices, classrooms, and homes. But what about the real thing? Many people have an innate fear of spiders. But spiders are fascinating creatures that help keep our insect population in control and build some of the most well-engineered structures in the world – without the use of computers or even thumbs!

To enjoy this spooky season with your little ones, try these fun fall activities to get outside and explore the fascinating world of spiders.

But first, a little background:

When we learn more about something we’re scared of, we often come to respect it more and fear it less. So what are spiders and why are they unique in the animal kingdom?

Spiders are eight-legged arthropods that breathe air, have eight legs, and have fangs. Most spiders’ fangs inject venom, but the majority of spider venom is too weak to hurt people. Spiders eat insects and other spiders and even spider eggs and silk. Some large spiders can eat lizards, birds and frogs. All spiders can create silk, but only some spiders use that silk to create webs to catch their food.

Spider silk is an amazing thing! It’s very strong and light, so that pound for pound, it’s five times stronger than steel. Spiders can make different kinds of silk for different purposes. On a spider’s web, the strands that make up the “spokes” of the wheel radiating out from the center are not sticky, while the silk making up the “rings” are sticky and stretchy. The spider travels along the non-sticky “spokes” to avoid getting caught in its own web.

Fun spider activities

First, go outside and find a spider or its web and observe what you see. Ask questions. What shape is the web? What color is the spider? Why do you think they are that way? Why do you think it build the web where it did? Blow on the web lightly. What does the spider do?

Spider webs are feats of engineering. Have your kids try some engineering. You could have them create a web by tying knots in string or rope – it’s harder than it looks to get a shape that holds together! Or, have your kids practice other kids of civil engineering. Try to build a bridge from toothpicks and glue. Talk about the challenges, and about how amazing spiders must be to build their webs every day.

Preserve a spider web

For this activity, you’ll need to find a spider web that’s in good condition but doesn’t have a spider on it (we don’t want to disturb a living spider). Hold up a sheet of newspaper behind it, then use spray paint to gently cover both sides of the web. Let the spray paint dry fully. Then take a piece of paper and spray it with hairspray or spray glue so that it’s sticky. Hold the paper behind the web and bring it forward so that the brightly colored web sticks to the paper. Let the web and paper dry fully. Now you have your very own preserved spider web to observe up close!