Question: I am looking for a good book that would help me identify the spiders I find in my home. I have found between one and two dozen distinct spiders in my house alone, and while I like spiders in the house for bug control, I suspect that some of them are poisonous and others like nipping my kids while they're sleeping. A trip to the library failed to turn up any books that would clearly identify them. Do you know of any such guides to our local spiders and where I might find them?
Answer: There are a few books of general interest with pictures you might enjoy. One is the Golden Field Guide's "Spiders and Their Kin"; another is the Audubon Society's "Guide to North American Insects and Spiders."
But be warned that, for the layman, identifying spiders is tricky business. Generally speaking, there are many fewer species east of the Mississippi, so identification without a microscope is fairly easy.
In the West, though, particularly in the Southland where we live with such an abundance of rich and varied habitats, unique species exist sometimes every 60 miles.
At this point, there aren't any guides specific to the countless spider species of the Southland. Even if there were a tome of such magnitude, you'd need a microscope and the ability to identify spiders based on such difficult characteristics as genitalia.
As far as knowing which species might be nipping your kids, consider the possibility they might not be getting bitten by spiders at all. According to Rick Vetter, staff research associate at UC Riverside's Entomology department, other bugs should be considered. Such bugs as mites, bedbugs, ticks or kissing bugs actually seek out humans, rather than spiders, which may nip only because they've been rolled over on or are being handled.
Though most spiders in the Southland are capable of a defensive bite and almost all, with the exception of one family, have venom, the lack of force of their bites and the amount of venom don't make them much of a threat.
Though the South American recluse is known to exist in isolated commercial basements in the general area of Sierra Madre, El Monte and Alhambra, there has never been a confirmed bite, nor is it a health concern to the general population. Indeed, Vetter confirms that there is only one medically important spider of concern in the Southland--the black widow.
Garden Spiders Often Come in Large Sizes
Q: I've noticed some humongous spiders making very large webs in a few places in our garden. In two separate locations I saw spiders with body widths a good half-inch long not including the legs. I think of spiders as being good things and have left them and their webs alone, but these spiders are a little big for my taste. What do you think about such large spiders?
A: These garden spiders aren't a threat to you in any way. They fall into the category of orb weavers, which spin big, flat webs.
If you're bothered by the mere presence of garden spiders, scoop them into a jar and move them away from the house and garden area rather than killing them.
Encouraging Birds to Roost Elsewhere
Q: We live in a quiet, wooded area with many birds. While we enjoy their song, the pleasure they provide is overshadowed by the fact that they use the stone wall surrounding our patio as their bathroom. This is a major cleanup job, and it's very hard to remove the white spots that remain. Is there any humane way we can encourage them to stay away from our patio?
A: I keep birds from mockingbird size on up off my children's play set with strips of plastic spikes arranged in varying directions on top. The spikes are generically referred to as "porcupine wire," though there are now several manufacturers of these spikes.
Another "ledge product" that might work on your wall are bird coils, which look like a slinky stretched out on its side and which are screwed into place every foot or so. Both are easy for homeowners to install, requiring screwing or gluing.
There are more complicated products like birdwire, which involves installing a system of tiny posts, wires and springs roughly three inches apart along the length of the wall to create a barrier. But installation is involved and requires hiring a bird control contractor.
A local company, Bird Barrier America, makes their spikes with blunt edges so birds won't be harmed. If you decide to go with the birdwire, ask for a referral to a contractor in your area. You can reach BBA at (800) 503-5444, or check out their Web site at http://www.birdbarrier.com for a look at some of the ledge products (check under "homeowners" and "architects" sections).
Got critter conflicts? Send your queries to wildlife biologist Andrea Kitay at P.O. Box 2489, Camarillo, CA 93011, or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and city. Questions cannot be answered individually. Visit http://www.livingwithwildlife.com to see answers to frequently asked questions.