“Great place to raise your spider family,” Entomologist explains spider boom along Columbia River

RICHLAND, Wash. — They’re creepy, ‘crawl-ey,’ and all over the trees and bushes that line our local waterways: spiders.

It’s something that happens every year around this time; thousands of spiders settle along the Columbia River.

“Most of what you’re going to find along the river are wolf spiders, crab spiders — these generic groups,” Professor Richard Zack said.

Zack is a Professor of Entomology at WSU Pullman. He knew from a young age that he wanted to study biology.

“You know, was out collecting salamanders and frogs and all of that type of stuff,” he laughed.

Zack has studied the insect populations at Hanford and even investigated the time the McNary Dam was overrun with spiders.

“They all set up on the dam there and you could go out and literally, spider webs everywhere, workers were frustrated,” he said.

So why the spider boom along our local waterways?

Zack said we can thank the wind for getting spiderlings to their new homes.

“So, spiders don’t fly obviously — they’re distributing themselves, so the winds and everything work perfectly and then they’ll just kind of get off at different places along the shoreline and they’ll set up there,” he explained.

Zack said the spiders then create webs to catch other insects who are using the river breeze for transportation through the area.

“But it’s a great place to raise your spider family — to produce spider offspring etcetera,” he said.

Our big question to Zack was are they poisonous?

Zack said in Washington, the only spider you truly have to worry about are Black Widows, and you won’t find those along the river.

“All spiders to some extent are toxic because they use this toxin to subdue prey, but they would not be toxic to humans,” he said.

And, he said we should consider them our friends, especially if you’re a farmer.

“Responsible for more insect management than any other group of animals.”

You can read more about Professor Richard Zack’s research and projects here.

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