Spiders in the House
The Spider Pavilion welcomes everyone — from eight-legged creatures to visitors big and small.
By Chelika Yapa
At first glance, the Spider Pavilion appears to be a beautiful, sun-filled garden with winding pathways, but look closer and you’ll discover more than 500 spiders, from local beauties from right here in Los Angeles to glimmering golden silk orb-weavers from the other side of the country. You’ll see all this not behind glass, but in the wide open green space framed by a handsome, netted pavilion. Knowledgeable Museum Educators will be on hand to guide visitors in this fascinating exploration of spiders in the Southland and beyond.
Most of the spiders in the Pavilion are orb-weavers — spinning webs in that classic shape we recognize from Charlotte’s Web or Spider-Man. Remarkable feats of spider engineering include cone-shaped funnel webs and webs woven into golden silk that stretch three to nine feet in length across bushes and tree branches.
The silk woven by spiders is nothing short of miraculous. Scientists and engineers marvel at the strength and elasticity of spider silk, which exceeds the tensile strength of steel. In addition, spider silk does not illicit an immune response in the human body and could potentially be used for various surgical needs, such as artificial ligaments. In our homes, spiders serve as a form of pest control by feasting on invertebrates in our garages and snacking on flies and mosquitoes in our gardens and yards.
The spiders in the Pavilion present no danger to people. “To a spider you’re Godzilla,” says Forest Urban, manager of NHM’s live invertebrate program, which runs the Pavilion. “Most don’t even know you’re there. They don’t care for people as food or regard them as a threat.” Common orb weavers, for instance, have two main goals: to spin a web and catch prey. Fearful of their prey, these spiders wrap their prey in silk to immobilize them. Later, they eat from the silken doggie bag.
Some of the star spiders from Los Angeles slated to appear in the Pavilion include the silver argiope, which folds its eight legs into four, so it can sit in an “X” shape. Also known as silverback spiders, they create intricate, cottony zigzag patterns on their web known as stabilimentum, which keep birds from flying through their web and reflect ultraviolet light that attracts pollinators. The jeweled spider with two humps on its abdomen will also be making its appearance, as will the brightly colored green lynx spider, so named because it sits in wait and pounces on its prey like a cat. Attentive visitors may be able to catch the goldenrod crab spider change color from yellow to pink depending on the flower on which they sit. While these colorful locals get ready for their Pavilion debut, museum staff are busy collecting spiders from the swamps of Louisiana and locally, while foreign collectors are sending more from the jungles of Southeast Asia. Soon they will form a world wide web community of sorts in the Pavilion.