They wintered indoors with us


As we enter this changing month of March, we usually find ourselves looking forward to the coming spring instead of looking at the winter, even though this month has both. The beginning of daylight savings time (second Sunday) will rearrange the daylight to give us longer evenings while taking off some of the light from the early mornings, giving it back later. We’ll quickly get used to it. And the vernal equinox, this year on March 20, officially brings in the spring that some of us have been anticipating already for some time.

Recent mild weather, far above normal in February, gave us a “practice” early spring. And with the rain combined with 50-degree days, a great deal of the snowpack was gone. Even though March can and often does bring more snow, we began seeing the springing early.

I, like many other Northlanders, found and brought home the open furry willow buds. The similar fuzzy buds of quaking aspen and the bright red stems of red-osier dogwoods caught our attention as well. The sap flow was early with sugar maples. When I looked out at the space of soil on the south side of the house on Feb. 21, I saw emerging crocus shoots!

But it did not end with these. Before the month was over, I saw migrant crows and eagles fly over. Mallards, goldeneyes, mergansers and Canada geese were in the opening waterways. And I found a migrant horned lark along the road. All of this bird news makes us look for more. Soon I expect to see swans, hawks, harriers, snow buntings, robins, grackles and red-winged blackbirds. Back in the yard, I’m sure our local chipmunk will be active here as well. When this little diurnal ground squirrel makes its appearance, it shows that a waking resident, not a migrant is on the scene.

There are plenty of others that wintered with us that are waking now. It is not unusual on a clear mild day at this time to see flies or maybe moths near the house. I usually see them on the sunny sides of a building. A closer look may reveal an opportunistic predator to feed on these insects, usually a jumping or wolf spider. Such drama may take place on the outside walls of the house, but others winter with us inside our buildings.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a building that had a low ceiling and plenty of corners on the walls. I began to look at these sites and I found that I was not alone. Here, protected by the relative darkness and the angle of the walls, were many spider webs. This is not unusual and any of us can find such webs in buildings, especially basements and garages. They are frequently old and abandoned, used in summer. But these webs were different: They were lived in.

Once I discovered one, I was quickly able to see more. The webs were of a type called cobwebs or irregular webs. This means that the webs appear to be a haphazard arrangement of many unorganized threads. As often happens, our take on a critter’s home is a bit off the mark. The spider that lives here knows its way around quite well. The web serves as not only the home for this spider (never more than one to a web), but it is also the snare to catch its meals.

I always think the presence of spider webs in a building is a good omen for two reasons. Something is catching a eating the insects that could be pesky and it shows that little or no chemicals are being applied here.

The webs that I was observing belonged to a spider species known as a cellar spider. They have long legs with a rather small body, mostly a gray color. With such long legs, these spiders were formerly called “daddy long leg spiders,” a confusing label since they are not daddy long legs and the real daddy long legs are not true spiders.

These cellar spiders were hanging inverted in the web as they did all winter. This species has become very adapted to life indoors and they stay here, remaining active all winter. Indeed, they even reproduce several times throughout the year, regardless of the season. (I have several times seen the female holding her egg sac as she sits in this web.)

I enjoyed watching them and appreciated their presence. I photographed several without disturbing their hunting or their homes. These interesting spiders respond to a disturbance by shaking their bodies so fast that they appear to be just a blur. And their life with us in our buildings is harmless to everyone, except maybe some insects that are also here. Yes, they wintered indoors with us.