Saturday, July 2, 2011

Spiders and Snakes

When Jim Stafford penned the lyrics to "I don't like spiders and snakes." he was writing about me. Well, I like to think so anyway, since it has been my mantra for my entire life.

A daddy long legs in the corner of the bathroom sends me shrieking and gasping in search of my husband.  He gets to proudly tell me he has saved me from a spider - at least once a week.

If I am neurotic about spiders, I am totally pathologic when it comes to snakes.   Just seeing a snake on TV is enough to put me into a full blown panic attack and send me running from the room.  So discovering them in my garden, where I have spent literally thousands of hours quietly weeding and tending our plants and shrubs has been somewhat traumatic.

Some of my most favorite fragrant roses occupy the right rear of our four main rose beds.  I was horrified to discover that a garter snake and white flower spider also call that particular rosebed home.

Now, I have nothing against spiders and snakes as long as they live in an alternate universe or at least keep their distance from me. These are simply too close for comfort.

One of the roses in that bed is Fragrant Cloud, a fragrant orange hybrid tea rose that fills the bed with a fruity, citrusy, spicy perfume reminiscent of damask roses. It's been covered with sprays of blossoms for weeks and the other day, as I prepared to inhale deeply from an open bloom, I found myself eyeball to eyeball with what looked like a white skull on legs.

 A large white spider with almost translucent white legs sat perched on an adjoining fading flower petal. I decided to give him wide berth and return later to enjoy my rose, after my blood pressure returned to normal.

A crab spider (Misumena vatia) on the roe Fragrant Cloud.
Each trip out to the bed has been a repeat of that visit or worse.   Every time I approach that rose, I find that white spider prominently perched on a petal or leaf or suspended from one spray, angling toward another.

No matter the time of day - early in the morning when the blooms are covered with dew, mid-afternoon with the sun blazing hot, or in the evening when all good little spiders should be tucked in bed, fast asleep, he's there like a sentry who never leaves his post.

If the on-line references I've checked about white garden spiders are accurate,  I'm in for a long summer with this fellow.

This fellow  is a white flower spider, Misumena vatia, a member of the crab spider family.  This family of arachnids gets their name from their physical resemblance to crabs and their penchant for catching and holding other insects with their front legs in order to eat them. 

White flower spiders are territorial squatters. They stake their claim and patrol a particular flower.  It will be interesting to see if he is still hanging out on that particular rose bush when we return home from a week in New York City.

Often called goldenrod spiders, they have such a fondness for goldenrod blossoms, they actually have developed the physical ability to change their color to golden yellow as an adaptive protective mechanism so they blend in with the color of the blooms and aren't so visible to predators.

Steve and I are both allergic to goldenrod and we are constantly pulling it up.   Recently I dug several huge plants out of the adjacent perennial bed. This is clearly payback for us having removed his preferred habitat. How was I to know that I was razing a spider condo?

You van get a sense of the size when you see it in the context of a blossom.  It was over an inch across with his legs extended.

Totally fearsome.
Waiting for his meal to happen along.....
I was able to watch from a safe distance with my camera's telephoto lens,
He hung out on the same blossom even after it was totally devoid of petals.  Eventually he moved to a different bloom.  And he was around for most of the summer, on the same rose shrub.
Clinging to the underside of a leaf as he moves from one bloom to another.

Suspended by a whisper thin thread, he quickly pulled himself back onto the leaf when I approached the rose.
Then there is the other uninvited guest.  The other source of my paroxysmal panic is a common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) with typical brown and creamy yellow stripes.

Our newest hose has the same color pattern and it never fails to give rise to heart palpitations when my husband leaves it lying in the walkway to our cottage gardens and I glimpse it out of the corner of my eye.

The snake has made his way into the perennial bed and the water garden, and I don't really care to hear any more lectures about how "helpful" he is or how "cute" he is (NOT!).  My feeling is that he doesn't pay rent and I am out there working. He can go live outside the fence.

My phobia is so extreme, I was terrified to weed the perennial beds and deadhead the roses.  The solution has been to send the dogs after him, which sends him slithering away, through the fence and into the meadow.   Both Toughie and Katie delight in chasing anything that slithers, skitters, or runs through the garden back into the conservation area and Toughie prides himself on making sure they stay there!

Toughie chases any garden invaders small enough to fit through the fencing back into the conservation area
Katie often helps Toughie chase uninvited guests from the garden and the two of them together are a formidable team. Katie has a particular dislike for snakes which I find very reassuring.


  1. Oh man I do NOT want snakes either. It doesn't know what it's in for if your adorable dogs catch him. He'll become their toy for the day. :)
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. Katie has spied him sunning on the rocks near the pond from the windows that overlook the backyard and unfortunately, she makes too much noise and he has been able to get away and into a snake hole before she could get him. But I have no doubt that she will get lucky one day. ;) Toughie, on the other hand, is neurologically disabled but an amazing hunter just the same. He catches toys for them to play with (and dine on) all the time!

  3. I don't usually mind spiders, but am a bit leery of the brown recluse. Yours does resemble a skull. Fun information - interesting that they love goldenrod so much they can turn yellow! Cute pics. Now, snakes, on the other hand, I don't like at all!

  4. I enjoyed this post! I am very different, however, though I was like you way back when, before I raised three boys. Eventually my love for my sons over came my dislike for critters. They trained me well. Now I'm not squeamish at all, unless it has rattles on it or it happens to be a large black grasshopper with red stripes on it. I have no problems with crickets, but these particular grasshoppers terrify me!

    BTW - that white spider is amazing, like a spooky alien! I have never seen one like it here.

  5. Ahh you made me feel crawly all! So not a snake/spider icky bug, creepy-crawly lover. But beautiful roses though, such a pretty pink. And you have Caviler King Charles Spaniels, the most beautiful dog in the world, but I am biased with my Sweet Tri, Connor!!

  6. I don't mind spiders, but that was one ghostly looking dude. Snakes I don't like. And I run screaming, like you, when I see a scorpion out here. Great photos of the spider, snake and your dogs.

  7. Are they King Charles Spaniels? The two dogs are CUTE. Not your snake. I too am very afraid of snakes in general, but can live with the garter snakes. I have them in my tiny garden too. They never get too big because the feral cats keep the population down.

  8. Your dogs are adorable ... better them to chase the snakes away then me. We sometimes see snakes in the garden, not that often anymore. Spiders are critters that I love to photograph but don't like inside the house.

  9. Oh my! I have become much more tolerant of snakes over the years...especially having 4 kids that love picking up all things creepy, crawly, jumpy and slithery. Now, cockroaches and mice are another story...

  10. Just like Myra, she is totally terrified of spiders even the teeny weeny ones. I have to say your white one does look a bit like ET. Thank god we have no snakes, she would be a total recluse.

  11. Hi Cathy and Steve,
    I had no idea that a spider could be territorial. I am not afraid of spiders, but seem to have a talent for being bit by spiders. The sting hurts as much as a bee sting and I usually get a big welt where I have been bit.
    I am not particularly afraid of snakes here. They seem to scare for concern. I would give any snake I might happen to meet a very respectful distance.
    P.S. Thanks for your tips on dealing with the green caterpillars on my roses.

  12. I had spiders like that in my garden a few years ago - they set up shop on my yellow Stella d'oro daylilies and were orange. I found one on some roses and that one was white. Although I hate spiders, this one is almost cool because it changes colors. Just found your blog through Blotanical - its great to find another MA gardner! I'm located in central MA near the NH border.

  13. Aaaahhh! I hate Snakes. We don't have them in Ireland. Apparently St. Patrick banished them all.

  14. Happy 4th of July Cathy and Steve!

    Yikes..Thank God for Katie and Toughie! and yeah, that spider? I don't like him either! Gives me the willys, lol
    Great photos,but hey guys, can we stick to cute and cuddly? Just kidding

  15. When I was very young, I was very afraid of both of these critters. However, over time spent outside and in the garden, I have come to welcome these in my garden to help in my quest to keep the insect pests and rodents in check. I like the photos of the white spider...very interesting...very good shots. It is funny, though, it is still hard to look at the up close pic of the spider for too long.

  16. We're so delighted to have had all of you drop by for a visit and leave comments for us!

    Holley, thanks for visiting. I don’t think we have brown recluses in this area (thank Goodness.)

    Debsgarden, I wish I could be less squeamish…. It’s actually gotten worse, not better, over the years. (And we have 4 boys between us!).

    Julia (PolkaDotGaloshes), I was feeling crawly just writing it and editing the pix LOL. And yes, we have 4 Cavaliers, one of each color!

    GWGT, Yes, they are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and they are totally too cute for words.

    L. Ambler, a scorpion would put me over the edge. No question about it!

    CraftyGardener, thanks for stopping by! Yeah, our little doggies are sweet.

    Karen, we don’t have cockroaches (thank heaven for small favors) but Toughie takes care of the mice. I have to post about his adventures in mouse control LOL. I wish I could get used to them but it just gets worse!

    Alistair, that’s it! We are moving to Scotland, garden and all LOL.

    Jennifer, I always thought that most spiders didn’t bite people but apparently this one does, and the sting is supposed to resemble a mosquito bite. Some people develop a localized reaction – burning, itching, redness and swelling, a mild rash. I don’t plan to get close enough for that to happen LOL. And YVW re the greenies….

    Tracy, welcome neighbor! I’ll be in touch…. And yes, it IS great to find someone so close through Blotanical!

    Bridget, if we weren’t already heading for Scotland, we’d head your way LOL. St. Patrick did y’all a huge favor!

    The Other Karen… I am definitely going to do some cute and cuddly in the next week! (With our Cavaliers and many others who visited us for a Cavalier Pawty as the stars for the day!)

    Sage Butterfly… Steve says he totally agrees with you about that spider pic… but he keeps looking at it!

  17. Now, that spider gave me the creeps. lol The garter snake I know wouldn't hurt me, but the spider, I don't know. It really looks wicked. I hope you have a great trip and that spider will be gone when you come back.

  18. I'm not crazy about spiders or snakes either, but they do share our property with us. We have several different kinds of spiders and I occasionally see garden black snakes, which are harmless, but still scare me when I see then. We also see once in awhile glass snakes, which I think are legless lizards, and little tiny black snakes with an orange ring around the neck. They all usually run in the opposite direction when we meet, and I'm heading off in another direction myself. :-)

    Thank you for visiting my blog and your kind comment.

    Have a nice trip.


  19. Paula Jo and FlowerLady, thanks for your comments. That spider is scary, isn't he. He is also nowhere to be found around that rose since our return. My guess is that the gal who was keeping an eye on the garden for us while we were gone did some deadheading and sent him to the compost pile when she pruned that rose.

    Katie, the Blenheim CKCS (little russet and white dog) has made the snake her project and she chases it into a hole every chance she gets. She is hot on its trail and my guess is she is going to keep her mama safe from it LOL.

  20. Couldn't agree more about the snakes although I am fine with spiders. Weird I guess... Your rose is beautiful and the spider is kinda cool looking if you are not creeped out by him :) I agree, snakes need to live outside the fences! I almost stepped on the exact same kind last night! Now I have my shovel with me wherever I go but I am too scared to ever get close enough to use's just my security blanket!

  21. Your garden album is incredible! You are two lucky gardeners...on second thought, maybe I should switch out lucky with hard-working...just lovely!


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