Behold the spined micrathena (Micrathena gracilis) ...

Behold the spined micrathena (Micrathena gracilis) ...

Behold the spined micrathena (Micrathena gracilis), a spider that looks like it's perpetually dressed up to go see Iron Maiden! The spined micrathena belongs to the orb weaver family Araneidae, which are the spiders that build the iconic wheel-shaped webs (the web didn't show up in this picture; don't worry, the spider isn't actually hovering in mid-air).

This spined micrathena is a female. The males are much smaller and lack all but one or two of the characteristic spines on the abdomen. The females, while larger, are still pretty tiny; they top out at around 8-10 mm in length. Despite their intimidating appearance, they're harmless to humans.

These spiders are most commonly encountered near the end of summer and early fall. You'll generally find them out in the woods, especially in damp areas; they prefer hardwood forests with plenty of hickory and oak trees. They have a tendency to wander, preferring to move their webs to new locations about once a week. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

The genus Micrathena, also known as the "spiny orbweavers," is filled with unique-looking spiders. My personal favorite is Micrathena sagittata, the arrow-shaped micrathena, which has an abdomen resembling a flying-V guitar! While I haven't spotted one yet this year, I'm keeping an eye out and I'll share one as soon as I find it! #BenInNature

Social distancing can be difficult, but it presents a great opportunity to become reacquainted with nature. While he is working from home, Administrator of Science Ben Williams is venturing outdoors each day to record a snapshot of the unique sights that can be found in the natural world.

If you discover something in nature that you would like help identifying, be sure to message us right here on Facebook with a picture (please include location and date of picture) and we'll have our experts help you identify it!

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