Jumping spider Photo courtesy Dana Wilde

The Maine Forest Service last month released its newly updated Checklist of Maine Spiders and the news is either great or shuddery depending upon your spidey sensibilities:

There’s 91 new species of spiders on the list.

A total of 677 spiders in all.

And they’re everywhere. Really. Everywhere.

“There’s probably a spider within three feet of you right now,” said Dana Wilde, and he would know: Wilde wrote the book on Maine spiders. (“A Backyard Book of Spiders in Maine,” North Country Press 2020)

He sees lots of little and legged to love. Word is, so did the late Daniel T. Jennings, whose work was the basis for most of the official Maine checklist.


Fair warning: Eight legs, eight eyes, fun facts and creepy crawly superlatives ahead.

Daniel Jennings, taken in 1984 University of Maine Photo Archives


How does one build such a list? Much like a spider, very slowly.

Retired Forest Entomologist Charlene Donahue, checklist project manager, said that before Jennings moved to Maine for work with the U.S. Forest Service, the state only had a spider checklist specific to Mount Desert Island, dating back to the 1940s, with 154 species on it.

“Spiders were his passion since he was 5 years old,” Donahue said. “Over his career in Maine, from the ’70s, he added hundreds of spiders to what was known in Maine.”

Jennings would ask colleagues to send spiders his way that were inadvertently trapped as part of other research projects, according to Donahue. He set traps, kept his eyes open and family pitched in: “I was talking to one of his daughters and she said, ‘We’d go for a hike with Dad and he’d give us little vials to carry in our pockets and our purses.'”


If there’s such a thing as being prolific in spiders, he was: Jennings identified 71,000 specimens over a 36-year period, “with some help from a network of spider taxonomists,” according to the new checklist preamble.

Banded garden spider Photo courtesy Dana Wilde

It only takes a single new specimen to get on the Maine list and then some private detective work, as it were, from there.

“Most of them are small enough that you can’t identify them by sight,” Donahue said. “A lot of them have to be dissected for identifications as well. Often the genitalia is the only way you can tell one species from another; it takes close examination under a microscope.”

Fun fact: A lot of the spiders from the checklist project went to Harvard afterward, specifically, the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.

The hope is researchers use the new checklist for their own projects or as a springboard to discovering even more.

“In order to understand our environment, we have to know what lives here, and insects and spiders are part of that whole web of life in any environment,” Donahue said. “You really need to know what’s here and how they fit together in order to make sure we keep our ecosystem healthy.”


Now, to the creeping stuff.

Fishing spider Photo courtesy Charles Armstrong


Wilde, who lives in Troy and writes the “Backyard Naturalist” column for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, puts in his vote for the fishing spider as Maine’s largest.

“People send me pictures of fishing spiders relatively often to ask me what it is because it’s so big and scary looking,” he said. “They can be up to 1-inch long in their body length, so then when you add the legs in they look like these giant monsters.”

You’ll mostly find them on ponds and brooks catching bugs on the water, along with the occasional minnow, but sometimes, they do wander close to home.

Giant lichen orbweaver

“It’s not unusual to see one in your house,” Wilde said. “I woke up one day a few years ago in the morning and I looked at the wall beside my head and there was this enormous fishing spider. I thought, wow, that’s a huge spider, but I guess it would have scared a lot of people — I wasn’t scared, I was fascinated.”


One caveat, offered by Charles Armstrong at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension: A giant lichen orbweaver close to laying her eggs *could* be larger than a fishing spider, and if not larger, than fatter.

Check out video online of a giant lichen orbweaver if you want to eye every inch of forest cautiously next time you go for a walk.

“They are very well camouflaged,” said Armstrong. “They really do resemble a bit of lichen that you’d find growing on a rock or a tree.”

White banded crab spider  Photo courtesy Peter J. Bryant


For the record, Wilde would only answer ugliest under duress, due to the highly subjective nature of the question: “To me, I think they all have this monstrous beauty.”

But, that said, “The white banded crab spider has a mean-looking face.”


For cutest, there was no contest.

One of 5,800 jumping spiders Photo courtesy Wayne Maddison

“The cutest spiders are the jumping spiders,” Wilde said. “They’re really, really cute.”

When jumping spiders are five to six feet away and appear to be looking at you with their big googly, cute eyes, well, they are, he said.

“It’s obviously a projection on my part, but to me, I think they’re thinking about you, too,” said Wilde. “There are actually arachnologists that study spider cognition and they talk about spider’s minds. Spiders have minds, they make decisions, they learn, they figure out problems. Some spiders can spin eight or nine different kinds of silk, and they decide, while they’re spinning the silk, what the consistency of the silk is going to be for whatever project they’re working on.”

Wolf spider Photo courtesy James Dill


Wilde asked Jennings the same question years ago.


“He thought about it for a minute and said, ‘Probably pardosa, which is a wolf spider,” said Wilde. “He also thought the parson spider would be often seen because they get in your house a lot.”


It’s not a spider! Who knew?

“They’re arachnids and closely related to spiders, but they’re in a different order,” said Wilde.

They do, though, have eight legs, like a spider.

Fun fact: Most spiders do have eight eyes, don’t have wings or stingers and some species live several years.


Not native to Maine, the brown recluse only shows up very rarely, carried in from out of state. Photo courtesy Richard Vetter


If they’re here and poisonous — think black widow, brown recluse — they’re just passing through, or, with our weather, passing soon.

“There are no dangerous spiders established in Maine,” said Wilde. “They don’t live here because it’s too cold. Even though everyone’s afraid of brown recluse spiders because it gets passed around, the fact is brown recluse spiders have only been seen two or three times in Maine, ever. (Jennings) and colleagues tracked down two of those cases. They discovered the spiders had come in people’s cars from far away.”

Widows most frequently arrive here stowed away on luggage, crates or fruit.


Six-spotted orbweaver spider Photo courtesy Charles Armstrong



At the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, it’s “What kind of spider is this?” and “Is this a venomous/dangerous spider?”

“The usual answer is that the spider is not venomous in the same way as a black widow or brown recluse,” said insect diagnostician Clay Kirby. “The most common spider photos sent my way are of the orbweavers. These are large spiders hanging out in a classic web structure by a door or window.”

Think “Charlotte’s Web.”


Nursery web spider Photo courtesy Dana Wilde


Wilde, no surprise, thinks they make excellent roommates.


“They eat all the things that are after you or your plants or your pets,” he said. “They eat things that are trying to eat us.”

Think mosquitoes, mites, beetles, springtails.

“The chances of a spider biting you are practically nil,” Wilde added. “Most spider species, their jaws aren’t strong enough to break human skin. Even among the ones that are strong enough, among the ones that we have around here, biting is the last resort for a defense. They’ll run away and hide, or some of them will even play dead, before they’ll bite you. We’re way too big for them to try to eat.”

Fun fact: If you find them, say, within three feet of you right now, there’s a reason.

“If you have a garden, spiders eat a lot of the insects that are in your garden,” said Donahue. “If you have spiders in your house, that’s because you have some insects in your house they’re eating.”

A grass spider on the cover of Dana Wilde’s new book, “A Backyard Book of Spiders in Maine.”

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