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Spiders are the real summer stars at Antelope Island State Park

A western spotted orb weaver spider inside of a web outside of the Antelope Island State Park Visitors Center, July 23, 2023.
Curtis Booker
A western spotted orb weaver spider inside of a web outside of the Antelope Island State Park Visitors Center, July 23, 2023.

On a trip to Antelope Island State Park, arguably one of the most sought-after Kodak moments is spotting a bison grazing. The park is also home to other large mammals like bighorn sheep, mule deer and – of course – pronghorn antelope.

But during spring and summer, another species makes its presence known in large numbers: Spiders.

The most prominent is the western spotted orb weaver spider. It’s a roughly quarter-sized creature, with bright coloring and legs that can grow up to an inch. Their name comes from the fact that they “weave” the classical circular spider web.

Other spiders native to Antelope Island include the bold jumping spider and cat-faced spider.

“Spiders aren't out to eat us. They're not as vicious as a lot of people worry they are,” said park naturalist Trish Ackley. “And the only medically significant spider in the state is the black widow. And that medical significance does not mean deadly. It means you should go see a doctor and get it treated.”

While you’re more likely to encounter an orb weaver, black widows are on the island as well.

During the spring and summer months, Ackley said spiders flock to the shoreline to feast on brine flies.

“Great Salt Lake is a buggy place. Especially the brine flies that start their lives in the water. And then once they hatch and emerge as flies, they really stick along the shorelines, where you're going to find all of those spiders. They're attracted to food just like the rest of us. So where you find a lot of flies, you will find a lot of spiders,” said Ackley.

While the eight-legged critters prey on brine flies and other small insects, they also try to hide from hungry birds and lizards in search of spider chow.

Roy resident Brad Jacobs has visited Antelope Island State Park for years, but it wasn't until recently that he realized just how many spiders are actually there.

“It freaked me out at first,” said Jacobs. “But since then, I came to appreciate the orb weavers out there.”

Now, he said he understands that spiders are a good part of the ecosystem.

Jacobs’ new appreciation is why Antelope Island hosts an annual spider festival. The 2023 festival is scheduled for July 29 and features guided walking tours, spider-themed presentations, activities and educational resources to bust spider myths.

Jacobs attended Spider Fest in 2022 and said the spiders are fascinating and creepy at the same time.

“Because there's some spiders I love and there's others I don't play well with. So, I like the jumping spider. I like the western orb weavers out there. I mean, black widows I don't get along with. And wolf spiders are, you know, big, hairy and scary, but they're harmless. And I love tarantulas,” said Jacobs.

By the end of September the orb weavers will have died off, so for those with arachnophobia, that might be the best time to go. Though Ackley said she hopes some of them will make their way out to the park for the fest.

“I hope that we're reaching the audience of people who are scared of them so that they can experience them and we can show them how much benefit they bring and how really not scary they are,” said Ackley.

Curtis Booker is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in Central Utah.
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