Backyard Biology

Nature stories from my backyard and beyond

Nature Activities

Spider Houses

November 3, 2010

For many years, I raised spiders at the Museum of Science, where I am a science educator. The spiders I raised were easy to rear – a cardboard box with a clear front, a little moisture to prevent them drying out and a fly or two each week. Orb Web, cobweb, funnel web, sheet web, bowl and doilly – all of these spiders provided me with hours of entertainment as I watched them spin their webs. Once the webs were in place, the spider boxes were easily transported to the Museum’s exhibit halls to the delight of the visitors.
The same containers that I used to rear my spiders can also be used to rear daddy longlegs, insects or a myriad of other creatures. As well as rearing chambers, the containers can just as easily be used for photography or experiments. The best part of the rearing chambers is that they are simple to make – taking very little time and costing practically nothing to build.

Materials

  • Cardboard box
  • Duct tape (any kind of tape will work)
  • Plastic wrap (also called cling wrap)
  • Small bowl (to hold wet sponge)
  • Wet sponge (moisture for the spider)

Directions

  1. Cut the top flaps off of a small cardboard box

  2. tape inside boxTape all of the seams of the box – especially inside the box Insects and spiders can escape through a very small opening. Taping the inside seams of the box will not only prevent them from escaping, it will also eliminate them hiding behind a flap of cardboard.




  3. Cut a piece of plastic wrap larger than the opening of the box.

  4. coverTape the ends of the plastic wrap - with tape both above and beneath the plastic wrap. The opening in the middle should be the size of the opening of the box. The easiest way to do this is to lay your plastic wrap on a table or counter, place the box over it so a little plastic wrap extends beyond the box on all sides. Then cover the extended plastic wrap on all four sides of the box. Turn the plastic wrap over and retape – so there is no sticky tape exposed.

  5. box and coverFold the taped sides of the plastic wrap up and tape them together to form a lid for your box. Make sure the lid fits tight on your box – there should be no space for an animal to escape.






  6. You should be able to slide the plastic wrap lid on and off the box with no trouble.

  7. door in boxCut a three-sided hole in your box and attach a piece of tape for a handle. This will allow you to open the box to add a moist sponge for moisture or food for your animals with out removing the plastic wrap top.

 

 

You can fill your box with moss, rocks, plants etc. to make a terrarium or you can leave it bare, depending on what you want to do with it.

For large spiders, I leave the box bare. they will make a web that is attached to the sides of the box. For smaller spiders, I will add a piece of plant or twig as a foundation for their web.


boxFor close-up photos of insects, I will add a few plants held upright by a clothespin.

To photograph your subjects, you can remove the plastic wrap top or shoot right through the plastic wrap.grasshopper

 

 

 

 

 

Experimenting with your subjects can be a lot of fun. Here are some examples of experiments to do with daddy longlegs, pill bugs, millipedes, flies, lady bugs or just about anything else:

  • Place leaves of concealment in one half of the box. Leave the other half bare. Does your subject prefer to hide or be out in the open?

  • Cover one half of the container with a moist cloth. Leave the other half dry. Add some leaves for hiding places. Does your subject prefer it moist or dry?

  • Shine a light in one half of the box while leaving the other half in the shadow. Does your subject prefer light or shade?

  • Put out different types of food to see which your subject prefers.