FOCUS: Spiders come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, but they all share some specific characteristics: two body parts, a hard exoskeleton, eight legs. They all make silk, too, though not all weave webs. Here we take a close look at web spinners and wandering spiders, examine their anatomy, and consider their special adaptations. We’ll learn about their lives as small predators and scout outdoors for spiders and webs.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about spiders.
A day or two ahead of time, gather a variety of spiders and put them in jars with perforated lids, only one spider per jar, and include a moist cotton ball and bit of vegetation in each jar. Give each small group of children a spider in a jar to examine, and ask what they notice and wonder about it.
Materials: live spiders in clear jars with perforated lids with moist cotton ball and bit of vegetation, only one spider per jar; magnifying lenses.
SPIDERS UP CLOSE
Objective: To observe closely and compare a variety of different live spiders.
Using the spiders in jars from the Introduction, encourage children to use their magnifiers to look closely at the different parts of a spider. Can they distinguish two body sections – the cephalothorax and abdomen? Can they see any eyes? Can they see the pedipalps and jaws (chelicerae)? How many legs can they count? Where on the spider’s body are the legs attached? Can they see spinnerets or any silk? If there are two or more spiders of the same species, are they exactly the same size and color? Why might they be different? Ask children what other characteristics of the spiders they notice. What are some questions they have about spiders?
Be sure to return the spiders to their homes after the lesson.
Materials: live spiders in clear jars (only one spider per jar) with a bit of vegetation and a damp cotton ball in each, magnifying lenses.
MAKE A SPIDER
Objective: To construct an accurate model of a spider
Give each small group of children a felt board and a packet of felt cut-outs of a spider’s body parts. One of these packets should be a male spider (smaller abdomen, pedipalps with bulbous ends). Have children put the felt parts together to form an anatomically correct spider. Encourage the groups to look at a live spider when creating their model. Afterward, as a whole group, review the anatomy of a spider using the Parts of a Spider diagram to point out eyes, pedipalps, jaws/fangs (chelicerae), legs, eyes, spinnerets. Be sure to correct mistakes about placement of parts (e.g. legs should be attached to cephalothorax, not abdomen) on the felt board spiders. Tell the group that one spider is a male and the rest female. Can they guess which one it is? What differences do they notice (size, pedipalp, shape)?
Alternative: Instead of using felt pieces, have children make a spider on their clipboard out of leaves, twigs or other things they collect.
Materials: for each group: felt board, felt parts of a spider cut from Felt Board Spider Parts patterns, live spiders in clear jars with a bit of vegetation and a damp cotton ball in each, magnifying lenses; Parts of a Spider diagram; optional: clipboards.
DRESS A SPIDER
Objective: To assemble a model of a spider’s body and consider the functions of each part.
Ahead of time, make a large (3′ tall) cardboard cut out with the two body parts – the cephalothorax and the abdomen. Dress a volunteer as the spider, starting with the cut out body parts. Note that a spider’s cephalothorax is both head and thorax. Use sticky dots for the spider’s eight eyes and knee high stockings stuffed with batting or newspaper for the eight legs. Attach all to the cephalothorax. Now ask the volunteer to reach their hands above the cardboard body to represent the spider’s pedipalps. (Male spiders have enlarged tips on their pedipalps, represented by stuffed mittens on the hands.) Attach a large hair clip to the top of the cephalothorax for the fangs. Show how in some spiders, like tarantulas, the jaws open up and down while in other spiders they open sideways. For spinnerets, attach half an egg carton near the tip of the abdomen. Now have children name the spider parts as you take them off. Be sure to applaud the spider volunteer!
Materials: large cardboard cutout with two body parts, sticky dots, knee high stockings stuffed with batting or newspaper, stuffed mittens, large hair clip, half egg carton.
PUPPET SHOW “Spider Olympics”
Objective: To meet different kinds of spiders and learn about some of the special adaptations of web-building and wandering spiders.
Perform the puppet show, or have a group of children perform it for the class. Afterward, ask questions to review the key details and vocabulary in the story. Ask how spiders differ from insects. (Two body parts, eight legs, eight eyes, spinnerets, no wings or antennae.) What is an adaptation? (The special things about an animal’s body or how it behaves that help it to survive.) What were some special adaptations of the different spiders in the puppet show? (Strong legs for jumping, large eyes for spotting prey, sensory hairs for sensing prey, spinning a lifeline, weaving silk webs, sensing vibrations, etc.)
Materials: puppets, script, props, stage.
Objective: To observe spiders and look for evidence of spiders outside.
Use Spider Web Types and A Variety of Spiders illustrations to briefly introduce the variety of spiders and webs children may find. Give each child a Spider Search Card and pencil. In small groups with an adult, look for spiders and evidence of spider activity. Use a mist of water from a spray bottle to look for hard-to-see webs. Ask each group to mark with surveyor’s tape, or a piece of yarn, their most exciting spider or web discovery. Take the whole group on a tour of the groups’ findings. What are some new questions they have from their spider hunt?
Note: black widow and brown recluse spiders have been found in our region, though neither is common.
SPIDER SEARCH CARD
Can you find:
A spider on a web? A wandering spider?
An insect wrapped in silk? A spider egg case?
A funnel web?
A sheet web?
A cob web?
The shed exoskeleton of a spider?
A spider dragline?
A spider eating prey?
What other signs of spiders do you find?
Materials: Spider Web Types and A Variety of Spiders illustrations, Spider Search cards, magnifying lenses, clipboards, pencils, surveyor’s tape, spray bottles (for adult leaders).
Objective: To record observations about a spider and its habitat.
In small groups with an adult, help the children to find, watch, and draw a spider in its natural habitat. Ask them to write about one or two of the spider’s special adaptations. Afterward have children share their illustrations with a partner or in a small group.
Materials: journals or clipboards and paper, pencils and/or colored pencils, magnifying lenses.
UPPER GRADES CHALLENGE: Investigating Spider Numbers (Grades 5-6)
Objective: To compare the number of spiders found in different habitat types.
Give each pair of students a clipboard, a small rough map of the school grounds, and a Spider Investigations chart. Have children work in pairs to find a spider and then search for and record the number of spider individuals found within five feet of that spot during a ten-minute search. Note the location of the study site on the small map and describe the site on the Spider Investigations chart. Encourage teams to use the Spider ID Guide or a field guide to try to identify their spiders. Afterward, pairs should report findings, adding locations and numbers recorded to a larger map of the school grounds. Where were the best locations for finding spiders? Write a list of questions that arise as students consider their findings.
Materials: for each team: Spider Investigations chart, Spider ID Guide, clipboards, pencils, magnifying lenses, wrist watch or stop watch, rough map of school grounds; optional: field guides to spiders.
Objective: To model and experience how spiders use the sense of touch to feel vibrations and locate prey.
Ahead of time, make several “web blocks” out of wooden blocks about 5″x5″x1″ with a large staple nailed in the center of each. Leave about ½″ of the staple standing, and tie five six-foot lengths of yarn to each staple. Have children work in groups of six, sitting around a web block on the ground. Have five children hold out the strands of yarn so they are taut, like the rays of a spider web, and have one child be the “spider,” crouching near the middle of the web, with eyes closed, and hands spread out to lightly touch all the yarn strands. Now the leader quietly points to one child to be the insect. The insect then plucks its yarn, sending vibrations down the strand. The spider feels for the vibration and points in the direction from which the vibration came. If correct, the insect and spider may exchange spots and the insect becomes the next spider. If incorrect, try again with another child as the insect. Repeat until all children have had a turn as the spider.
Afterward, ask children what some of the challenges are of being a spider. (Finding food, not being eaten by other predators, often prey can fly, not being injured while capturing prey, etc.) How does a web help some spiders address these challenges?
Materials: four or five wooden blocks about 5″x5″x1″ with a large staple nailed in the center and five six-foot long lengths of yarn tied to each staple.
SPIDER TRUTH OR FICTION
Objective: To review some of the interesting facts about spiders.
Mark two lines on either side of the playing field, one for Truth and one for Fiction. Have the students stand in a line in the middle of the playing field, facing the leader who is standing on the sideline. The leader calls out a statement (see list below). If it is true, children run to the Truth line, and if it is false, toward the Fiction line. After each round, children return to the center where the leader reads out another “fact.”
- Most spiders have eight eyes
- Spiders have two body parts
- Spiders are predators
- All spiders make silk
- All spiders have fangs
- All spiders must drink their food
- Spiders grow by shedding their exoskeletons
- Spiders have eight legs
- Spiders have six legs
- Spiders have wings
- Spiders have three body parts
- All spiders eat plants
- All spiders spin webs
- Spiders have antennae
- Spiders chew up their prey
- Harvestmen are spiders
Materials: six gym cones, signs saying “Truth” and “Fiction.”
Objective: To share some thoughts, observations, and feelings about spiders.
In circles of eight to ten children, give a ball of yarn to one child to begin the sharing circle web-weaving. The child shares one favorite observation about spiders, then holds onto the end of the yarn and rolls the ball across the circle to another child. Repeat until all have shared, and then have the children raise up the sheet web they’ve been weaving and create a tangled cobweb by moving their hands around.
Materials: ball(s) of yarn.
A STEP BEYOND
Spider Research: Have children read about interesting spiders from around the world such as tarantulas, bolas spiders, trapdoor spiders, spitting spiders, water spiders, and social spiders, then share their discoveries with the class.
Spider Relatives: Many people mistake harvestmen for true spiders. Have children read about spider relatives like these and others such as mites, ticks, and scorpions. How are they similar and how are they different from spiders?