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Big Spiders in Southeast Kansas: How to Cash in on Spider Tourism

Updated on December 21, 2012
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Amazingly Big Spiders Call Kansas Home

Someone in Southeast Kansas really should offer big spider tours. That area of the country is filled with really large spiders, including a few that are poisonous. Here are a few pictures of these amazing spiders to help you identify those you may have encountered. Following is a column I wrote for "The Girard (Kansas) Press" back in the 1990s about SE Kansas' large spider community.

The Black Widow

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Only the female of the black widow species is venomous. The females are black with the tale-tell red hourglass looking spots on their abdomens. The males are brown and not poisonous. If you are bit by a female black widow, get medical assistance as soon as possible.

The Wolf Spider

A Wolf Spider carrying young on her back.
A Wolf Spider carrying young on her back. | Source

The Wolf Spider can get large, but in spite of its size, it is not venomous. The females carry their young on their back making them seem even more scary than they are.

The Brown Recluse

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A common spider in Kansas, the brown recluse is also known as the "Violin Spider" for the tell-tale violin shape on it's back. Brown recluses are often found in homes and garages, and this close proximity to humans makes them more of a concern. This spider is poisonous, and if bitten by one, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Texas Brown Tarantula

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Found in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and southern Kansas, the Texas Brown Tarantula can grow to a four inch leg span. They are one of the most common species of tarantula found in the southern most United States, according to Wikipedia.

Tall trees lining Highway 60 near Pratt, Kansas.  It was in trees such as these that the author saw hundreds of webs of large spiders near Elk City Lake described in the column below.
Tall trees lining Highway 60 near Pratt, Kansas. It was in trees such as these that the author saw hundreds of webs of large spiders near Elk City Lake described in the column below. | Source

When It Comes to Big, Southeast Kansas Spiders Rule (Column from "The Girard Press")

When compared to rural towns, most things in the city seem larger. Buildings, population, traffic, stadiums - almost everything in the city is bigger than its rural counterpart. But there are a few exceptions - spiders being among the most obvious.

I have used my southeast Kansas spider stories with great effect on the folks in Kansas City. Here, a large spider would be about the size of a dime - including the legs. Not much to be concerned with, and a quick stomp with a shoe ends the concern altogether. City house spiders, like their human counterparts, tend to be a little wimpy.

Southeast Kansas spiders, however, are a spider of a different breed.

If you've lived in or visited SE Kansas, which spider did you find the scariest.

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My first true encounter with southeast Kansas spiders occurred in the fall of ‘89 before the first frost. I lived in Independence at the time. It was a beautiful day, and my husband and I decided to have a picnic dinner at the Overlook at Elk City Lake. With Kentucky Fried Chicken and our dog in tow, we drove to the park pavilion and sat down on concrete steps to enjoy our feast in the sunset. Our reverie was quickly interrupted when a red, hungry-looking spider the size of a nickel began a slow stroll up a step and toward his dinner - which would be either the chicken, our dog or us.

I jumped up and was backing away from the approaching hunter when my husband grabbed my arm, wildly screaming something about a flying spider. He pulled me forward, and turning, I saw another spider swinging from a web very close to my head. The spider was fat, brown and large, about the size of a quarter - not including his legs. His web was huge - about 10 feet in diameter. It was a close call. I would have made him a tasty morsel.

We ran blindly in the direction of the car. As we ran to the safety of the road, we looked up into the trees, and that’s when we saw them. Hundreds of them. All fat and large - about the size of half dollars - sitting tiredly in their huge webs, which were recently strung between the branches of the still-green trees. They swayed slightly in the breeze. I could not imagine there were enough insects in the world to feed the hungry crew awaiting dinner on those gossamer threads.

My blood ran cold. As quickly as we could, we made for the car. Once safely inside, with the doors locked against the hungry monsters, we began to relax. My husband started the engine, and we raced down the hill - away from the doom we so recently escaped.

I was still panting from the exertion when another yell emitted from my husband. I was almost slammed into the dashboard as he suddenly hit the car’s breaks. He was still emitting high-pitched barely coherent screams about it being impossible for tarantulas to live in southeast Kansas as we made a U-turn in the road. Driving slowly forward, our car lights fighting against the deepening dusk, I saw what the commotion was about. There, responding to the intrusion of our car by raising up on his hind legs (if spiders can be said to have hind legs) was a tarantula. The large hairy beast, which probably was out hunting deer or cow, lowered himself back to the road, and one leg at a time, continued on his nightly hunt.

We never returned to Elk City Lake.

But we did move - years later - to Girard. And as the seasons turned toward late summer, we discovered that spiders grow just as large in the town of Girard as they had in the wilderness of the lake area. Although we never saw a tarantula outside of the pet store in Pittsburg, KS, we did have a large, tan spider about the size of a quarter living next to our porch light. We would feed him nightly by turning on the light - attracting a variety of animal species. Perhaps it was merely a coincidence, but we did notice a significant reduction in the number of loose cats as the summer ripened.

We also had another similar spider in our backyard who nightly spun a silver web from the electric wire leading into our house to the ground. Our dog miraculously survived his night-time forays into the backyard wilderness.

Worse yet, we found a brown recluse between the sheets of our bed just before retiring one evening. Thinking it a small wad of brown thread, I was reaching to pick it up for disposal when it unwound itself and began walking in the opposite direction. I realized its shape and color, and my scream cannot be described. We bombed the house shortly afterwards. The whole episode still gives me the willies.

And, my large spider stories are giving the folks here in Kansas City the willies, too. I think southeast Kansas has an unusual opportunity to cash in on some tourism bucks. Throw a few more insects into your spiders’ webs to fatten them up a bit, and open your doors to the city folks. Everyone loves a good fright now and then. Look how well Steven King’s books sell!

Southeast Kansas…the land of Ahhhhhs-omely big spiders.

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    • agilitymach profile image
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      agilitymach 5 years ago

      Thanks!! Even your story about the web - minus any spider appearance - gave me the willies. While I understand their importance and will even sometimes catch spiders in the house to release them outside, they just make me nervous. :) Thanks for visiting and voting!!

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 5 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      Wow! What a story, once when I was riding my horse ( about 100 years ago) I let her gallop on a trail. I saw a large spider web from one tree to another across the trail. It was too late to stop her, so I let go of the reins and covered my face. I got lucky because no spiders were in it. Then I picked the reins back up and decided to slow her down. The web was high, so she was able to go under it, it only hit my face. Hitting my face was realllllllYYY bad. But, I got over it:)

      I can't gallop on a horse anymore, but that is ok. At least I don't have to worry about webs.

      Voted up!