My worst beekeeping day ever

The worst beekeeping day of my life had little to do with bees and everything to do with a spider. Cross spiders are everywhere in North America, from Newfoundland to British Columbia and from California to the southeast. They are orb weavers, meaning they spin a web to catch food. The species was introduced from Europe and found our continent much to its liking.

Cross spiders get their name from the series of white dots on their abdomens that form a cross. Although their official name is Araneus diadematus, they are also known as European garden spiders, diadem spiders, or cross orb weavers. For years I called them September spiders and everyone seemed to know what I meant. They live for a whole year, but by September they are fat and juicy and filled with mustard-colored goo.

White dots in the shape of a cross.
White dots in the shape of a cross.

Since cross spiders eat other invertebrates and are completely harmless to humans, there is no reason to fear them. In fact, you would never guess that I don’t like them except for the fact that they make me scream and run.

One September day a few years ago I needed to do hive inspections in preparation for winter. We were at the tail end of a long nectar dearth and the bees were testy, so I dressed accordingly—complete suit, veil, gloves, and thick socks. Deciding I was a hazard, the bees were brutal, head-butting into my veil, stinging the fabric of my suit, and searching for that sweet spot just above my shoes.

I was buttoned up tight, but suddenly I saw movement out of the tail of my eye. Once again I checked my zippers and Velcro strips. Finally, satisfied I was bee-proof, I went back to work. But soon it happened again, that subtle movement.

I pulled the veil away from my face for a better look. Then, OMG, I saw it—a September spider big as a grape and looking grim. I tried to scrape it away with my hive tool, but it didn’t budge. I kept flicking at it while it slowly dawned on me that the spider wasn’t on my veil, but in it. With me. I was in kissing distance of an eight-legged, eight-eyed September spider that was stealing the oxygen from my lungs. I freaked.

At the moment I realized the hive tool wouldn’t do me any good, I did what many other red-blooded American females would do—I screamed and ran.

The bewildered spider came with me, of course, causing me to forget about the hordes of stinging insects in hot pursuit. I flailed down the path, tossing gloves, veil, bee suit, and shirt into the brush, leaving a trail of clothing like a teenager in lust. By the time I reached the house I was half naked and covered with painful red welts, stingers still pumping. The spider was never seen again.

In the years since, I’ve tried to be philosophical about those meaty brutes. I’ve read about them, photographed them, attempted to make peace with them. But still, since that day I never don a bee suit without first shaking it, turning it inside out, examining the hood, the pockets, and the bunched up elastic. It has become just another part of my beekeeping ritual, regardless of the month.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Connie
Reply

Still laughing:) But, Im going to take that advice & check real good first. Thank You!

Larry
Reply

I may be male but that would have only [meant] that I may have out run you and in disrobing. What a terrible experience but I also couldn’t quit laughing. I’ve had bees in my hood with me but a spider would have been much worse.

Larry
Reply

I’m sorry but I was laughing while I wrote the first comment, please excuse my grammatical mistakes.

Pattie
Reply

I see you still have horrible memories of your worst beekeeping day, but you sure do make it enjoyable to read. (Leaving a trail of clothing like a teenager in lust) I can picture it perfectly.

Pattie

Anna
Reply

I wear calf-high Bogs for all gardening including hive inspections. I went to put on the boots one day only to find a spiderweb covering the entire leg portion all the way to the ankle inside the boot. I moved the web out and decided I better find that spider before I slid the boots on. It took so much whacking and knocking of the boot that until it dropped out and ran off, I thought it just wasn’t in there.

Next time I saw the web, I used my hand to feel for the spider, didn’t feel it and put the boot on. After a few minutes, I felt it. All balled up under my foot. Spiders don’t bother me, but I better learn to identify the dangerous ones before the wrong one ends up in my boot.

Good story Rusty.

ScoobyDoBee
Reply

Oh dear, good story! I would have freaked too. . . If I could still breathe! Thanks for another chuckle. :)

spellingB
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I totally understand. I was NOT laughing – I WAS cringing. I’ve been pretty close to that feeling. I love my bees, but somehow, they don’t always love me back. I’ve gotten bees in my long hair. Once, my fearless daughter pulled one out, only to have the little lady sting her on her eyebrow. so much for gratitude…

I’ve never heard of September spiders, but, yah, youbetcha, I’m gonna be on the lookout now!

Laura Colburn
Reply

Rusty, I had to do some stripping in the pasture this week, too. I stepped in a fire ant mound and they got all the way up into my shorts before they all stung at once. My goats probably thought I’d lost my mind when I suddenly took off my shoes and shorts out there and hopped around, swatting at them.

I would have been screaming if I’d found a spider in my veil, too! I call events like that “asylum moments.”

Rusty
Reply

Asylum moments . . . I like that.

Judy Hinterlong
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I, too, have run screaming from “September spiders”. I have stuck my face accidentally in the middle of their giant webs that somehow are invisible from certain angles, they hide in flower pots on my porch, making giant webs by night to catch their prey that flies to the lighted window, curling up by day to scare the daylights out of me. My scalp is tingling and prickling as I write this. Bees stings I can take. Those orb spiders- I would have been freakingoutjustlikeyou as I ran. Lol- loved your description- I can picture myself doing exactly the same. Thanks for my belly laugh for today!

Mary
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Aaaagh! I think I would’ve gotten into a hot shower and scrubbed my skin raw to get rid of the spider, even though it was outside in the veil!

I was tending bees one morning while two fellows from a well-drilling company were here troubleshooting our pump (yikes). They were out back looking through parts on the back of their truck when I came tearing by, throwing hive tool, ripping off hat/veil, and yes, shirt and camisole (extra sting barrier) because girlz snuck up through a poorly-tucked sleeve. Then of course I fell flat on my face 20′ past them. They just goggled. Then ran inside. Thank goodness I was wearing a bra under all that!

We all had a belly-aching, tear-inducing laugh about that once I came back, calm, cool and fully clothed.

Spider Joe
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Funny thing is, these spiders are one of the few spiders that scream and run from us! I regularly handle a variety of spiders, including orbweavers, for my educational programs. Orbweavers, especially the large ones, freak out and drop whenever they touch my hand. Most spiders would happily crawl on my hand. I’m not sure why, but it makes for a comical demonstration of the spider yo-yo’ing between my two hands, one held above the other.

Rusty
Reply

I’m going to try to remember that.

Rusty
Reply

Thanks. That’s interesting.

Nice Lady with Dog
Reply

OOOGY! I’m not creeped out by bugs, even spiders, unless they show up unexpectedly and I haven’t prepared my nervous system adequately. But, Rusty, your experience would make me sit bolt upright at night for decades, I think. Your description and honesty about your reaction had me screaming out loud.

And… Spider Joe, I’m a little worried about you. I don’t think you should date my daughter, although I’d be fascinated to meet you.

Honesty
Reply

What a nightmare! Sorry, I did laugh for quite a while after reading your honest description! Too mnay times I have found myself discreetly peering from side to side inside my suit and hood, hoping that I am alone and the angry buzzing hordes and anything else is on the outside!

Jerry Miller
Reply

FUNNNNNNNNNNNNYYYYY… UNLESS it was me…

Mike
Reply

What a great story. I can totally picture myself in your shoes. So glad I wasn’t of course!

Donna Fletcher
Reply

I could be the one telling this story. I realize spiders are beneficial insects, but they scare the breath outta me!

Mary
Reply

Hi,

This isn’t a follow on from the spider story, just found your site and love the natural feel of it.

Just been in the garden and while digging up some plants some bees came out and started flying around my head and face. They seemed to come from the ground. They were so aggressive that I had to move to another part of the border. Kept an eye on them and they really seemed to like it there then disappeared so I thought they had lost interest and went back to the area. They had not gone and again came out to fly around my head and face and this time my shoes as well. There were only three of them but they just felt nasty.

I told my husband about them. He seemed to think I was fussing over a few bees but when he came to the area to help me dig up the plants which needed to come out they also went for him. Now my husband is not the flapping type but he found them aggressive as well and when they kept on around his face and head he actually flapped a bit but one settled on his forehead just above his eye and stung him as soon as it landed.

I can’t put across how they kept aiming at the face and made us both feel so glad that there were only three of them! They were digging away at the soil and looked like small bumble bees but didn’t behave like any bumble bees we have seen. These didn’t even seem interested in going to flowers – as soon as we left the area they went back to the ground. Do you think there would be more of them underground perhaps young ones these were protecting and could we have a problem coming for the summer. Don’t like killing things obviously but living by a pavement used by children and finding these bees so unpleasant I fell we may have to.

Thanks

Mary

Rusty
Reply

Mary,

It’s impossible to say without a photo, but I’m guessing they are not bees but wasps. Most bees will defend their nest if you get close, but most don’t go after humans. Also, the fact that they didn’t seem interested in flowers makes them sound more like wasps and less like bees.

There may be more of them underground. They are probably just rearing young under there and they didn’t like you being so close. Also, I can’t rule out some kind of bumble bee, although they sound pretty aggressive for that.

Wanda
Reply

Just found your site and loved the spider story. I too have these spiders (Ottawa Ontario) in fact one has made a home in the finger grip of a brood box. I hate those %^$# and I don’t mind saying so. I haven’t killed it but I do keep a careful eye on it.

I would have ran screaming too. :o)

Oh, and in regards to “Mary” and her underground insect attack, it could well have been bees. I can’t recall the genus of bee that nests underground but I have some in parts of my garden (and more ground nesting spiders as well) and they can be aggressive when disturbed. Especially this time of year (although her post says June…hmmm.)

Anyway keep up the great blog.
Wanda

Rusty
Reply

Thank you, Wanda!

Mary
Reply

Hi,

Yes it was in June and they had a really bad attitude problem! For 2-3 months we noticed increased activity to and from the ‘nest’. They looked just like bumble bees and we could clearly see pollen on their legs as they went back into the hole. At this point they were not so aggressive, though I left that area of ground well alone. Tried to take a photo of them but they moved too fast. Had more bees/wasps of different types and quantity than ever this year. Probably never know what the ground dwellers were but they left us in about mid August. Didn’t see a mass leaving just no more activity. Glad they have gone.

Mary

Johnye
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I’m kind of new here, but I really enjoy your blog. I hope to learn a lot :-) Oh my – spiders! We’ve had a rainy rainy summer in the Southeast, and spiders have been everywhere. In addition to the bees, we’ve had a Bantam rooster named Cogburn. I thought he must be lonesome, so a few weeks ago, while it was still quite warm, I bought a little hen for him and brought her home. My husband, our daughter, and the grandchildren crowded around the coop as I held her firmly in my hands, preparing to make the introductions. I felt something and looked down at my knee. A huge spider was perched there, clinging to my bare kneecap. What to do? I calmly said, “Would someone please knock this spider off my knee? My daughter AND my husband looked down in horror, and screamed in unison and backed up. No help at all.

Wanda
Reply

Johnye that was priceless. Still laughing.

Kit
Reply

Hey you yank sheilas can really entertain! You had my interest totally at the disrobing but at mention of “lust” I was gone. Keep up the great infobee: I have learned so much from you guys.

Love, Kit (down under).

Rusty
Reply

Down under,

It’s just that you’re so easy to please!

Susan
Reply

Rusty, I’m still giggling at your story. I’m not afraid of spiders but I do have a horror of ticks, which are abundant especially in spring. They lie in wait for me under the telescoping cover and in the grass. Once I saw a tick propolized onto a frame top and was very proud of my girls for that! Anyway due to ticks I tuck the ends of my clothes up well and don’t take off anything, even my veil, until I’m standing inside next to the dryer, where I strip off every stitch of clothing and put it all in the dryer for 20 mins. Once one of the little creepy things got past my veil, ewww!

Rusty
Reply

Susan,

Gross! I don’t think much of ticks either. We don’t have many around here, but back in Virginia they were all over the place.

Laurie
Reply

My husband and I are new beekeepers. We have recently purchased all of our equipment and protective clothing. I’ve been obsessed with where to keep our suits as to keep them spider free. I am petrified of spiders and have a fear of them getting into my bee suit. Now I know it happens and my suit will remain in the house not the shed. Yikes!

Carol
Reply

To Mary, I am from PA originally and I believe you had a run-in with what may have been carpenter bees. I am a new beekeeper, but seasoned gardener. We lived in Pa and had a problem with large fat bees boring into our natural wooden siding. Later and while I dug in the garden I uncovered quite a few more burrowing slowly out of the hole I just dug. Now I am not sure if these were the same type you and your husband encountered, but it sounds eerily familiar. Worth some research? Hope this helps! Carol

Rusty
Reply

Carol & Mary,

Carpenter bees do not live underground. They make their nests in holes, like the ones in your wooden siding. You were probably seeing carpenter bees in the siding and some kind of mining bees in the ground. To me, some of the Andrena mining bees look similar to carpenter bees; anyone could easily confuse them. In any case, solitary bees are not normally aggressive towards people even in the slightest.

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