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

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
Reply

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!

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