Where there are insects to feast upon, there are spiders, which makes the Florida Keys, with their lush foliage, surrounding warm waters and humid climate, the perfect environment for a wide variety of spider species. While it is always smart to maintain a healthy respect for any spider, there's generally no need for abject terror. With two notable exceptions, most of them are not only harmless, but environmentally beneficial.
All spiders possess venom, but most spiders in the Florida Keys do not contain venom strong enough to cause real damage to anything larger than an insect. Spider families common to this area include jumping spiders, crab spiders, orb weavers, wolf spiders, spitting spiders and sheetweb spiders. Within each of these families are hundreds of individual species, with varying physiology and behavior.
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, two families of dangerous spiders reside in the Florida Keys: widow spiders and recluse spiders. Four species of widow spiders occur, the most common of which is the infamous Southern black widow. Three species of recluse spiders have been reported. Each of these spiders can deliver a painful and potentially dangerous bite to humans and pets. Immediate medical attention should be sought if a widow or recluse bite is suspected.
Although they may occasionally wander into your home, some spiders generally prefer the outdoors. Crab spiders live among flower blossoms, orb weavers tend to spin their giant webs in trees and shrubs, and wolf spiders live on the ground among fallen leaves and debris. But don't be surprised if a jumping spider or Southern house spider takes up residence with you. The dangerous widow and recluse spiders tend to hide in spots that have remained long undisturbed, like piles of firewood, storage boxes, or dormant yard equipment.
The predatory nature of spiders makes them environmentally beneficial. Spiders help control invasive insect populations, which may otherwise invade your home and cause damage to your lawn and garden, and to farmers' crop fields and trees. Further, according to Kevin L. Skerl in "Spider Conservation in the United States," spiders are a food source for wasps, birds, lizards and other animals. Thus, as predator and prey, spiders are a vital link in the Florida Keys' natural food chains.
Yvette Sajem has been a professional writer since 1995. Her work includes greeting cards and two children's books. A lifelong animal advocate, she is active in animal rescue and transport, and is particularly partial to senior and special needs animals.