Studying Living Organisms

Charlotte and Her Relatives Visit the Classroom: Spider Activities, Experiments and Projects

Katherine Liu and Linda Culp
Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute

Target age or
ability group:
Grades 7-12. Can be adapted for remedial, regular or honors.
Class time
From one to three 50 minute periods.
Materials and equipment: Collection, observation and storage vessels. (See student section for descriptions.)
Reference book: Spiders and Their Kin by Herbert W. Levi, Golden Press, NY, 1990.
Forceps, hand lens, collecting nets, pitfall traps, or old sheet
Small crickets, flies or isopods for spider food
Colored pencils (optional)
Review safety tips described in student section.

Summary of activity: Spiders are readily available, small, and easy to maintain. Spiders are common, but few people stop to observe their beauty or watch their behavior. The activities suggested here provide guidelines for both, as well as some suggestions as to how spider behavior might be used as a context for discussions of diversity, speciation, behavioral patterns, and evolution.

Teacher Instructions

Prior to beginning this activity, collect small plastic containers for spider collection, and larger plastic and glass containers for long term maintenance. Save nylon "knee highs" or pantyhose for covering tops of jars. Damp cotton balls or wadded paper serve as a water reservoir. Squeeze excess water from the cotton and put the cotton into an inverted lid or tape it to the wall of the terrarium.

Hand out copies of the rubric for the Spider Project to the students and explain that the procedure items are linked to various achievement (grade) levels. All students begin work at the "C" level. Those working for higher grades, must complete work for the lower grade before progressing to the next higher level.

Before beginning these activities, review the health and safety instructions (both student and spider) with students. In Spiders and their Kin, Herbert Levi states: "Few spiders will bite even when coaxed and the bites of most of those large enough to penetrate the skin produce no harm at all." He goes on to say that "in the U.S. only the Widows and Brown Recluse spiders are dangerous." Familiarize yourself and your students with these spiders. The Golden Guide Spiders and their Kin is recommended by professionals as one of the best spider reference books available.


Thanks to Dr. Gail Stratton, Rhodes College, Memphis, TN, from whom most of these ideas were adapted. Thanks also to Dr. Patricia Miller, N.W. Mississippi Community College, Senatobia, MS, and Dr. Donald Cronkite, Hope College, Holland, MI.

Charlotte and Her Relatives Visit the Classroom: Spider Activities, Experiments and Projects

Background Information

SPIDER AND STUDENT HEALTH AND SAFETY: All spiders are predators which inject a venom into their prey. This venom contains digestive enzymes which allow the spider to suck the digested prey. Some spiders have venom harmful to humans; however, most produce venom harmful only to their natural prey. During this project, you are to treat all spiders as if they are capable of biting and to avoid situations where this might happen. All suspected spider bites are to be reported to your teacher immediately. If at all possible, you are to save the spider responsible for the bite and take it to your teacher. (Knowing the kind of spider will help experts to determine the appropriate treatment, in case treatment is required.)

Spiders kept more than 12 hours need water, and those kept more than two or three days should be fed. (See details below.) Too much moisture in the spider enclosure is dangerous to the health of spiders because high humidity may lead to fungal growth which clogs the respiratory structures of the spider.

COLLECTION AND RELEASE: Collection vessels can be small covered plastic containers such as pill bottles, transparent film canisters or plastic storage boxes. Students should record the location from which the spider was collected. And, upon completion of these activities, the spiders should be released in the place from which they were collected.

WATER: Spiders kept 12 hours or more should be given water. In nature, spiders usually get their water in very small doses from the surfaces around them. Depending upon the size of the container, you should provide water on a damp (not dripping wet) paper towel or on moistened cotton in an inverted lid.

FOOD: A spider will usually eat any creature smaller than or equal to its own body size. (Size is body size not including spread of legs.) Small crickets, flies, and wax worms all make good spider food. Most spiders will do well if they are fed once a week.

HOUSING: Quart jars, plastic shoe boxes or small aquaria work well as long term homes for spiders. Remember, spiders are predators, so you need a separate container for each spider. Jars should be covered with part of a knee-high or pantyhose held on by a rubber band. Do not use metal lids with holes in them to cover your spider container.

Ground dwelling spiders need to have soil or leaf litter, and bush or tree dwellers will need twigs or other rigid material from which to hang a web.

OBSERVATION VESSELS: Food storage containers covered with plastic wrap work well for individual observations.

Rubric for Spider Project


To earn a C, the spider is brought to class in a closed plastic container, has a water supply, and is correctly labeled. The label states the place and date of capture, the name of the person who captured the spider, and the spider's habitat.

To earn a B, meet requirements for a C, plus: The spider you bring to class was captured in a pit-fall or other trap which you prepared and maintained.

To earn an A, meet requirements for a B, plus: You capture food for your spider and bring it to class in a separate, labeled container.


To earn a C complete C.1 and C.2,

C.1 Your drawing fills more than half a sheet of typing paper. The drawing shows body divisions, eyes, leg articulation, body hair, and coloration patterns.

C.2 With a partner, observe the spider for at least five minutes. Every 7 seconds, record what the spider is doing.

To earn a B, meet requirements for a C, plus complete B.1 and B.2:

B.1 Label ten spider body parts on the drawing and describe the function of each body part on a separate sheet of paper. (Multiple parts such as legs or eyes count only once.)

B.2 Create a bar graph to show the relative time the spider spends doing each activity. Put time on the vertical axis and each behavior on the horizontal axis.

To earn an A, meet requirements for a B, plus:

A.1 Observe your spider eating. In paragraph form, describe how your spider uses each of the body parts it uses to capture and/or eat its prey.


C.Examine seven spiders and put them into two or three groups based on their structural similarities. Explain in writing, your reasons for grouping the spiders as you did.

B.Group the seven spiders a different way. Explain why the first or second method is "best." Describe your criteria for deciding best-best for what?

A.Using your observations, create a cladogram proposing possible ancestral relationships. Explain in writing why you made the choices you did.


Choose from the following behaviors: motion, mating, feeding, grooming, or web building.

C.Describe in detail one of the behaviors listed above.

B.Design an experiment related to the behavior you are studying. This experimental design must state your hypothesis, include a control, a single variable and be possible for you to do.

A.Perform the experiment designed above and analyze your results.

On to Nitrogen Fixation, OR What a Gas!
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