By Rebecca Nickols
Photos by author.
Spiders… It’s just something about their creepy-crawly legs and huge venomous fangs that can elicit a panic attack in an otherwise rational person. This is especially evident when a normally sane individual walks into a spiderweb at nighttime. Everyone knows that the largest, most poisonous spiders are nocturnal and are patiently waiting to attack an unsuspecting human…
Actually, spiders have an unwarranted bad reputation. Out of the more than 300 species of spiders in my home state of Missouri, there are only two that are potentially poisonous–the brown recluse and the black widow. Both of these spiders are not secretly planning their attack on humans; they bite only if they are threatened or provoked. A spider’s attributes, however, are numerous and they can be very beneficial–especially in an organic garden. Spiders are voracious predators capable of eating an enormous amount of insects including beetles, leafhoppers, and aphids. One aspect of an organic garden that I appreciate is that it keeps itself in check–a sort of natural balance. For example, a garden devoid of insecticides and pesticides will have an abundant supply of insects, but fortunately, spiders are natural predators that are attracted to the insects as a food source. The food chain continues as native birds control the spider population. And… in my gardens, spiders are a favorite treat of my free-ranging chickens!
I have seen brown recluse spiders in my home and black widow spiders around my property. I’ll dispose of a spider in my house, but I leave the outside spiders alone (as long as they stay outside). I did find one black widow spider that was protecting her egg sack under a window sill outside my house that I did destroy (see photo). I really didn’t like the idea of her raising her young on my front porch… However, I’ve also seen black widows under rocks on my property.–I leave these spiders alone after I admire their unappreciated mysterious beauty.
Since I have these poisonous spiders around my property and I know that my hens enjoy eating spiders, I wondered if any harm could come to the chickens by consuming a black widow spider. I contacted Shelly Cox, a Naturalist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, and asked her opinion on this subject. Would a spider, such as a black widow, be poisonous to a bird or a chicken? Here’s her response:
A chicken could definitely eat a black widow with no ill effect. Black widow venom is designed to work only when injected through the fangs. So consuming the spider without a resulting bite would be harmless. A human could even eat one if they so desired and not be hurt in any way (as long as they didn’t get bit). The venom itself is benign when swallowed and only becomes a problem when injected into the bloodstream. Such as through an open wound or through direct injection by the fangs. Much the same way as venomous snakes.
Photo used by permission: MOBugs
There are some insects out there however that might be harmful to a chicken. One such bug is the blister beetle. They have a toxin called cantharidin that they emit from their feet when threatened or alarmed. This chemical is deadly to horses in large quantities, so I imagine a chicken wouldn’t fair well if they chose to eat them in large enough numbers. I’ve seen chickens eat some pretty amazing things, for instance we had a garter snake get into our chicken coop awhile back and the chickens fought over it and gobbled it down in record time.
Since black widow venom works through injection a bite could possibly make a chicken ill or even kill it, but I suspect that it would survive just fine. Animals are able to metabolize toxins much better than humans can. I would imagine it would be difficult for a widow to bite a chicken in the first place with all those feathers in the way.
Thanks Shelly for your answer… I appreciate the chemical free bug control that my flock provides and it’s good to know that spiders are a safe treat for my hens!
Visit Shelly’s website at this link: MObugs
Here’s 12 seconds of Esther, my Cinnamon Queen ( a cross between a Silver Laced Wyandotte hen and a New Hampshire rooster), eating a large orb weaver spider. Probably the best part of the video is when she politely wipes her beak when she finishes off the spider…