CFAES Give Today

School of Environment and Natural Resources


Detecting and spotting wildlife – a School of Environment and Natural Resources Interview Series

June 1, 2017
A new School of Environment and Natural Resources series features insights and advice to help detect and spot wildlife.  First in the series, we learn some techniques for spotting spiders from Dr. Sarah Rose. (Photo credit: Sarah Rose)

A number of faculty, staff and graduate students in the School of Environment and Natural Resources study wildlife and are interested in their ecology and behavior, as well as the ecological and social factors affecting wildlife. Their work contributes to the sustainable management and conservation of wildlife populations and communities.

An aspect of the scientific study of wildlife is to identify, collect and observe wildlife in their natural setting or in the lab. This series will connect with experts to share their insights on detecting and spotting wildlife. 

To kick off the series, the school caught up with Dr. Sarah Rose to learn more about how she detects and spots wildlife in a variety of habitats.

About the Contributor

Dr. Sarah J. Rose PhD, is originally from England, and has lived in many different areas of North America (including the USA and Canada). Dr. Rose is the author of the much anticipated “Spiders of North America: A Guide to Common Species,” which is scheduled to be published in June 2019 through Princeton University Press.  She holds a PhD from The Ohio State University. 

Dr. Rose’s research seeks to understand the changes in spider community composition after natural and anthropogenic disturbances. This information can then be utilized by restoration professionals to more holistically formulate, execute, and evaluate their work. As part of this research Rose has collected spiders from a variety of habitats; such as forests, grasslands, and human built structures. 

Advice on detecting spiders

Contributor: Dr. Sarah Rose

Many spiders are cryptic by their very nature, and therefore can be very difficult to find. I honestly feel that people that are good at pattern recognition are the best spider hunters.

There are usually subtle clues to the location of a spider, but one needs to be able to tease out those patterns from the surrounding habitat.

Look for legs. Spiders have eight legs (unless they have had an unfortunate experience) and by looking for the arrangement of the legs you can often spot spiders that are trying to blend in.

A Dolomedes albineus (white banded fishing spider) on a tree. (Photo credit: Sarah Rose)

One way to locate a spider in their natural habitat is to look for eight legs. Shown above is a Dolomedes albineus (white banded fishing spider). A passerby may not spot the spider due to how it is blending into a tree. 

Follow silk lines and webs. Spiders also produce silk, and following silk lines and webs can often lead you to spiders.

Spiders can often be detected in their webs. (Photo credit: Sarah Rose)

To find spiders, look for a web or silk. Sometimes the silk is more prominent or obvious than the spider. 


A Dicynidae spider in its web. (Photo credit: Sarah Rose)

Tools to help reveal and study spiders

Spiders will move if you touch them, a simple child’s paintbrush can be brushed across surfaces with a keen eye peeled for movement to reveal the spider’s location. For collecting spiders we also use other techniques, such as vegetation beating, to dislodge spiders and make them more visible. There are also many passive sampling techniques, such as pitfall trapping.

As far as magnification to help view finer details, Rose does not use anything to help magnify until she has the spider contained. In the field she uses a jeweler's loupe to view spiders once contained in a glass vial, and later will use a microscope.

I often joke with people when I find a spider that they may have overlooked that my spider sense was tingling, but in all honestly it is just lots of practice, pattern recognition, and a keen eye for detail.

An example of teasing out a Pisaurina mira, nursery web spider from the surrounding leaves (Photo credit: Sarah Rose)

A piece of advice Dr. Rose shares for spotting spiders is to adopt a keen eye for detail. In this photo taken by Rose, a Thomisidae (crab spider) blends in with Jewelweed. (Photo credit: Sarah Rose)

Up next in the series, we’ll learn about observing reptiles and amphibians from Dr. Michael Graziano. Dr. Graziano is an Ohio native, who has lived in many states across the country, with a life-long interest in plants and wildlife, particularly reptiles and amphibians. Graziano holds a PhD from The Ohio State University and his doctoral research focused on how forest tree communities affect amphibians inhabiting vernal pools.