How To Help

We need people to collect spiders from throughout the state and help us determine what species of spiders are found in every ecosystem in Colorado. However, before collecting any spiders, please read the "Before you begin."

Before you begin

Although spider-collecting permits are not issued by state or federal agencies in Colorado, permission is required to collect in any state or federal land. Participants of the Spider Identification and Collection Workshops will be provided with a handbook that contains permits for various state and federal agencies. Anyone who wants to participate but cannot take one of these workshops can only collect spiders on their own land or on private land with the landowner's permission.

Rules to abide by
As a participant of the Colorado Spider Survey, you must follow these rules:

  1. Be careful! Although you are participating in a project affiliated with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Museum cannot be held liable for any injuries, accidents, or untoward events that occur while you are collecting spiders and participating in the Colorado Spider Survey.
  2. Do not collect in any area unless you have obtained permission from the landowner.
  3. Once you have labeled your specimens, please send them to the DMNS (see shipping your spiders).
  4. Have fun!! You will be stepping into (hopefully not onto!) a world of small, fascinating, secretive creatures.

Collecting spiders

Collecting Materials

  • Vials
    A semi-clear film canister is the best vial to use for collecting.

    These canisters have tight-fitting lids so the canister also can be used for alcohol storage.

    It is best to carry three or four empty, dry vials for capturing the animals and one or two vials with alcohol for killing and preserving the specimens.

  • Preservatives
    Unlike insects, spiders are not pinned; rather, they are preserved in 70-80% alcohol. The standard alcohol used is 70% ethanol, but it can be difficult to obtain.

    Do not use denatured alcohol because the denaturing agents can damage the specimens.

    The easiest alcohol to use for preservation of spiders is 70% propanol, which can be bought at any drug store as rubbing alcohol. Spiders placed in alcohol will drown fairly quickly.

    Spiders also can be killed by placing them in the freezer and transferring them into alcohol. However, leave them in the freezer only long enough to kill them and not long enough to freeze them - this can cause some tissue degradation.

    If you forget and leave the spiders in the freezer for a protracted period, immediately place them in 70% or 80% alcohol (propanol or good liquor, if you want to use your vodka for preserving spiders!).


Reporting your data
In order to better analyze the data, the surveys should be carried out for a fixed amount of time. The first three techniques listed should be one-hour timed methods, although you do not have to collect for one solid hour. If you collect for less than or more than one hour for any of the first three methods, record the cumulative time spent collecting at a given locale on the data label. Approximately 22 beat-sheets can be sorted out in one hour.

You do not have to use all techniques while collecting spiders for the survey, but you should record on your data labels the technique you used. Use the following abbreviations for the techniques: 1) look-up, 2) look-down, 3) beat, 4) sort.

Casual Collecting
If you do not use one of the four techniques described above and decide instead, to simply collect spiders when you come upon them, do not write "look-up," "look-down," "beat," or "sort" on your label.

Collecting tips
When you collect, use one hand to lift up logs or look under bark and have your vial ready in the other hand. Spiders whose hiding places are suddenly disturbed do not tend to hang around long to see what will happen next, so you need to be prepared to grab them as soon as you see them. If you lift up logs or rocks, stand behind these objects and lift the top of them toward you so that if you expose something "Potentially Nasty" (i.e., rattlesnake, scorpion, centipede, etc.) the P.N. creature will move away rather than toward you. Remember to replace the logs or rocks in their original positions.

Additional collecting methods
For the more adventurous among you, night surveys also can be carried out. More spiders are active at night than during the day, so night surveys often yield more specimens. For night surveys, it is essential to have a strong headlamp for spotting the eyeshine of wandering spiders such as wolf spiders or fishing spiders or to spot the glint of light reflected off a spider's web. The same four methods should be used for night surveys. When using a headlamp, shine the light down about 15 feet ahead of you.

Reporting your Data

Data labels
Data labels are essential. Every specimen collected must have one or more collection labels placed in the vial or jar with the specimen. If all specimens were collected at the same locale on the same date at the same time using the same collecting technique, then one label can be placed in a vial containing all spiders from that sample. Otherwise, make separate labels for each specimen. If you sort the specimens from one sample into families, please place separate labels in each vial sent to the DMNS. Specimens without data are worthless. It is essential that the locality and ecological data are included with the specimens.

  • The best paper to use for labels placed in vials with alcohol is plain, un-lined white paper.
  • Write the information in pencil or in waterproof India ink. Do NOT use your computer printer to make alcohol labels - the letters from an ink jet or laser printer have an annoying tendency to fall off the paper when placed in alcohol.
  • Ball point pens are also inadequate for alcohol labels because the ink rapidly fades away.
  • It is standard practice to include three separate labels with each specimen: a locality label, an ecological data label, and an identification label.
  • All the labels must go inside the vial with the specimen. Labels attached to the outside of the vial can be lost or damaged too easily. Specimens should be sent to the DMNS for further identification and storage.

1) Locality label
this label provides information about the exact location where the specimen was collected. The essential information to include on this label is:

  • State (two letter code): County
  • City (or distance and direction from nearest city or town); any other locale information that will help future collectors pinpoint the exact location. It would be helpful to include the actual address, including zip code, where specimens were collected. With this information, we can determine the longitude/latitude coordinates and the elevation.
  • If you know the coordinates and the elevation, include this information on the label as well.

An example locality label is:

CO: Jefferson Co.
North Table Mountain,
off Easley Rd.; 39°47'00" N;
105 °12'00"W; 6300ft

(actual size)

2) Ecological data label
This provides information about the ecology of the specimen. Include the date on which the specimen was collected, the name of the person who collected it, the method used to collect the specimen (and/or where in the habitat it was found), and the time of day the collection was conducted. When writing the date, use Arabic numerals to indicate the day and year, but use letters for the month - this prevents future researchers from confusing the month and day. Use all four digits for the year - please do not abbreviate! Below is an example of an ecological data label:

coll. P.E. Cushing
look up; 12:00-13:00;
in Aspen grove

(actual size)


20-Aug-1999; coll.
F.X. Haas; look down;
22:00-24:00 (one hr.
cum); in open field

Ecologicaldatalabelexample 2
(actual size)


3) Identification label
This label should have as much information about the taxonomy as you can provide. If you can identify the specimen down to genus or species, by all means do so! If you can only identify the specimen down to family, that will save the DMNS staff and volunteers from having to sort the specimens to that level. Included on this Web site is a simplified key to spider families. Other, more detailed, keys to spider genera are available elsewhere. If you have no clue what the spider is, you need not include this label in the vial. Technically, if you include the species name, you should also include the name of the person who originally described the species. You should also include the name of the person who determined to what species it belongs (this is abbreviated as "det." on the label) and includes the year the determiner keyed out that specimen. For example:

Masoncus pogonophilus Cushing
det. R. Gleason 1998

(actual size)

Shipping your spiders

Packing specimens
All specimens you collect as a participant in the Colorado Spider Survey should be sent to DMNS for final identification and storage. Just prior to shipping specimens, pour off the rubbing alcohol in which the specimens have been preserved. Saturate a piece of paper toweling or cotton (or other absorbent material) with alcohol and place it loosely inside each container with the specimens. Be sure that the saturated material is not resting directly on top of the specimens. Specimens should be shipped in leak-proof containers such as film canisters or canning jars. Each specimen or each batch of specimens must have its own collection labels included inside the jars or vials with the specimens (Reporting your Data). Pack the containers with the specimens in sturdy cardboard boxes with sufficient packing material (packing popcorn, Styrofoam, or newspaper) to prevent the containers from jostling against one another.

Mailing and Contact Information
Specimens should be mailed to the following address:
Dr. Paula Cushing
Curator of Insects and Spiders
Denver Museum of Nature and Science
2001 Colorado Blvd.
Denver, CO 80205-5798

Please write "Scientific Specimens" under the address.

Please also call or e-mail beforehand to alert the curator that a shipment is on its way. The contact information is:
Phone: 303-370-6442
Fax: 303-331-6492
E-mail: [email protected]

Personal delivery
To hand-deliver your specimens, enter the Museum through the glass door marked "Staff and Volunteer Entrance" to the left of the main entrance as you are facing the building. The security guard will make sure the specimens are properly delivered. If possible, contact Paula prior to coming in order to let her know that a shipment is being delivered. Nota bene: People actively involved in the Colorado Spider Survey who hand deliver specimens to the Museum for the first time are entitled to a free behind-the-scenes tour of the insect and spider collections (if Paula or a CSS staff member is available at the time of your visit.) This is only meant for people who are actively collecting specimens as part of the survey.

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