Kind Warning – this blog does contain some images of spiders – but these have been carefully selected to be the most cute and least disturbing as possible. With the nervous arachnophobia in mind (me!) some images have been substituted with cartoon representations.
As you might’ve sussed, I try to align my blogs with characters from my little short stories – these are almost always animals of some kind or other – fortunately, most of them are the cuddly variety. So far, so good; but then I decide it might be a good idea to go and write a story about… well…spiders! Not that I’ve got anything against them, per se, I’m just frankly pretty darn scared of them to be honest!
Now I know that’s totally irrational, as most spiders, especially in the UK, are harmless to humans. I believe that arachnophobia is a fear that originates from the primate part of your brain – it identifies that spiders might just be a threat, so steer well clear! Fine; I guess, the same might apply with, say, snakes – but I don’t mind them; or some folks aren’t keen on mice/rodents – I love ‘em! Many are wary of bees – again no problem from me… just mainly.. it’s the eight legged ones that elicit a negative reaction… a shiver down my spine and an instinct to run for the hills!
So, bearing all this in mind, when the time came to write a blog about spiders… naturally, I decided against it – putting it off for as long as possible… but given I’ve written a story about these critters… I guess it’s time to face my fears and pen some words about them.
Do I have any justification for my fear of spiders? In a word – no. Of the 50,000 or so identified species, only about 25 can pose a threat to a human – that’s 0.05%. Even then, most spiders aren’t coming after you – they’re just going about their business and wanting to be left alone; so in most cases, it’s an unfortunate encounter that can result in a spider bite. The spiders to watch out for are: Recluse spiders, Wandering spiders, Yellow Sac spiders, Wolf spiders, Black Widow spiders, Funnel Web spiders and Red Back spiders. Although the number of deaths from spider bites is about 6 per annum, so the risk remains very small, especially as commonly, there are antivenoms available.
Despite their negative publicity, spiders are very useful creatures – they do a great job at controlling pests eg flies, mosquitos etc, helping to limit their numbers – so we have a lot to be grateful for to our arachnoidian friends. The old saying: “if you want to live and thrive, let a spider run alive” bears testament to the fact that we very much need spiders as part of our ecological set up…like other invertebrates, we wouldn’t survive without them…. if only they were a little cuter and cuddlier…
As we all know, spiders are not insects – they have a fused head and thorax and an abdomen (ie 2 parts to their bodies instead of the 3 of insects); they also have 8 legs (instead of 6 of insects) allowing them to run far too fast for my liking! and 8 eyes (some have 6) – despite this though, most spiders don’t see that well – apart from jumping spiders… which can see both UVA and UVB light…oh yes, as well as being able to put on a turn of speed, some spiders can jump too… oh good… Spiders also have spinnerets at their rear ends to produce silk and they’re armed with a pair of venomous fangs – but I’ll try to remember that only a very few are harmful to humans.
Spiders are spread far and wide and can be found everywhere apart from Antarctica. They’re fantastically well adapted to their habitats and are a successful species. They’re not all gigantic monsters though – they range from a tiny 0.01 inch (Moss spider)- think I can cope with that one… to a terrifying 12 inches (aptly named Goliath tarantula) – I wouldn’t want to meet that on a dark night….
Another well known fact is that all spiders produce silk – although not all of them use it for webs. Some use it for getting around – throw out a line and whizz through the air (neat trick) or for creating funnels, nests, egg sacs or wrapping up prey. Spider silk is in fact a wonder substance – it’s incredibly strong, tough and durable – not only that, but it’s very light and flexible. If we could convince a spider to spin a line around the world, then it would weigh less than 18oz (500g). If only we could reproduce such a material, it would have endless possible uses and we are in fact working on how to emulate it.
Amazingly, spiders can choose what kind of silk they want to produce, having different spinnerets eg a tougher thread for when it fancies a spot of abseiling vs a stickier thread to enhance the captive capabilities of a web.
We’ve mentioned spiders can jump and run, as well as abseil – so they’re really one of the invertebrate worlds’ true athletes. Not only are they physically impressive, they’re also mentally impressive too – in particular, jumping spiders graduate top of their class.
For instance, the Portia spider is an arachnoidian genius – she preys on larger, more venomous spiders, using her super sharp eyesight – her jumping skills – she can leap more than 50 times her own length! – and her ability to work out a clever plan of attack – brilliant!
Not only are they bright sparks intellectually, they can also cut a dash on the catwalk, because as well as the more usual browns and blacks, these critters come in some vivid colours, including red, orange, yellow, green, purple, blue and even pink!
But personally, I think the prize for the prettiest spider has to go to the little Peacock spider – he has an array of bright, iridescent colours on his abdomen flaps, which he raises up into the air and wiggles enticingly in the direction of a female, performing a courtship dance that he hopes will win her approval – although like most spider pairings it’s a risky affair (for the males) as mating seems to give female spiders a cannibalistic appetite and the poor males sometimes end up as a post coital snack! (Although they can escape if they’re lucky… watch out boys!)
On the subject of eating, spiders table manners are questionable, in that they inject their prey with digestive juices and suck… best not to dwell on that … let’s move on.
Spiders themselves have to be on the lookout too, because birds, mammals, scorpions, other insects and even other spiders all see them as a sweet treat! That does include humans… erm think I’ll be going veggie on that one!
All in all, I have to hold my hands up and admit that my arachnophobia is neither necessary or logical and, like many wonders of the natural world, I do appreciate spiders, not only for the vital role they play, but also for their athleticism, intelligence and variation.
So, does this mean I’ll be cuddling up to the next one that appears nearby? Erm… well.. no … I’ll be the one heading for the door! (but not reaching for the spider spray!!)