Spiders: Creepy or eight-legged heroes?

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, September 21, 2023

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Do spiders give you the creeps? You’re not alone; many folks find them scary, with about 33% of people suffering from arachnophobias. Maybe it stems from that awful movie some of us watched growing up of giant spiders crawling out of a subway tunnel and then… Well, you get the picture.

But spiders are superheroes in my book. Before we find out why, let’s learn a bit about them. Are they insects? Nope. Spiders are actually in a class called arachnids, which also include scorpions, mites and ticks. The most significant distinction is their eight legs, whereas insects have six. 

Now, what about spider bites? Yes, they can bite, but it’s exceedingly rare. On average, only six people die from spider bites yearly in the US. To put it in perspective, over 20 people die from cows annually. Yes, cows!

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But what about the infamous black widows and brown recluse spiders? They do have nasty bites but tend to favor dark, damp corners. You should be safe if you’re cautious when exploring dimly lit garages or garden sheds, and wear gloves.

So, why do spiders strike fear into so many hearts? Think about why you might be afraid. Is it their erratic movements with all those legs that is unsettling to watch? Or if you walk into a spider’s web, especially at night, does a feeling of dread set in? Is a giant spider crawling around in your hair? Probably not. And remember, spiders lose their carefully woven webs when we stumble into them, which is a tragedy for the spider.

However, here’s the twist: spiders are actually good to have around, even in your home! Spiders dine on insects like roaches, aphids, wasps and mosquitos, making them nature’s pest control heroes. They also play a vital role in the food web, serving as a dependable meal for various creatures, including birds, reptiles and even other insects. 

And they help in your garden by pollinating plants as they move around. So, if you spot a spider in your house, consider treating it as an esteemed guest. If you leave it alone or even place it on a houseplant, it will gladly help you rid your home of unwanted insects. And if you’re hesitant about sharing your home, gently relocate it outside rather than squishing it.

Spiders aren’t just beneficial; they’re also fascinating. When they weave their webs to catch prey, they use a silk filament called gossamer. Spider silk is the strongest known naturally made fiber, yet lighter than steel. Not all spiders weave webs, but when they do, they create some of the most exquisite and intricate works of art. Take a moment to appreciate the beauty of a spider’s web when you see one.

Here’s a fun fact: some spider species pluck their webs like a guitar to attract a mate, adding a touch of romance to the arachnid world. On the flip side, some female spider species consume their companions after mating. Definitely not romantic!

How can we help these misunderstood creatures? First, educate yourself about spiders, and even if you don’t fall in love with them, learn to appreciate their place in our world. Second, try to avoid using pesticides in your house or garden. Even so-called “green” chemicals can harm both spiders and your family, including pets. Think about it, if it kills bugs it could be harmful to humans. Consider natural alternatives like peppermint and citrus oils. 

Finally, create a spider-friendly habitat in your yard. Admire spider webs for their beauty rather than tearing them down, and leave dead leaf mulch among your plants to give spiders a place to hide.

In this intricate web of life (pun intended), spiders are essential to help our natural world stay in balance. Let’s all learn to coexist with these eight-legged wonders and appreciate them for all they do for us. And maybe, just maybe, fall in love with them like I have!

Spiders aren’t just beneficial; they’re also fascinating

Loti Woods is a founder of Champions for Wildlife, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire and empower the next generation, using art & education, to be champions for wildlife. To learn more, visit championsforwildlife.org.