Of all the animals on Earth, the spider probably has the worst reputation, with about 5% of the global population suffering from arachnophobia. Those who are particularly affected, or the more observant among us, are probably noticing an increase in the number of spiders in our homes and wondering ‘where did they come from?’ or ‘how did they get in here?’
The truth is that they’ve been there all along, minding their own business and keeping out of sight so as not to have a shoe thrown at them. Autumn is ‘Spider Season’, during which time males, after reaching sexual maturity, abandon their webs and start looking for females.
Contrary to popular belief, it is actually uncommon for the female to eat the male after copulation, the exception being Wasp Spiders. The myth was also popularised by Black Widow spiders, who get their name from the belief that all females eat the males afterwards to increase offspring survival rates. However, even within this group it is uncommon.
Spiders help us out in a number of ways. For example, they are incredibly effective at pest control. You may not notice their presence, but you would certainly notice their absence as this would result in many more insects flying around your house. They are also incredibly important for the health of ecosystems. As in the case of sharks or tigers, killing the top predator throws the food chain, and thus the whole ecosystem, out of balance.
Not only am I not arachnophobic, I actually quite like spiders. I do, however, understand why people are afraid of them. Growing up, I would regularly be woken up by my older sister and dragged out of bed to kill a spider. I never did. I refused to kill them because they play such an important role in the ecosystem. I hope that next time you too will think twice before squashing these unsung heroes.
Theo Ward – Science Writer