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Clearing the Cobwebs: Four Fierce Facts to Help You Fall in Love with Spiders

As summer draws to a close and the copper-speckled leaves begin to fall noiselessly to the ground, you may notice some familiar, unwanted visitors skulking about in your humble abode.

That’s right folks – it’s spider season. Ugh, I shuddered just typing that.

Spider season is the time of year where our eight-legged friends emerge from the nooks and crannies of our houses and set off on a passionate quest to seduce a suitable mate. Approximately 80% of the ardent arachnids we see lurking around our home are males looking for love and a partner to snuggle with in the upcoming cold months.

Spider season typically begins in the first fortnight of September, dragging out until the beginning of October. This is a living nightmare for arachnophobes who constantly watch over their shoulder for a glimpse of gangly legs or eight blinking eyes, plagued with paranoia and brandishing a shoe to take on the intruders.

And in all honesty, I can relate to those people (besides the unecessary murder).

Like 3.5-6.1% of the world, I suffer from arachnophobia and scream at the sight of an innocent little spider gathering his bearings whilst dangling from the ceiling above my bed. I hide in the bathroom and bawl like a baby until I’m positive my dad has taken the abhorrent arthropod outside.

I wasn’t always like this, though.

My family constantly regale me with tales of how daring I was as a young child. I would catch spiders without a scrap of fear and hold them up to examine their bizarre bodies, as if I was presenting a spidery Simba to the loyal invertebrate subjects scurrying at my feet. If anyone leapt onto the nearest piece of furniture to escape the hairy ball that was stomping across the living room, I would swoop in like a knight in shining armour and gently place him outside to reunite with his pals.

Photograph: @ramblingrosywild

So, what changed?

Well, one day as a youngster I was outside rummaging through the garden in the search for bugs when I heard a blood-curdling scream from inside my house. I hurried indoors to find my mum and my sister cowering behind the living room door, crying and pointing at the laundry basket – upon which perched a huge, furry beast blinking at me innocently. In my little brain I was like, “okay, that’s a bit of an overreaction”, but from that day onwards I’ve never been able to cope with their unpredictable movements and their hair-raising tangle of limbs flailing about.

And it appears there’s a perfectly rational explanation for this.

One investigation from the University of Maastricht coined the term “spider trauma”, which results from a chilling incident involving spooky spiders, causing an individual to develop arachnophobia through subconscious association. Whilst the traumatic event may eventually be forgotten, the fear lingers throughout life.

But as the years have flown by, I’ve realised that my prejudice against this unfortunate species is unjust: spiders are important players in the circle of life and benefit us humans in countless ways.

Since forcing myself to research more about our fellow, freaky organisms, I’ve noticed that my innate reaction to sprint for the hills when confronted with a spider has vanished. In the past few weeks I’ve managed to catch two colossal house spiders in a glass without crying, and I almost touched a garden spider!

Here are four noteworthy facts about the world’s most feared creepy-crawly so we can learn to love and appreciate them, legs and all:

1) Spiders Provide Environmental Services to our Ecosystems

As is usually the case with the creatures we sadly love to hate, spiders play a fundamental role in sustaining healthy ecosystems for the biodiversity which inhabit them.

Spiders love to feast on fly frittata and beetle stew, and their culinary expertise makes them connoisseurs of controlling insect populations. Many arachnids help decrease prey populations early in the agricultural season, providing farmers with an eco-friendly way of removing agrarian pests. This sure beats using vile pesticides, which are detrimental to wildlife, humans and crops, resulting in a successful harvest.

What’s more, spiders are a valuable food resource for a multitude of bird, lizard, insect and mammal species, providing a myriad of nutrients to maintain good health! A win-win all round.

2) Spiders prevent the spread of dangerous diseases

Contrary to popular belief, spiders seldom cause harm to humans. In fact, less than 30 of the 45,000 species across the globe produce a fatal bite, and prefer to shy away from scary humans on the hunt to squish any spider that gets in their way.

According to the National Geographic, arachnids only bite when they feel exceptionally threatened, for example when we flap about and smack them with a rolled-up newspaper. Stop with the attempted massacre and you’ll save yourself the hassle of nursing a sore bite.

Instead, we should be worrying about the blood-sucking parasites that enjoy gulping our bodily fluids and infecting us with dangerous viral and bacterial infections, including Malaria and Lyme Disease. Spiders are natural predators to the irritating, disease-carrying pests such as mosquitos and fleas, meaning us humans are spared the suffering of ill-health. Nice one!

Photography: @ramblingrosywild

3) Spiders can aid medical advancements

Recently, scientists have been dabbling in the idea that spider venom could possess medicinal benefits for numerous health disorders, including epilepsy and chronic pain.

A whole host of spider species immobilise their ill-fated prey by injecting them with venom. A new study conducted by Professor Glenn King of The University of Queensland revealed that, because spider venom is comprised of thousands of protein molecules (or peptides) which block nerve activity, it’s a possibility that certain peptides could be extracted and used to alleviate chronic pain – how awesome is that?!

4) They’re traditionally symbols of good luck

“If you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive.”

Despite the shoddy reputation spiders have amassed here in the UK, various cultures all over the world consider the spindly-legged creatures to be symbols of good luck, and the protagonist of numerous superstitions.

In Ancient Chinese culture, spiders seen dropping down from the ceiling were deemed to be a sign that heaven was going to shower you with gifts and oodles of good luck – and were aptly named the “happy insect“. In Europe, the presence of a spider means a large sum of money is coming your way, and to kill one whilst moving it out of your house means automatically losing all that hard-earned wonga – so take care of our amazing arachnids if you want to be financially secure.

So there you have it! Spiders are helpful, innocent, magical beings who unfortunately have an appearance only their mother could love. Our eight-legged friends crave nothing more than a simple life filled with food, warmth, and mates to continue blessing the world – so please be kind and don’t hurt them! Thank you, spiders!

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Clearing the Cobwebs: Why We Should Learn To Love Magnificent Moths

To most of the world, moths are the devil incarnate.

Let’s face it – unlike their bold and beautiful butterfly counterparts, moths have developed a shoddy reputation, with 74% of the UK showing an aversion to the invertebrates. They’re seen as erratic, intrusive, dusty demons of the sky, provoking fear and infuriation in households across the globe.

But contrary to popular belief, these gloriously fuzzy, nectar-guzzling insects provide a multitude of environmental services, of which we humans reap the benefits.

In this episode of clearing the cobwebs, I’ll be delving into the life of the Lepidoptera to investigate the misunderstood moth, and show you why they are friends – not foes – of the natural world.

What causes the fear of moths?

As with any irrational fear, mottephobia is inherently learnt during childhood from family members, other prominent figures in our lives, or can arise from a traumatic event which our psyche perceived to be petrifying.

You may have had a moth, with its probing protuberances and grimy wings, clouting you in the face repeatedly.

Maybe you saw your mum scream bloody murder at the sheer sight of an innocent moth taking a breather on the window sill, before continuing the next stage of its perilous journey.

Or maybe you watched a terrifyingly twisted film portraying these fascinating flyers as menacing monsters – if anybody has seen the movie ‘The Possession’, the scene where the protagonist’s room becomes infested with moths is enough to chill the blood of the most passionate Lepidopterists.

Whatever moth-y encounter triggered your adrenaline to surge and your spine to tingle, your brain will seize the fear and anxiety that coursed through your veins and store it in the subconscious compartment labelled “SCARY THINGS – AVOID AT ALL COSTS!”.

From here on out, you’ll inadvertently associate the critters with the same spine-chilling sensation you originally felt, leaving quite a few sufferers scared stiff to leave the house and soak up some Vitamin D in the sunshine, when moth populations are large and in charge, chunky yet funky.

When quizzing my friends on their fear of moths, their terror is generally related to their unsettling, unpredictable flight tendencies.

They dread the possibility of the airborne animals using their arms as a landing strip and scuttling across their skin. To make matters worse, moths are social beings and often swarm in large clusters, which is highly anxiety-inducing for mottephobes, to say the least.

What’s more – as I mentioned in the introductory post for this series, urbanisation is on the increase in modern civilisation, with the gap between the natural world and humanity growing wider by the second. If your only contact with moths is chasing them and wielding a slipper whilst they flutter above your head, it’s not rocket science to grasp how this could result in mottephobia.

So, let’s commence with clearing up a few falsehoods about the misjudged moth.

Myth 1: Moths love swooping onto your face to irritate the hell out of you

Ask anybody why they dislike moths, and undoubtedly the most common answer will be that they have the terrible tendency to dive-bomb onto your face when you least expect it, causing your heart to lurch out of your chest.

You’ll be scrolling through Becky’s holiday pictures (and holding back the jealousy over her brilliant week in Ibiza), then BAM – a winged pest is circling your head and invading your personal space with absolutely no consideration.

But whilst you mither about the pesky trespasser interrupting your social media stalking session, the poor moth in question is puzzled by the glimmering light illuminating your face from your glowing smartphone.

Amidst a myriad of theories, one reigns supreme in demystifying this bizarre behaviour exhibited by moths: bright, artificial lights confuse their internal navigation system.

Way, way, way back before the invention of electricity and various technological advancements, moths developed the savvy skill of ‘transverse orientation’.

Put simply, these primarily nocturnal creatures evolved to use the glowing, celestial moon to fly in a straight line whilst on the hunt for food or a mate. We provide so many fake moons in the shape of lamps, laptops, and mobiles that our flying friends literally can’t work out whether they’re coming or going.

Next time a moth perches itself on your luminescent gadgets, just remember there’s no malicious intent – they just see you as a literal beacon of hope to guide them on their merry way.

Myth 2: All moths want to chew on your cashmere sweater

According to the Butterfly Conservation Society, there are only two moth species out of over 2,500 in the UK that enjoy nibbling holes in the elbows of your musty cardigans.

But get this – it’s not actually moths who cause the clothing conundrum.

Instead, it’s the little larvae the female deposits onto your clothes which love to ingest the protein-rich keratin fibres of animal-based garments (such as wool, silk, and fur). Adult clothes moths don’t possess mouthparts, so it would be an unnatural phenomenon if one was ever to tuck into a delicious meal of silk tie.

Top Tip…

If you’re looking for an eco-friendly method to protect your outerwear, why not try cedar wood balls or lavender bags? The natural oils emit a urinous scent which repells moths and prevents females laying their eggs all over your favourite fine-knit.

They keep your clothes fresh, hole-free, and smelling divine – what’s not to like?

Check out these cedar wood balls here, and lavender bags here.

Now we’ve cleared all that up, we can move onto the real reasons why moths are the unsung heroes of the biosphere (hooray!).

Moths are pollinating professionals

As nocturnal nomads, moths have an important ecological job to do. On their quest to slurp nutritious nectar, they pick up pollen on their hairy abdomen which is distributed lovingly as they take off, thus aiding seed production.

This is fantastic news for the wonderful flora which provide a wealth of resources for numerous wild species, but also for the yummy crops that we love to devour, which count on moths for a successful harvest.

Despite previous beliefs that moths are little more than agrarian pests, one study suggests they’re just as good (if not better) pollinators than our beloved bees.

Dr Callum Macgregor, who led the study, stated: “while bees are excellent pollinators, they will only travel within the local environment of the nest. Moths appear to complement the work of bees and can carry pollen over greater distances as they don’t have the same ties to a particular part of the landscape. Potentially, this might help to prevent inbreeding among plants.”

Simply put, moths play a fundamental part in the maintenance of key ecosystems and contribute to every one out of three mouthfuls of delicious food we consume. So be thankful for our precious diurnal pollinator – they don’t even get paid for their incredible services!

They make excellent food sources for other wildlife species

Moths and their juicy larvae play integral roles in the formidable food chain: bursting with protein and healthy fats, they’re essential nutritional sources for reptiles, invertebrates, amphibians, mammals, bats and birds.

Without moths, abundant biodiversity would deteriorate. Predator species control caterpillar populations, which would happily run riot if left unattended, destroying acres of forage that countless wildlife species depend on for survival.

Did you know…?

Bats are notorious for producing high-frequency squeaks (echolocation) to cunningly track down prey species. Moths have cleverly coevolved and developed ear-like organs to detect echolocation, allowing them to avoid their pesky predators.

One popular method of evasion amongst moths involves ceasing flight mid-air and falling (with style) to the ground.

Moths can indicate when environmental health is diminishing

Think of them as bustling doctors of the natural world: moths are prevalent in an array of ecosystems and are hypersensitive to environmental alterations.

In short, moths act as an indicator to the fluctuating health of varying habitats. This will allow for the production of eco-friendly pesticides and agricultural practices, whilst simultaneously revealing the impact of pollution and global warming upon UK wildlife habitats.

To conclude, mesmirising moths aren’t the dull, creepy villains that society has been brainwashed to despise.

In actual fact, they’re unique, interesting and beautiful in their own perfect way. And let’s not forget how ace they are for getting down and dirty to maintain sustainable ecosystems and help put food on our tables.

Keep up the good work my moth-tacular chums!

Next week, we’ll be snooping on spiders to entangle them from a web of hatred, fear and misjudgement.

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Clearing The Cobwebs: A mini-series to debunk the terrifying myths surrounding inects

Does the image of an insect ignite the sensation of fear and apprehension in you? Does your blood run cold at the sight of a creepy-crawly going about their daily duties? If you answered yes then you, my friend, may suffer from entomophobia.

Put simply, entomophobes have an irrational fear of bugs. They feel their heart swell with unease, and beads of sweat seep from their forehead at the mere mention of the name.

Entomophobia affects more people than you’d think: The Chapman University Survey of American Fears (2016) found 25% of participants had a phobia of insects and/or arachnids. In fact, the fear of insects is so widespread globally that it’s made its way into the DSM-5 as a pathological disorder, with reactions ranging from mild irritation to severe panic attacks.

To be honest, I’d happily label myself as a keen entomologist with a passion for the tiny oddities that we share our precious planet with. I admire their resilience in a world where their reputation hangs by a delicate thread; they are the unappreciated heroes of the natural environment, working hard to pollinate our plants and purge populations of agrarian pests. Insects provide an array of environmental services which allow ecosystems to thrive and humanity to live sustainably.

However, I can relate to entomophobes to an extent because I suffer from arachnophobia. Every time I see a spider, I muster up my courage, puff out my chest like Johnny Bravo and march over to say hi – only to be overcome with an uncontrollable urge to scream in fear. Technically, spiders aren’t insects, but they provoke the most terror in bug-phobes, affecting 3.5-6.1% of the global population.

But even though we know (deep, deep down) that these tiny, yet chilling creatures are of little threat to the human species, why do they get under our skin? Why do they make our hair stand on end and our palms sweatier than Eminem’s?

Well, scientists believe our phobia of insects boils down to two simple concepts: our hardwired biological makeup, and the environment in which we live.

Evolutionary psychologists think humans have evolved to feel repelled by the sight of these six-legged strangers scuttling about as a method of self-preservation. One study conducted at Georgia Tech revealed creepy-crawlies seen in the home provoke a neurological reaction of “strong disgust,” – an emotion linked to an evolutionary response for evading infection and disease. In other words, our brilliant brains have adapted to elicit a ‘rejection response’ to insects in the same way we are disgusted by poop, vomit, and rotting food (to name a few), as we understand they’re detrimental to our health and survival as a species. Even though we aren’t under the same threats our exposed ancestors would have been, the disgust for insects still lurks within our dutiful DNA, thus sustaining our phobias.

Concept number two explores the idea that fear of insects is predisposed by your environmental situation, and the culture you’re exposed to. In countries such as Thailand, it’s common for people to partake in entomophagy: the act of eating insects. To us living in little ol’ blighty, the idea of munching maggots or swallowing spiders has us reaching for the sick bowl, but in other cultures they’re seen as a delicacy because they’ve been raised to savour the taste of numerous critters.

What’s more, modern society exists in a hyper-connected world where technologically-focused urban cities sparkle with untapped potential and a multitude of gleaming opportunities. Despite insects making up a whopping 80% of the world’s species, those of us living in urbanised areas have little exposure to the astounding arthropods that walk amongst us, thus enhancing our fears. In 2016 the UN estimated that 55% of the world’s population live in urban areas, and as a result we’re losing countless numbers of vital ecosystems and the species that inhabit them. We currently live in concrete urban jungles where the only animals we see regularly are humans (and to be honest, I’m not always a fan).

In 2010 Richard Louv coined the term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ (although not an actual disorder in the DSM-5), which he defined as a “description of the growing gap between human beings and nature, with implications for health and well-being”. Most children learn more about nature through the internet than leaving the house to experience the power of the natural world for themselves, which is just, well, wrong.

In reality, these buzzing bundles of biodiversity aren’t as scary as the world seems to believe – bees may have a stinger, but they don’t want to use it, the same way spiders don’t want to bite you, and moths don’t want to fly up your nose or in your ears. Invertebrates, insects, arthropods – call them what you will – are incredibly cool and play significant roles in the ecosystems we live in.

So, I’m starting this bug-tacular (if you can come up with a better pun, comment it down below) series to clear the cobwebs and debunk the terrifying myths that surround intelligent insects. Every Sunday I’ll be discussing the myriad of astonishing actualities about these creatures to explore aspects of their fascinating behavioural repertoires, to show you how important they are to the biosphere, and to offer an antidote to the anxieties surrounding our feared friends.

First on the list – marvellous moths!

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Peaky Blinders

Bank holiday festivities in the Peak District

In honour of the sunshine finally rearing its head this bank holiday weekend, I decided to commemorate the day doing what I love most by delving into the natural world. My sister Ellie and I, along with our boyfriends Jack and Jacob, hauled ourselves into Jack’s scorching, trusty ford and headed for the Peak District to begin our adventure.

Our destination of choice was Ilam Park: situated in Dovedale, the National Trust nature reserve is home to rolling limestone hills (giving the area the name “White Peak”), spectacular sights, and a vast array of cool critters and wildlife – the perfect setting for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in all nature has to offer. We headed for the infamous stepping stones of Ilam park, taking the alternative route due to my sister’s long-running fear of cows (crazy, I know), which led us across a rocky drystone ravine teeming with an abundance of fauna, flora, and flocks of sheep sheltering from the sweltering sunshine!

These particular sheep are Derbyshire Gritstones , and are one of the oldest native breeds residing in the UK. Gritstones are the saviours of the Peak District, continuously grazing on grasslands to encourage the growth of wild flowers, providing vital resources for the wonderful wildlife that depend on them. So next time you see sheep, make sure to thank them for increasing the bedazzling biodiversity we are lucky to see around us!

After what felt like a hike across the Equator, we made it to The River Dove, which marks the border between Derbyshire and Staffordshire. Nothing calms me quite like the sound of running water lapping against the rocks and boulders protruding from the riverbank (maybe it has something to do with my star sign – I am a cancer, after all). The water sparkled under the beaming sun light, and I had an overwhelming urge to join the other visitors paddling and splashing about to cool down.

In 2006, Dovedale became a National Trust nature reserve due to the wide range of rare biodiversity and ecosystems situated there. The river creates an indispensible habitat for fish, invertebrates and avian species by providing food, shelter, and an area for successful breeding.

In all honesty, the iconic picturesque stepping stones were actually a NIGHTMARE. We joined a queue of hot, sweaty tourists and waited patiently to cross the 19th century stones. Despite the queue being ginormous, people who had already crossed over decided to make their way back across the stones, which caused a major traffic jam. Soon enough people were getting irritated, and abuse was being hurled left right and centre – I didn’t manage to snap a picture of the stones and the incredible fossils embedded in them as I was too busy making sure I didn’t end up face-first in the water! Poor dogs were being dragged by their owners across the stones, scrambling to find their footing on the slippery surfaces…it was a shambles, but albeit a fun shambles at that.

The route back was treacherous with the 30°C sun beating down on us, but I savoured every opportunity to whip out my camera and take some sensational pictures of the spectacular wildlife around me (and to have a break from the extensive walking) – I have a keen interest in entomology, so it was magical to have all my favourite pollinators fluttering around my head collecting nutritious nectar.

We rounded off the expedition with a trip to a quintessential British country pub for a well-deserved gin and tonic, and to rest our aching feet and sunburnt bodies. Overall, the day was incredible and I was wowed (as ever) by the breathtaking creatures that share planet Earth alongside us, although I would recommend a visit to Dovedale when the number of visitors reduces over the next coming months.

Nature is glorious, and it’s critical that all of us do what we can to build a rapport with the natural world, and fall in love with the wildlife that mother nature has put outside our front doors.

Happy bank holiday, folks!

Why Beebombs Are The Bees Knees

Anybody who knows me is aware of my undeniable love for bees. I have a substantial collection of bee-themed jewellery, my favourite film is Bee Movie (a cinematic classic), and I have a beautiful white-tailed bumblebee tattooed on my arm for the world to see – you name it, if it has anything remotely to do with bees, then I am all over it like a rash. So, I was over the moon to find that one of my wonderful birthday presents this year was a bag of Beebombs.

Since World War Two, 97% of bee and butterfly habitats have disappeared across the UK due to intensive agriculture and greenbelt destruction, which is reflected in the dramatic decline of the important wild fauna which reside there. Whilst most people associate bees with an irritating buzz and a terrifying stinger, these beautiful balls of fuzz are critical for human survival. It’s estimated that 1/3 of our food resources are dependent on bees for pollination, without which we wouldn’t be able to feast on juicy blueberries, tomatoes, and more of our favourite fruits and vegetables. Less production of crops would lead to a global famine – basically, we owe our lives to many pollinator species, therefore we should do all we can to protect them.

Currently, charities such as The Wildlife Trust and The Bumblebee Conservation Trust are urging members of the public to take matters into their own green hands at home, to assist in conservation efforts to bring back the declining population of pollinators.

Introducing the ingenious Ben Davidson, who carefully cooked up the perfect recipe to return endangered bee species and other pollinators to the natural world. Ben handmakes, markets and promotes the brilliant bombs of biodiversity from his home in picturesque Devon (where he is currently raising his daughter) with the desire to enrich the diversity of life and increase wildflower habitats that our precious pollinators so dearly depend on.

Beebombs consist of 18 species of native wildflower seeds, which the Royal Horticultural Society deem “perfect for pollinators”, having evolved alongside our native insects and providing an abundance of forage, shelter, and breeding opportunities. The seeds are blended with sifted, peat-free compost and pottery grade sheltering clay. Not only is this nutritionally dense for the growing seeds, but it’s fantastic news for the environment! The rigorous mining of peat damages a multitude of endangered ecosystems, destroying vulnerable biodiversity whilst releasing approximately 630,000 tons of CO2 straight into the atmosphere. Additionally, Beebombs are sustainably packaged, turning it’s back on single-use plastic and adopting an ethical stance to further protect the environment.

Whether you’re a keen gardener or prefer to sit back and admire the fabulous flora from afar, you will love the simplistic beauty of Beebombs: no tilling or digging is required (which is much less damaging to the wildlife inhabiting your garden) – simply scatter the bombs onto the ground, water liberally, and await the blooming of vividly colourful wildflowers! It’s recommended to scatter the bombs onto a cleared area, as the hardy yet slow-growing wildflowers could face competition from faster-growing plants, which is a big no-no when we want to entice pollinators.

Beebombs would make the perfect gift for nature nuts or enthusiastic horticulturists, but most importantly will allow each of us to come together and #BringTheBeesBack.

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