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.
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!
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!