Why we should change the way our culture thinks about spiders
By Lauren Paulsen, Senior Columnist
What creature has eight hairy legs and multiple eyes? I bet the first thing you thought about was a spider, wasn’t it? What was your next thought? For most people it seems to be “Yuck!” or “Gross!” or even “Kill it!” Why do humans react in this manner when it comes to spiders? Arachnophobia is one of the most common phobias in the world. But why do we fear these spiders?
One theory is that it is an evolutionary trait. Because spiders are venomous, some people believe that humans developed an evolutionary fear of spiders. Those early humans that stayed away from spiders were healthier and, therefore, lived to pass this fear on to their children. However, this theory still remains unresolved. Even though all spiders may be venomous, only about a dozen of the 45,700 known species of spiders are fatal to humans.
Another theory is that so many humans fear spiders because it has become a cultural phenomenon, particularly in Western culture. Spiders in the media, particularly tarantulas, are almost always vilified and are often used in scary scenes. Yet, in various parts of the world, such as South America, people actually eat spiders as a staple food in their diet. Therefore, culture seems to be a more likely reason that people are afraid of spiders.
But that is something that should be changed. There is no reason to fear or hate these creatures. On the contrary, they are extremely beneficial to humans. Spiders keep populations of insects that harm humans down. Just one spider will typically eat around 2,000 insects per year. Imagine what would happen to the mosquito population if spiders disappeared.
On the other end of the food chain, spiders are a large part of the diet of many of the animals we do like, such as birds. If spiders suddenly disappeared, many animals would lose a very nutritional component of their diet.
Even spider venom is beneficial. Many different venoms are being studied for possible medical use. Some of the possible conditions treatments are being developed for include muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiac arrhythmia, strokes, and even erectile dysfunction.
A lot of different cultures have utilized spiders in their lives. Some South Pacific islanders use spider webs as fishing nets. Also, spider silk can be used to save lives. Scientists have found that a vest made from spider silk would be stronger than Kevlar, yet would weigh considerably less and, therefore, be less of a nuisance than the current bullet-proof vests. Spider silk has even been used historically to treat wounds. Because of its antibacterial properties, spider silk used as dressing on a wound can keep it from becoming infected.
Spiders also happen to be fascinating when you get to know them. Did you know that jumping spiders actually solve problems? If a jumping spider sees an insect across the room, it is still able to make its way to the insect, even if the insect is not always in sight.
If you just get past your fear, you’ll find spiders are not really all that scary. They mind their own business and would much rather be left alone than bite you. So please, no more: “Kill it with fire!” You wouldn’t say that about a puppy, would you? What makes a spider’s life worth so much less? They have been around much longer than humans have. Spiders share this planet with us and have just as much right to it as we do.