A co-worker of mine has an Oklahoma Brown tarantula in his office that has created a little havoc in the building where he works. The tarantula is a male near the end of its eight-year life, a time when the boys leave their burrows to search for a girl. In addition to his wanderlust, this big fellow is a gifted Houdini.
Squirming from his cage last week he went in search of love, climbing down the stairs and jogging through the hallways, where he encountered a staff member on her way to the copier. Upon spying the roaming Romeo the staffer gave a shriek, which summoned nearby graduate students to the rescue.
Fortunately this ended well for all involved, since large containers were handy to shepherd the spider back into captivity. But despite being in a building filled with entomologists – and their buggy zoos – the gentle tarantula was still regarded with fear.
True, spiders will never be as cuddly as a praying mantis, but with the exception of black widows, spiders in Colorado are not a problem for humans. So what is it about these silk spinning wonders that give people the creeps?
Could it be the eyes? Though they possess six or eight, the web weavers don’t see very well, relying instead on vibrations along the spokes and radial lines of their web to cue them to potential prey. With one exception (jumping spiders see very well), they don’t see us as anything other than a large lump to be ignored.
Most spiders hunt by night, creating a cheerful sight when their eyes, glowing from captured moonlight, dot the landscape. To see spiders in your yard in the evening, take a flashlight and shine it along the ground or plants at a 45-degree angle. Spider eyes will reflect light back toward you.
Perhaps it’s all those legs that give people the willies. Having eight is useful for climbing over mulch or plants in search of a meal, and it helps to have an extra set of claws to grip a wriggling supper. High-speed locomotion is critical for outrunning prey, and spider legs accomplish this by a combination of muscle and hydraulics, with some joints operated by blood pressure, others by contraction.
I’d love to have the legs of a spider. They taste with their feet, and with that many, it’s an adaptation that would come in handy whenever the dessert tray is offered at a restaurant.
Webs can cause consternation when people walk through them, their clinging strands annoying and hard to remove. Yet spider silk is a marvel of nature, both strong and elastic. The claim that it’s five times the strength of steel is true – steel, spun as finely as silk, is brittle.
The worst misconception is that all spider bites cause necrotic wounds – those which don’t heal. This is a bum rap when most of them are so small their fangs can’t break our skin. Yet fear of spiders has lead to wholesale stomping of this tiny helper.
Give them a break and less them pass by without harm. At this time of year, like the wandering tarantula, they’re probably just out looking for love.