By Alice Ashcroft, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.
They’ve inspired some of our best loved novels, superheroes have been modelled around them, and without them the world might be overrun with swarms of insects. But despite this, spiders carry a formidable reputation, and few creatures strike fear into the general populace with such impressive efficiency.
Spiders are at their most active during the autumn, so it’s likely you’ve seen more creepy crawlies than usual in recent weeks. At this very moment, someone, somewhere is flailing wildly and screaming at the top of their lungs because an affable arachnid, no bigger than a fifty pence piece, has wandered within three feet of them.
For many people, this fear stems from the idea that spiders are venomous and will attack if given half a chance. While it is true that almost all spiders are venomous, this is only a problem if you happen to be a flying insect. Spiders in the UK pose little risk to human health, and in fact we should probably be grateful for their presence in our homes.
Spiders are excellent housekeepers and go to great lengths to clear out unwanted insects. They will happily feast on bottle flies and bed bugs, both of which are not only irritating to humans, but have the potential to spread disease.
So if you find a spider in your bedroom, there’s no need to panic. It’s highly unlikely that he or she will feel the urge to climb into your mouth while you sleep, and there is no evidence to support the claim that the average person consumes eight spiders a year this way. This is just another sad example of fake spider news.
It is, however, an undeniable fact that spiders play a very important role in the eco-system, providing a vital food source for a huge variety of birds whilst keeping insect populations under control.
It is also true that spiders are marvels of nature, with an incredible range of talents. Spider silk is amazingly lightweight; a strand long enough to go all the way around the Earth would weigh less than 500 grams – the same as a bag of sugar! It’s also as strong as Kevlar, the material used to make bulletproof vests.
In front of their face, spiders have two small arms called pedipalps. Some species use these to communicate; for example, some male spiders will wave at females to show they are worthy of affection; quite sweet, when you think about it.
Love them or hate them, spiders are all around us, and we’d be much worse off without them. So next time you see one pottering about the house, don’t run for the hills; either place it outside, or give it a wave and leave it be.
Find out more at www.hiwwt.org.uk