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Why spiders are amazing!

7 Oct 2021

Love them or loathe them, the one thing we should all be able to agree on is that spiders are remarkable creatures and beneficial for all. Not convinced? Well, read on to discover why they should be endeared and not feared.

First and foremost, spiders are incredible pest controllers. All spiders are predators and generally prey on insects. Many of the insects we would class as ‘pests’ such as aphids, mosquitoes and grasshoppers are predated by spiders. This is not only helpful to gardeners but is a vital service for farmers.

Spiders are also stunning architects. Look at the structure of any spiders’ web and you will see a fantastic piece of engineering. No spirit-levels, protractors, or tape-measures required. Spiders build these intricate structures by eye; well eight eyes actually (yes, you read correctly- most spiders have eight eyes!) This does not mean that all spiders have good eyesight though. Some of their eyes might just be used to differentiate light from dark, others may see just blurred movement. Those that hunt prey use six of their eyes to detect movement and then the main two, usually the largest with the sharpest vision, to identify and stalk the unsuspecting snack. Just think of the number of signals your two eyes are sending to your brain every second. Your brain then interprets these signals to form your visible world. Pretty impressive, but now imagine how good a spiders brain must be to cope with signals from eight eyes!

Remember those webs I mentioned? Well, they are made from silk, but not just any old silk. No, this is definitely no ordinary silk – this is prey-catching, nest-lining, egg-carrying, food-storing silk that is up to five-times stronger than steel. The silk can even be used like a hot-air balloon when a spider uses threads of silk, caught by the wind, to fly great distances. One UK species, the appropriately named water spider (Argyroneta aquatica) uses its silk to store oxygen in an air bubble under the water where it lives.

Finally, spiders look amazing. They come in a variety of colours, sizes and shapes and some can even change colour. The flower crab spider (Misumena vatia), also known as the yellow crab spider, can change colour from white through different shades of green to yellow.

So, should we be scared of spiders? The easy answer is no. Unlike some other parts of the world, the UK only has a small number of spiders that are able to bite humans. To give this some context; of the 650 plus spiders that live in the UK, only 12 species have been known to bite us. In addition to that, those that have the ability to bite us are not aggressive and will only bite if they feel seriously threatened. Gently picking up a spider in your house to release it outside will rarely, if ever, result in you getting bitten.

Ironically, research into why people are scared, or even have a phobia, of spiders found that it was not the fear of being bitten. It seems that it’s the ‘scuttling’ movement and long legs that creeps people out.

Like anything in life, the best way to overcome a fear is to understand the thing you are scared of. Take some time to watch spiders – okay, from a distance at first – and consider some of the facts listed in this article. You might just end up agreeing that spiders really are amazing.

Oh! Did I mention that spiders hear through their legs?

 

Four-spot orb-weaver (Araneus quadratus): the females grow up to 1.4cm long. These spiders come in a variety of colours but always have the four spots on the abdomen which give them their name. Nursery Web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis): a spider which builds a tent-shaped nest which is used as a ‘nursery’ for the spiderlings (young spiders). The web is not used to catch prey which is actively stalked and caught.

Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi): this wasp mimic is evidence that spiders can be colourful. A rarity in the UK, they are mainly found in grassland where they build their nests close to the ground. The striking zig-zag pattern, called the stabilimentum is though to reflect ultra-violet light to attract prey, although this is still being debated.

 Yellow Crab Spider (Misumena vatia): like the chameleon, this spider can change colour to blend in with the background. Unlike the chameleon, where the change can be immediate, the change in the spider can take days. Once camouflaged they lie in wait on flowers catching their prey by stealth.