Believe me, I know the terror of seeing a little black dot in the corner of your bedroom suddenly unfurl its legs and scurry lightning-fast across your carpet.
I’ve had arachnophobia from a very young age, and live with that unique prickle of certainty that there will be another tickly encounter. There will another terrifying, scrambly scuffle with a mug and a magazine.
However, despite the queasy knot of dread these eight-legged beasts stir in me, I would never dream of killing a spider. Not only are they very useful household creatures, they are also vital in the long term; helping to conserve the delicate balance of our ecosystem.
Although the sight of one darting across my living room would leave me speechless with horror, I also have somewhat of an odd fascination with spiders, and learning more about them calms my nerves a little. I hope others reading this might feel the same way.
With the so-called ‘spider season’ upon us, it will no doubt be tempting for many arachnophobic individuals to dispatch their foes using the old ‘squish and flush’.
But please, please don’t. Spiders – however gnarly or hairy they may appear – deserve our utmost respect, and we should treat our leggy household squatters gently and gratefully.
UNILAD spoke with ecological consultant, educator and all-round spider expert Lawrence Bee from the British Arachnological Society about we should never simply snuff out the lives of spiders, who help to control many pest species.
Mr Bee told UNILAD:
If you just think about spiders in your garden, you look at those and you see the amount of greenfly caught in the web.
It just shows you how effective they are at controlling some of our pest species, so they are a very effective natural control.
And if we didn’t have spiders around, we’d have all sorts of things flying around. They have a really critical part to play in the ecological food web that is actually controlling the populations of lots of different vertebrates.
Considering a world in which there were no spiders, Mr Bee added:
You’d probably have a far more aphids and flies around anywhere you went, including in the house as well. I mean, you’d have far more things flying around and crawling around in your house if the spiders weren’t there actually providing that sort of control mechanism.
They’re very effective at controlling some of these garden pests like greenfly and other things which gardeners might be concerned about, roses and whatever being covered in these pest species.
Rather than go out and spray them off – which isn’t kind from an environmental point of view – the spiders are really providing a really good natural control for these things, so it’s certainly worth looking after them and not destroying them.
Obviously, people who use pesticides, pesticides can affect spiders as well, so why spend money when spiders are doing a fairly effective job anyway?
For gardeners and farmers alike, spiders are a friend; preventing crops from being demolished and diseases being spread by a wide variety of pesky pest species.
Indeed, spiders have been used to control insect populations in Israeli apple orchards and Chinese rice fields.
Rather than wiping them out, humans should be working to protect spiders; allowing them to get on with their critical work undisturbed.
Sadly, many species of spiders are currently under threat due to factors such as natural habitat destruction in the countryside, agricultural intensification and pesticide use.
Mr Bee told UNILAD how new developments, buildings and houses have encroached further on various parts of the British countryside; reducing natural habitats for many spider species.
According to Mr Bee:
Some of our rarest spiders in the UK happen to occur on heath-land. The vast reduction in the amount of natural heath-land, certainly in the south of the country, has meant that a lot of those species have become quite endangered simply because of our human activity, agricultural development and intensification, housing development, and industrialisation.
Another example would be some of the areas in the South East, in Thames Corridor, where what we call brown field sites – which are old industrial sites which have just been left – have quite amazingly proved to be quite good habitats for some of our rare spiders.
And now with the development of these brown field sites – industrial complexes and so on and so forth – these habitats are under threat as well. If we keep destroying these habitats, or changing them, then spiders and a whole host of other things are going to be suffering.
Mr Bee also told UNILAD some species of spider in the UK are now being affected by climate change, with some species being lost in places where it is getting too warm for them to survive.
Human beings need to change our ‘mindset’ if we are going to preserve such species, and ultimately the planet, Mr Bee said:
It’s just a mindset really, I think. In the UK and elsewhere our main aim is economic development, and it’s just a question of balancing that with what we’re actually destroying.
There’s all sorts of research reports coming to the fore now on just trying to reign back on development and allowing the planet that we’re living on to be able to carry on.
If we carry on in the way in the way that we are doing, then we’re going to be losing our natural resource upon which we all depend.
Mr Bee told UNILAD how he can’t think of ‘any circumstances’ where it would be okay for a human to kill a spider:
I mean, there’s been occasions where people report that they’ve been bitten by spiders and they’ve suffered some serious reaction. One or two species in the UK can bite, and their venom is quite potent. And if you are particularly sensitive, then you might react.
But apart from that, there’s no reason at all. I mean, they’re not doing us any harm, so why do we need to actually destroy them? The benefit that they provide far outweighs any possible annoyance.
They’re not aggressive. And they’re not going to start chasing you around. And if left alone, they just get on with their lives.
To clunkily paraphrase 17th century physician Sir Thomas Browne, wildlife conservation and environmental activism begins at home, and indeed in our back garden.
This spider season, we should all choose a cup and paper over the cruel finality of the stomped boot if we want to preserve our already fragile ecosystem.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
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