October 12, 2020
“Nobody of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all.” (EB White)
Ever since I first read my favorite childhood book, Charlotte's Web, I have been fascinated with these amazing creatures. So, I thought I better write a short blog in their defense as we enter Halloween season. This time of year, is an Arachnophobe's nightmare. Creepy eight-legged decorations and false webbing are everywhere, giving spiders a bad rap. They have been much maligned in movies and fiction and are almost always portrayed as agents of terror. Sadly, this is completely untrue. Spiders are a vital part of our environment and I, for one, encourage their residency in my garden.
The fact is that spiders are super beneficial in our yards, on a small scale and an imperative necessity on the planet on a large scale. Approximately one million spiders live on every acre of land making us no more than a few feet away from a spider at any given time. They help naturally maintain pest control by eating bugs that destroy our plants. It has been proven that spiders play an integral part in protecting the world's food supply. They eat between 400 and 800 million tons of insects every year! (many of which would be decimating crops globally) If they didn't exist the insect population would be completely out of control. They eat more pests than birds and bats combined. That in itself should be reason enough to give them respect.
They are also vital parts of the food cycle. They are a major dietary component for many reptiles, birds and small mammals. Just as they keep down pests in my vegetable beds, they also attract the critters who consider them a necessary food source. These birds, snakes, frogs and turtles add to the health of my garden, as well, making the biodiverse system maintain its balance naturally.
Of the 3400 species of spiders that live in North America only four are considered dangerous to humans. Brown recluse, Black widow, Hobo, and Yellow sac spider all have nasty bites that can lead to problems in some people. However, in comparison to the 3396 varieties who do no harm, the fear seems quite disproportionate. Instead we should be looking at all we can glean from them. Their venom is being studied for use in many medical treatments from pain management to cancer treatments. Their silk is a miracle of nature that is being copied by man for its strength and resilience. The Darwin Bark Spider for example, is responsible for creating the strongest material made on the planet by a living thing. Scientists have been trying to recreate this in a lab to use for things like bullet proof vests and military protection gear.
So, I agree, Autumn is the best time of year to notice and appreciate spiders but not to incite fear, rather to celebrate their marvelous contributions. Their miraculous webs are artwork in the landscape. They glisten with dewy jewels every morning, magically appearing and disappearing as the days change. Next time you see one of these fascinating little creatures take a moment to acknowledge their indispensable place in the world. Hopefully it will lead to you sharing a little bit of my “spider love”.