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Spiders are a source of fear for many people. Their rapid movements, body shape, and ability to wedge themselves in the cracks and crevices of our homes can make encountering a spider both unpredictable and frightening. For some, the mere sight of a silky web is enough to set off an alarm. Not to mention the eerie sensation that accompanies walking through a web and wondering where its owner might be.

This lingering fear and outright revulsion of the creepy, crawly arachnid has launched spiders into the category of creatures whose malevolence is accentuated around Halloween time. Perhaps it’s the image of eight hairy legs scuttling across surfaces at a startling pace or the reputation of a few spiders whose bite can cause illness and in rare instances, death, that has cemented the fear of spiders as one of the largest phobias on the planet. Over 40 percent of phobias are related to bugs or arachnids and whether you fall into that 40 percent or not, walking through spider webs (real or pretend) might still give you the heebie-jeebies.

Afraid Of Spiders? 

A recent article from the Insider set out to explain why many humans have a fear of spiders, a feeling which they attribute to one of the following factors:

Spider Trauma- The first time you see a spider might follow you throughout adulthood. Though most of us may forget the actual encounter itself, scientists believe that the traumatic first meeting between a child and a spider can make a lasting impression on your psyche.

Genetic link to fear spider—  Is anyone in your family afraid of spiders?  You may have inherited their fear. In a study led by Graham Davey of City University London, 75% of people reported being afraid of spiders and each had a family member who was afraid of spiders.

Humans may be wired to fear spiders— Modern humans might fear certain animals because of our evolution. Spiders, like other potentially dangerous creature, may have frightened our ancestors, a trait which they passed on to us to help protect our lives.

You don’t fear the bite, you fear the movement— The likelihood of being bitten by a spider is much lower than our chances of encountering a spider. In fact, it is thought that we are never more than ten feet away from a spider at any given time. Researchers believe that humans may fear the spiders bite less than they fear the unpredictable way spiders move.

It’s understandable to be frightened of these tiny predators, but it is also important to recognize their role in a healthy ecosystem. Spiders eat harmful insects, pollinate plants, and recycle decomposing matter back to the earth. They are also a valuable food source for many small mammals, birds, and fish. With Halloween just around the corner, we’ve decided to dedicate the rest of the month to dispelling some of the myths surrounding spiders and to highlight the characteristics that make these eight-legged arachnids one of the world’s most fascinating creatures.

Spider Stories Throughout Time

Halloween, also known as All Hallows Eve, is a holiday rooted in pagan beliefs and gothic superstition. Among them are stories of the jack-o-lantern that wards off evil spirits, the black cat that crosses your path and brings bad luck, and the spider that announces the presence of a deceased loved one or a witch. Long before being linked to witchcraft and ghosts, spiders were linked to creation and feminine energy. The spider’s story is one of antiquity, stretching back to an era when the web-weaving arachnids were revered as magical creatures for the intricacy of their work.

Throughout history, spiders have been depicted in many cultures’ mythology as characters of considerable good or veiled evil. Ancient folklore from Southwestern native cultures like the Hopi and Pueblo peoples tell stories of Grandmother Spider, who is said to have spun a large web which she used to collect morning dew which was thrown into the sky to become stars. Other native cultures have myths that include the art of weaving as being taught by the “Spider Woman, the goddess of the earth who helped mold the first man and woman.  

Sculpture created by Lauren Raine of Hopi creation myth. Wikimedia Commons

Greek mythology explains that the first spider was the transformed spirit of an expert weaver named Arachne who angered the goddess, Athena. Arachne claimed her skill was better than Athena’s and challenged her to a weaving competition. When Arachne won, the enraged goddess turned the woman into a spider.  In West African Folklore, Anansi, a hero who is both spider and man is known as a trickster and a keeper of stories. His role is both animated and discerning, often providing the link between the supreme being and people. 

History has painted countless myths and creation stories from the spider’s life. With over 40,000 different species of spider in the world, diversity among them is vast.  While some spiders are large or hairy, others are spiny and smaller than a dime. The beauty of this diversity is that, while related, each is unique in its own way. The symbolism of the spider’s web is a powerful unifier— connecting us in ways that we may not even be aware of yet. To find out more about these creepy crawly creatures of creation.  Visit the Spider Pavilion at the Los Angeles Natural History MuseumHurry in before November 25, 2018, to see the one-of-a-kind Spider Pavilion and walk through a fascinating exhibit that teaches you about the amazing engineering that goes into each spider’s web.

Corn Spider in its natural habitat. Photo Credit: Dakota L., Wikimedia Commons

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