In Vermont, we have over 100 species of spiders including orb weavers, fishing spiders, garden spiders and jumping spiders. Although we encounter spiders in our day to day life, these masters of stealth star in many nightmares. What makes them so terrifying and otherworldly?
Strange bodies. Spiders belong to the arachnid class which includes other creepy critters like scorpions, mites, and ticks. Arachnids have four pairs of legs and no antennae. Their skeleton is a hard suit of armor that protects it’s body. Have you ever found a dead spider? You’ll notice the legs are pulled tight to the body. Spider’s muscles can only pull their legs toward their body. To push their legs out, they must pump fluid to extend their legs. Hydraulic powered legs!
Oozy silk. Whether it’s sticky and used to trap their next meal or super strong threads to build their own shelter, all spiders secrete silk from their bodies. Spider silk is more than 5 times stronger compared to steel relative to weight. Scientists have been trying to replicate spider silk at large scales for decades to use to create super strong and lightweight products like bulletproof vests.
A spider eats captured prey.
Expert hunters. Whether they passively wait for prey to fly into their web or are actively hunting, spiders eat a variety of insects and pests including mosquitoes! Humanity should be glad to count spiders as allies. According to the resident spider expert at the American Museum of Natural History, the world’s crops would be destroyed by critters like aphids, caterpillars, and mice if not for the 614 species of eight-legged pest control found in North America. On average a single spider eats around 2,000 insects per year!
Deadly venom. Most spiders that live in Vermont have venom that is not exceptionally harmful to humans. There have been no confirmed bites of northern black widow or brown recluse in the past 15 years. Spiders use their venom as a tool to catch a meal. Spider venom is injected into their prey to stun or kill their prey. Spiders do not eat humans (we’re much too large). If a spider bites a human, it is trying to protect itself from a perceived danger. With modern medicine, lethal bites are quite rare.
Ancient knowledge. Next time you scream when a spider catches you off guard, thank your ancestors. Recent studies suggest the deadly legacy of spider bites may be a driving force behind the widespread fear of spiders. Scientists found that arachnophobia is partially genetic. This means that someone who has never seen a spider would still experience fear seeing a spider for the first time. One possible reason could be that ancestors who feared spiders and were able to avoid spider bites. This would result in them having a longer life and be able to pass on genes to allowed future generations that would help them to avoid spiders.
While spiders might give you a scare, many cultures around the world consider spiders a symbol of good luck. In ancient China, spiders dropping from the ceiling was viewed as good luck descending from heaven. While our eight-legged neighbors can certainly produce a shriek, be a good neighbor to your friendly neighborhood spider.
Looking for more cool spider facts and activities? Check these out!
What spiders have you noticed around your house or in the woods? Have a cool photo of a spider web or spiders? Make sure to share them to our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts with #vtstateparks.
Are you afraid of spiders or do you see them as allies? When have you found a spider in an unexpected place? Let us know in the comments below!