Many people are afraid of spiders. By some accounts, 50 percent of women and 18 percent of men suffer from arachnophobia. Take a moment to stare deep into one’s eyes sometime and you can probably understand why. Still, scientists think this common phobia is so deeply ingrained in us for a sound evolutionary reason. In the early stages of human development, spiders posed a serious threat to our health and well-being. Being terrified of them made you a lot more likely to avoid them, thereby not getting bitten and, as a result, living long enough to procreate and spread those spider-fearing genes. In other words, being afraid of the little eight-legged critters is just part of a healthy survival instinct. But despite their creepy-crawly nature, don’t take spiders for granted, they are way cooler than you think.
Cool Spider Fact No. 1:
There are few wilder, denser environments than the tropical forests of the Philippines. Here you will find, if you dare to stroll its dangerous paths, the jumping spider (Phintella piatensis), which is not a bit scrupulous about taking advantage of its forest brethren for its own gain. This spider intentionally nests near the ultra-aggressive Asian weaver ant (Ocecophylla smaragdina) in order to use them as an unwitting bodyguard. You see, the jumping spiders’ primary predator is the hostile spitting spider (of the family Scytodidae), its “arch-enemy,” if you will. This spider is so named because it propels a sticky gum from its fangs that renders its prey immobile just long enough for it to inject its victim with venom and wrap it up in silk. The spitting spider’s primary prey, of course, is the jumping spider, but since the weaver ants act as a barrier between the two spiders, the timid jumping spider is happy to make them their neighbor.
Cool Spider Fact No. 2:
Researchers from the American Museum of Natural History and the University of Manchester have just discovered something unexpected on a 305 million-year-old harvestman fossil. The harvestman, a close relative of the spider, was found to have an extra pair of eyes on the sides of its abdomen. Presumably the arachnid’s increased visual exposure would have helped it to detect prey, and more importantly, predators. You know what they say, “Four eyes are better than two…”
Cool Spider Fact No. 3:
It is not uncommon for broken bones to be treated by the insertion of metal plates, screws, and other foreign hardware into the body. This is a painful process, prone to infection, and of course requires not one but two operations, at least. However, new research is looking into the use of spider’s silk as the source material for this sort of surgical hardware. Rather than using steel, doctors could one day use screws made from the same kind of silk spun by silkworms and spiders. This silk is comparatively five times stronger than steel, and much less prone to infection.
Cool Spider Fact No. 4:
In the “very cool but also pretty terrifying” department, the Brazilian wandering spider regularly ranks as one of the deadliest in the world. It belongs to the genus Phoneutria, the Greek term for “murderess.” This spiders venom is so potent that a bite can kill a full-grown adult within a few minutes. Even if the proper antidote is administered in time, sometimes the victim may still die. As if that weren’t bad enough, sometimes the spider’s bite can cause a painful erection in men. Because of this, the venom of this spider has been considered as a possible element in medications for erectile dysfunction. The wandering spider is so named because it does not spin a web, but rather wanders around the ground, hunting for its prey.
So, yes, spiders can be a little creepy. Sure, there are over forty thousand different species crawling around all over the world. There are probably even a few hiding really close to you right now. But, give them a chance. If you take a little time to learn more about them, you will find that spiders are a lot cooler than you thought. You might even make a new friend or two.
Opinion by Peter Barreda
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