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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 30-Oct-14 10:47:16

Creepy crawlies or small wonders?

It's almost Halloween, and across the country spooky ghosts, gruesome monsters and, you guessed it - spiders - are adorning homes and shops everywhere. If you're anything like Times wildlife columnist and author of several wildlife books, Simon Barnes, you're not overly fond of our eight-legged arachnid friends. But, like most nature enthusiasts, Simon can see beyond the spindly legs, to their value in the natural world. What gets you running a mile when it rears its (ugly or otherwise) head?

Simon Barnes

Creepy crawlies or small wonders?

Posted on: Thu 30-Oct-14 10:47:16


Lead photo

Simon Barnes: "And yet how wonderful the damn things are."

I love all wild things, but I’m prepared to make an exception of spiders. I’ve stood firm in the face of lions and elephants, I’ve coped with rainforest and I’ve coped with desert, but a spider in the bath gives me the jumps.

So there I was in Zambia, in a hut a good mile from the nearest neighbour, and I was feeling ever so slightly appalled. So appalled, I had to count them. The number will stay with me forever: 47. Ranging in size from about three inches across the diagonal, to twice that. The twice-thatters were in a clear majority. That’s 376 legs. What’s a chap supposed to do? I took a goodish slug from the duty-free, pulled the sheet over my head and slept till morning. The dozen or so that remained by then seemed nothing.

But they’re not as bad as the Kalahari Ferrari. Strictly speaking, these are not spiders, they’re Solifugids. They don’t build webs and wait: they charge about at a million miles an hour on roughly the same track, again and again, and they eat anything they bump into. They can move at 10mph, which is a lot in your living room.

And yet how wonderful the damn things are. As Eskimos are (wrongly) said to have dozens of words for snow, so a spider can make seven different kinds of silk.

I’ve learned how to deal with them. Every time one of the damn things goes past I emit a girlish squeak, make another attempt on the world record for the sitting high-jump and deposit about a tablespoon of cold beer onto my crotch. A few minutes later, we re-enact the same performance.

Try a walk in the woods in the Lam Tsuen Valley in Hongkong. Every pair of trees is linked by a great sticky cartwheel: a spiderweb at least three feet in diameter: one that looks tough enough to snare a small child. At the centre of each, a seriously sizeable black and yellow woodland spider. I have a picture of such a web: it holds its mistress and a half-eaten bat.

Now, fear of spiders is one of the easiest things to cure. So why don’t I do it? Because I am horrified at the idea of being so easy with spiders that I could let them run up my arm. I know it’s absurd, but I’d sooner deal with the perpetual dread that has accompanied me across the wild world.

And yet… And yet how wonderful the damn things are. As Eskimos are (wrongly) said to have dozens of words for snow, so a spider can make seven different kinds of silk. They use the stuff for webs, for infant care, for hunting, for lifelines, for flight and even for love. Their evolutionary path is the silk road: silk is at the core of their being.

Walk up a hill into the sun in the early morning in the warmer months of the year and you will see the world as never before: every two stands of grass linked by silken tightrope made visible by the backlit dewdrops, as if overnight the world had been painted in gold. It’s a poor heart that can't rejoice at such a moment. Even mine can manage it.

Spiders - and just about everything else - are celebrated in Simon's new book Ten Million Aliens: A Journey Through the Entire Animal Kingdom, published by Short Books and available on Amazon.

By Simon Barnes

Twitter: @WildBarnes

hildajenniJ Thu 30-Oct-14 11:29:45

I have never been afraid of spiders. I am glad we don't have the poisonous ones in England.
I am the only one in this household who will remove a spider from the house!!
My DD is not afraid of creepy crawlies when they are moving, but when they are dead on the windowsill she freaks out and can't touch them, even with the vacuum cleaner.confused

goldengirl Thu 30-Oct-14 16:10:45

We had the biggest one we'd ever seen in our bedroom a few weeks back. Even DH thought it large. Luckily he managed to trap it and put it outside as far away from the house that he felt able to travel in his pjs. Goodness knows what it was. With legs it must have been 4+ inches across including legs. It was brown and I didn't get close enough to note markings!

durhamjen Thu 30-Oct-14 22:17:11

I've been trying to get my grandson to look at spiders in a new way. It's not helped by squeamish adults.
However, he is quite impressed with the fact that spiders in Britain eat the whole weight of the British population each year. Makes them feel quite useful here. We haven't found out yet about the rest of the world. However, he looks at the webs in our gardens in a new light.

thatbags Fri 31-Oct-14 07:06:03

Spiders are both creepy crawlies and small wonders. The title is silly. Creepy Crawlies are fascinating. This is perhaps why infant schools talk about minibeasts instead of using that loaded expression. I'm a bit surprised at the author. He writes for money, doesn't he? Nothing wrong with that but the 'market' reach sticks out a bit here which is a shame.

MiceElf Fri 31-Oct-14 07:38:47

'Girlish squeak'. I stopped reading after that.

I think the writer needs to go on a diversity and equality course.

PRINTMISS Fri 31-Oct-14 07:46:59

We do not mind spiders, never move them if they are around, only when they are in the bath, and on one occasion when one was on the ceiling in the bedroom, and I had visions of me lying there asleep with mouth wide open and the spider gently spinning it's web into the gap. There is a spider which runs across our living regularly every evening, we call him Fred, and we never see him go in the opposite direction. If you wish to live and thrive let a spider run alive, as my old Mum would say.

TriciaF Fri 31-Oct-14 10:27:02

I let spiders thrive in our house because they trap mosquitos, which are the creatures I fear the most.
Sometimes at night you hear this high-pitched buzz, and I recognise it at once. No more sleep until it's found and killed.
I'm not so keen on cockroaches either.

henetha Fri 31-Oct-14 10:45:48

I've spent years tellling my grandchildren that spiders won't hurt them, and now I discover there are some in this country that will!
It's a good thing I'm not scared of them as there is no-one here but this chicken to deal with them!
I would say they are small wonders rather than creepy crawlies.

Sapphyr Fri 31-Oct-14 12:10:18

I, but, less so, my eldest daughter, think spiders are great smile
To the extent that, for over six months, I used to feed the spider that hid behind the panelling in our Victorian house, I gave her - she gave birth after a couple of weeks - titbits of teeny (2 mm cubes) of ham or cheese with some time-passing (time-wasting?), jiggling with a cocktail-stick to mimic a suitably struggling insect... after a couple of days' practice, it appeared to work smile
Boris, thanks, 'The Who', and I enjoyed many delightful sessions together smile

goldengirl Sat 01-Nov-14 14:59:45

There's a great CBeebies programme on creepy crawlies which includes such beasties as wood lice and centipedes. I've certainly learned from it and admit that it does elicit respect for these critters.

Hattiehelga Sun 02-Nov-14 13:46:12

These eight legged horrors have been my worst nightmare for as long as I can remember and I am now 75. I think it all started with a creepy Welsh uncle who used to keep them in jam jars and chase me with them. I have really tried so hard to be able to overcome this terrible fear but to no avail. Every time I read of a foreigner arriving in bananas it worries me for days.
My son overcame his inherited dread with a course of hypnotherapy and is now able to catch them in a duster and take them down the road !! I have a friend with the same fear of mice - I cannot understand that and she cannot understand me.

audnay Thu 06-Nov-14 16:13:57

I hate them, I am petrified of them, don't mindbutterflies or moths hate flies and OMG spiders. we had a huge one in the house a couple of weeks ago, I was downstairs on my own when I first seen it, My heart went into overdrive it was so big I just caught it move first out the corner of my eye and it moved doen the side of the unit, told my partner next morning, he said it will be long gone by now. No its not its around I said. When we were watching the TV that evening, it crawled out, I shouted myo/h and he had to go and get something to catch it in, as soon as he got near it it sped back in behind the unit, my o/h tried to get it out, it would come so far and dived back in. My partner tried several times, eventually he managed to kill it, normally he would pick them up in his hand but not this one, he went for a container, couldn't catch it with so it ended up been headless. It was awful big no huge, big thick hairy legs when ever I went in the lounge before it was killed my feet was on the chair with me.

Sapphyr Wed 12-Nov-14 14:58:15

A few years ago, we were watching a great feature by Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall about how wood-lice are related to crustaceans like shrimps and prawns. When lightly poached or, in the microwave until they turn pink - about 45-60 seconds, they taste the same.
So, in the spirit of culinary experimentation, I said to my daughters,
"You know those old fencing-panels behind the compost-heap?"
"Er...", they know me, and
"No... no, NO!" and,
However, we did and, 170ish freshly-poached woodlice on a slice of bread sprinkled with lemon juice and freshly ground pepper do taste like potted-shrimps and left us, well, me gagging for more smile