As I was sitting in the living room this past week, my peaceful silence was shattered by a scream worthy of any horror movie. Upon finding my daughter, I was greatly relieved to see she was not in fact being murdered but rather was cowering on her bed as a spider was crawling along her wall. To be honest it was a fairly decent sized critter but nothing to be to concerned about. I was told by my hysterical child that I should squish it. I calmly retrieved a glass trapped the spider and took it out to the yard to be released.
The star of my undergraduate work, Nephila clavipes
After she was calm, my daughter asked why I was releasing it and not squishing it. I would imagine a person’s first instinct would be to kill it, but when I was an undergraduate, I was introduced to the world of spiders. It wasn’t long ago that I, like most, was very much a “kill the spider” ask questions later kinda gal. That all changed as I navigated my way through my undergraduate research project, a project whose very star was pretty creepy. I thus spent the next hour with my daughter showing her pictures of my lab (in college) the pictures of my subjects (a spider know as Nephila clavipes or the golden orb weaver in normal people terms) as well as telling her all I learned about spiders in general. My children were just unaware of just how important those little guys really are. This conversation lead me to think I should put up a short series of posts about creepy crawlies we really couldn’t do without.
First on my list being our little eight legged engineers; Spiders. Although spiders are astounding in what they are capable of, their appetites is by far the most useful to us in general. Spiders have a voracious appetite and help rid the world of many insects that would otherwise wreak havoc on our own food supply. It is estimated that spiders consume an average of 80 pounds/hectare of agriculture land/ year. Considering the amount of agriculture land throughout the world (estimated at 4.92 billion hectares), that’s a pretty impressive number. I imagine that depending on where you live, spiders are consuming hundreds of thousands of bugs for you per year. I don’t know about you, but I am very grateful for that. Once I explained this to my daughter, she was more than happy to set the critter loose in our front yard where we hope the little bugger will help thin down our moths.
So my fellow scientists, next time you see a spider, consider setting him loose in the garden or yard; I guarantee your bug problems would probably decrease in time. I strongly encourage you to learn more about these amazing creatures. There is a great variety of species and the weavers (spider web spinners) are just phenomenal. Did you know that some species weave spider silk that is stronger than Kevlar? They really are amazing creatures.
My oldest son braves holding one of our lab spiders during a class visit years ago with one of my colleagues during my undergrad days. Nephila clavipes are surprisingly docile and the kids just loved their visits.