Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Next year...spread the spider love

It's New Year's Eve, and I'm writing a chapter of my thesis. A close (probably closest) relative of the Cantuaria genus is the Misgolas genus, so I looked it up on Wikipedia to make sure of its distribution.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about Misgolas:
The origin of the name Misgolas is unclear, but may have come from the prosecution of Timarchos by Aeschines in ancient Greece. In it, a particularly unsavory and disrespected individual is named Misgolas, possible prompting the naming of the species.
What? Why? What has Misgolas done to deserve that? Reading that short paragraph cut me deep. It's bad enough that the Maori call almost all spiders "pungawerewere", Punga being the ancestor of all ugly things and "werewere" meaning "hanging". Throughout history, even in taxonomy where people should really know better, spiders have been unfairly represented as ugly, horrible, or disgusting. Why are we so nasty about creatures which have no way of taking on board our criticisms, or of fighting back?

The only way that spiders can improve their image is by proving us wrong, which they have done since prehistoric times, but we have ignored their usefulness, beauty, cleverness and wonder and preferred to keep our heads in the sand and call them ugly.

In 2015, I am going to try a lot harder to make people appreciate spiders. They are important, and they do not deserve our disgust. I urge you to do the same. If we even change one person's mind about spiders, that is an improvement; if we change a few, all the better.

Here are some reasons to love spiders:

  • Spiders are useful. Everyone knows that spiders catch flies, but they don't quite seem to consider the implications of that. Spiders also catch other insects, including pests, and even if the spider isn't hungry her web is there to ensnare things that fly past. Each spider web is an extremely good insect trap, and you don't need to buy them, look after them, or even see most of them. Also, spiders are more than just pest control - their silk is useful in medicine, fabric design, physics (including space) research, and other things besides. Their venom is useful in pest control and medicine. Many larger species are edible, and provide nutrition in countries where people really, really need it.
  • Spiders are beautiful. Instinctively we think of them as ugly. On the surface, many spiders that we come across look ugly. But what about the gooty ornamental, the peacock jumping spider, or the ladybird spider? Many spiders are brightly coloured, unusually shaped, or have big, soulful eyes. Even very common spiders are only ugly because traditionally we think of spiders as ugly. The long, slender legs of the cellar spider are elegant, not creepy. The furry Tegenaria bodies are soft and endearing, not scary. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Look closely at the intricate body parts of spiders - their eyes, their feet, their genitalia - and every spider has a beauty of its own.
  • Spiders are clever. Well, not all spiders. Although one has to admire the clever life history strategies that they have evolved. Some spiders are quite adorably dumb. But others, particularly jumping spiders, are surprisingly smart. They can plan hunting trips, outsmart other spiders, and navigate mazes. Their eyesight is good and they can be trained to perform simple tasks.
  • Spiders are wonderful. These are creatures that have existed for over 300 million years. Silk comes out of them. They are master architects, songsters, and dancers. They court their mates, fight for them, and guard them. They live on the highest mountains, and in the deepest caves, and even underwater. They have colonised the vast majority of land on this planet. And what's more, they keep out of our way for the most part, and we hardly notice their existence.
So, happy new year to you all, and I hope 2015 is a good one, and that maybe we can change a mind or two about spiders.

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