I am going to be honest from the start of this post – I loathe spiders. I suppose I have a very mild form of arachnophobia – I can ignore the really little ones, but the big ones can leave me frozen where I stand. (Which is unhelpful if I am the only one at home!) And spiders usually feature in my nightmares. So imagine my ‘joy’ at finding a couple of large spiders sheltering from the rain in my flat this morning.
Whenever I mention my dislike of these creepy crawlies to anyone, the usual response I get is ‘well they are harmless and they catch flies – so what’s the problem?’ Well I say that is all well and good, but when is warm and sunny and flies are buzzing around inside, the spiders are nowhere to be seen; yet when its wet and windy, there are no flies anywhere, but plenty of spiders inside. Plus to catch flies they need webs – and I don’t fancy a home full of cobwebs.
Now William Lauder Lindsay has filled his book Mind in the Lower Animals(1879) with pages and pages of details on the ‘redeeming’ features of all the animals that walk this earth. So this morning I decided that I would have a look and see what he had to say about spiders – because if anyone is going to say anything nice, it’s likely to be Lindsay. Perhaps there is something about spiders that will change my opinion of them.
As it turns out my gut instinct was correct. Lindsay’s first mention of spiders sums this up completely: ‘… the intelligence, industry, ingenuity, perseverance, cunning and other mental qualities of spiders are well known.’ I my view, this is a list of characteristics you could associate with confidence tricksters – (perhaps this is how spiders have convinced most of the population they are harmless). They may have an advanced understanding of engineering, but some species, in particular the trap-door spiders, combine this knowledge in the building and camouflaging of their nests into their surroundings, as a demonstration of their ‘cunning’. Lindsay also suggests that some spiders are bold and courageous, but then notes that Tarantulas have been known to attack man driven by the motive of revenge. None of these things are making me feel any more enamored with the arachnid family.
I got close to holding (not literally) spiders in slightly higher regard when I read about their weather predicting ability. Perhaps predicting is the wrong word, they are like little barometers, sensitive to changing weather patterns. In Mind in the Lower Animals it is suggested they were superior to the man-made meteorological instruments of the nineteenth century. And that may have been true 150 years ago. But I think perhaps Lindsay was misinterpreting what spiders were doing, or at least the speed they were doing it. The spiders in my garden tend not to predict the rain, but once it starts raining they head inside – more reactive than proactive. So even when it comes to the weather, I don’t think spiders have anything special going for them.
So I have tried, not that hard, but I have tried to find something about spiders to change my opinion of them them. And Lindsay’s description of them has done nothing to help, and has even reinforced my view that they are some of the sneakiest, creepiest inhabitants of our world. I am all for them killing flies, but if they could do it outside my house I would be very grateful. I would also like them to learn (and pass the message on) that if they crawl inside and I find them, someone (not me) will put them straight back outside again – so it is really not worth their effort. I only have two words for them – STAY AWAY!!!!