Midnight Pub

On Spiders


Sitting at the bar I notice an eight legged little critter making its way across the wooden top. I'm uncertain of its desired destination, but knowing well that many a person will react with revile at the sight of the humble arachnid, I use an empty glass and a paper napkin to carefully capture the spider, and then proceed to relocate it to a safer corner, where it is less likely to be seen, and also more apt to find a meal (boarders are always a place of interaction and diversity - watch the forest's edge, you'll see. The wall edge/corner is far more apt to provide a spider prey than a regularly wiped down bar top).

I do not mind spiders. Surprising considering that in my early youth, say before the age of five or so, I thought most of the broad category of "bugs" (not a technical term of course) were absolutely terrifying. Fast forward some thirty odd years or more and I actively entertain the prospect of returning to school in pursuit of an entomology degree (and have developed no small bit of skill as an amateur photographer of those "bugs" I once so feared).

Spiders are not insects (and definitely not bugs, which, technically, only refers to members of the hemiptera order of insects). They are instead arachnids, which, like insects are grouped in the large phylum arthropoda. However to most, in lay terms, spiders will continue to be considered "bugs" and as most spiders are neither versed in the study of arthropods, nor even literate, that is probably just fine.

My father - a large man, a bit over six feet tall, large belly, big beard, a generally ursine quality - is terrified of spiders. There are few, if any, things he hates more than a spider. Growing up it was not an uncommon occurrence for him to enter a room only to then call to me or my brother or mother to come an rescue him from an eight legged visitor whom, invariably, he'd insist was the largest he'd ever seen (despite one of his students once bringing a pet tarantula to show-and-tell, the worst day in my father's life). The absurdity of his fear of the critters that not only were harmless to him, but were, more than likely, oblivious to even his existence, furthered my own fascination in spiders and I made a habit of observing them whenever I could.

I never owned my own tarantula, not because I am particularly bothered by them but more so because I find there to be far more interesting and engaging pets. I do however tend to leave most spiders residing in my abode alone, leaving them to their devices with the assurance that they will leave me to my own.

When I first moved from New England to the southeastern United States a little over fourteen years ago I was informed by some residents that I was now living in an area with venomous critters like copperhead snakes and black widow spiders. I was of course familiar, conceptually, with black widows (members of the genus Latrodectus, of which several in the US are called "black widows"), as they are likely one of the most generally recognizable spiders, known for their venomous bite and their distinctive red hourglass marking of pitch black body. I had, however, up to that point never seen one in person (while not entirely absent from New England, black widows are less common, and as they tend to be good at hiding in general, they are far less frequently encountered there than they are in the southeast).

I recall the first time I encountered a live black widow I was so excited I called my mom, telling her that dad would have a real fit.

"Did you kill it?" She asked.

Of course I hadn't. I am generally broadly opposed to needlessly killing anything unless it has done me immediate harm (see: mosquitos) or is threatening a broader infestation of my place of residence (see: cockroaches). Much like the little spider on the bar just now, I had simply - albeit carefully - captured and relocated the black widow to a place where I figured it would be more happy and less likely to come into contact with giants prone to crushing its kind.

I find black widows not infrequently. They are actually a very common spider throughout the southeast, but tend to remain unseen because they like to hide and are not prone to random wandering like some spider species (for example the Southern house spiders, Kukulcania hibernalis, whose males, nearly blind and utterly harmless, make a habit of crawling over anything and everything be it mineral, vegetable, or animal). Just this past weekend, while cleaning up some old flower pots from nursery purchases I found a perfect widow specimen clutching her egg case. She was very polite and allowed my to snap several nice pictures with my phone before I found a nice dark spot for her away from my house or my dogs (who have recently decided they enjoy tearing said plant pots to shreds).

There are many other spiders of course. The delightful jumping spiders with their expressive forward facing eyes and uncanny intelligence. The large garden spiders, sometimes called "writing spiders" for the intricate patterns they weave within their webs. The green lynx spider, a master of camouflage and ambush predation. And so many more. Most, completely harmless, and all willing to just be left alone to their business of catching other arthropods for a meal.

I recognize that spiders are not everyone's cup of tea and I do not hold that against anybody, we each have our things we don't like (for me it is orange juice and, surprisingly, small rodents - I don't like the way their eyes look). That being said, if you're in the bar and happen upon a spider, I'd ask that you pause an immediate reactionary squishing and just see if I'm available, I'd be more than happy to move it somewhere out of your sight (if not entirely out of your mind).



I have feelings about the term "bug," and to me, it's association with hemipterans always seemed quite forced and arbitrary. It's a much older word in English than "insect" or "arthropod," which of course, are Latin words, and without it we don't have a good term for this category of animal. (as many would argue "bug" covers only insects, arachnids, centipedes and millipedes, and not crustaceans, rendering it not entirely synonymous with "arthropod")

In addition to this, be happy that there are only two kinds of dangerous spiders in the entirety of the US: brown recluses and black widows, neither of which are particularly aggressive spiders (in fact, it's been demonstrated that brown recluses only bite when pressed into your skin by something else, like say, a pair of pants in which they were hiding before you put them on). The only kinds of spiders I will kill in my home are these two - the others either get left where they are or placed outside (generally I will remove big wolf spiders and place them outside.)

But yes, I agree. Many of us are far too fearful and/or unfair to spiders (most arthropods, frankly).



I agree that the term "bug" as technically applied to hemipterans is kind of silly and forced. I tend to use the term "bug" even broader than just arthropods (though largely arthropods) but also to include things like worms and snails and slugs, pretty much anything that is small and can be found in the garden and woods and sometimes in your house. I'll even occasionally apply it to some crustaceans, namely shrimp, because it is fun to describe consuming them as eating "sea bugs." I guess "bug" is kind of like "vegetable" and "tree" in that these words do not have technical biological meanings, but are used widely in common language and serve as a broad descriptor for a variety of things that we all know to fit in the category.