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Stop, don’t squish that spider!

Halloween draws attention to them!

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Movies like Arachnophobia also draw attention to them.

Arachnophobia

Looking back in history, they have been revered in hundreds of myths, stories, folk tales and art pieces all over the world. The mere thought of them can make the hair stand up on the back of your neck! And, walking into one of their webs this time of year makes a person absolutely freak out! Eeeeeekkkk!

spiderweb

Spiders, they are creepy. They are members of the Phylum Arthropoda, the Class Arachnida and the Order Araneae. They have a bunch of legs, screwed-up looking eyes, mandibles (fangs) that bite and abdomens (spinnerets) that shoot webs.

spider

spider

They have a couple of family members that have notorious reputations and can carry potentially toxic venom!  Ugh!

No wonder it seems everyone is aligned against spiders. But you should not be! Nope, not at all! Bear with me here, please keep reading.

First, keep in mind that most spiders found in Nebraska and the United States are harmless (with the exception of the black widow and the brown recluse spiders, get information on them from Nebraska Medicine by going here). Spiders tend to avoid humans and will only bite in self-defense. Few produce worse effects than a mosquito bite or bee-sting. Those with medically serious bites would rather flee and bite only when trapped or accidentally agitated. Most so-called spider bites are actually caused by something else!

Let’s fully understand spiders – or at least allow me to tell you the key role they serve on the globe and the many, many good things they do for us humans. I hope to broaden your knowledge of these amazing, air-breathing invertebrates.

spider

Spiders are natural, beneficial inhabitants of any ecosystem because of their important contributions to biological control of nuisance insects, including cockroaches causing allergies, mosquitoes carrying malaria (the world’s #1 fatal disease) and flies carrying cholera. They greatly help to keep your home, yard, vegetable garden, acreage, farm, ranch, school, and workplace free from pest insects or other small arthropods that can cause damage and kill plants annually.

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One study suggests that the presence of spiders in your house is a sign that 2,000 fewer bugs per spider may be there every year!

spider

I think Norman Platnick, who studies arachnids at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, puts it best about spider conservation. In a Washington Post interview, he stated: “If spiders disappeared, we would face famine. Spiders are primary controllers of insects. Without spiders, all of our crops would be consumed by those pests.”

There is no doubt that spiders play a critical role on our entire planet by preventing insects from becoming over-populated and destructive. But, did you know that spiders are in turn food for many other organisms, ranging from other spiders to birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals like shrews? They are. This is biodiversity at its finest and further proof that in nature, all things truly are connected!

There are other benefits of spiders to us. Spider venoms, believe it or not, show promise in the field of medicine as they contain hundreds, if not thousands of different chemical compounds. Possible medical uses for spider venoms are being investigated for the treatment of cardiac arrhythmia, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, erectile dysfunction, muscular dystrophy and glioma (tumors of the brain and spine). Spider venom is also being researched in the development of non-polluting pesticides.

Spider silk is unique. It is among the lightest, but strongest, most elastic of natural fibers. Synthesized spider silk is proving useful in creating the next generation of parachutes, bullet-proof vests, surgical threads and prostheses! Spider silk genes have been inserted into mammals and plants to see if these can be used as silk factories. Attempts are being made to produce spider-type silk in goats’ milk and in the leaves of plants, by means of genetic engineering. Get this, some of the native people in Papua New Guinea even use the webs of Nephila orb-weaving spiders as fishing nets. The spider is coaxed into spinning within an oval frame that is then used as a net.

Spiders are also used as research subjects in such diverse disciplines as animal physiology and psychology.

Spiders are also utilized as food, seriously! Cooked tarantula spiders are considered a delicacy in Cambodia. and by the native people of southern Venezuela – as long as the highly irritant hairs, the spiders’ main defense system, are removed first.

So, have I made you appreciate spiders a bit more? Have I soothed some of the fears you have about spiders? Have I sold you on some of the benefits of having spiders around?

For identification information about spiders in Nebraska, click this link.

To get details about spiders of medical importance, visit this site.

spiderinweb

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Public Information Officer and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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