How to Appreciate Spiders

“Very few spiders are dangerous,” says Fritz Vollrath, emeritus professor of zoology at the University of Oxford, who has studied spiders and their webs since the early 1970s. A vast majority of the world’s nearly 50,000 known spider species are harmless. Vollrath’s favorite is the golden orb spider, which spins liquid protein into a saffron-hued silk it weaves into intricate, spiraling webs as large as a door. “The females are big and colorful and elegant with long legs and strong webs,” Vollrath says. “The males are teensy.”

Less than 4 percent of humans suffer from arachnophobia, but general unease is much more common. If you’re struggling to appreciate spiders, start outside, preferably in the early morning when dew hangs on the webs. “Walk toward the rising sun so that the web is illuminated from behind,” Vollrath says. Once you spot a web, take a minute to observe its geometry and then approach at your own pace. (Don’t worry, the spider will not leap on you.) “You control your fear,” Vollrath says. Spiders use their incredibly strong and complex silk as a kind of extension of their sensory organs, gathering information about the world, and their prey, through vibration. “If you want to see some real action, throw a fly in,” Vollrath says.

It might be harder to see the splendor of spiders in your home. But, Vollrath says, if you have a lot of them, then you should be very glad: They eat mosquitoes, flies and even cockroaches. Still, unless your home is full of reproducing bugs, the spider will eventually go hungry. “The kind thing is to usher them out,” says Vollrath, who does so with his bare hands. If you’d prefer not to feel eight legs scurrying in your palm, place a jar on top and slide a piece of paper under the jar’s opening.

You don’t need to be in the countryside to admire spiders. They’re plentiful in cities, too. To get a quick sense of what species might be around, find an outdoor light fixture where arachnids gather to eat moths attracted by the light. Don’t stereotype spiders based on one interaction. “They’re quite individualistic,” Vollrath says. “Some are relaxed, and some run off and hide.”

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