Why do spiders get such a bad rap? They include some of the most beautiful and helpful species of arthropods on the planet. They are extremely adaptable, and make this amazing stuff called spider silk. Yet, if we can believe the statistics, a high percentage of people (at least in the US) can’t stand to be near spiders.
So why do we hate spiders? Is it their eight legs? OK, well maybe that’s a little creepy (I admit that even liking six-legged insects is an acquired taste). Is it the way many of them lure prey into a web, paralyze them with venom, and wrap them up for a nice midnight snack later? Definitely not one of their most endearing behaviors. Maybe its their six or more eyes? Well, yes, this does seem pretty alien-like; but how cool would it be to see in all directions?
Despite their inherent creepiness, spider have much to commend themselves. They don’t carry any diseases that we know of—only a handful of species can bite or hurt humans with their venom. And of course spiders eat lots of bad insects both indoors and out. Spiders are among the most abundant predators of the insects that try to eat plants in our landscape, nuisance flies and mosquitoes, not to mention ants.
Only two types of spiders in Texas are potentially dangerous to people: the black and brown widows, and the brown recluse. Of the two, brown recluse spiders are the ones to be especially careful of, because of their habit of taking refuge in shoes and clothing. But other than these two bad apples, there is really little to fear about spiders.
To read more about Texas arachnids, check out the newly revised Extension fact sheet, Spiders E-4089. Also, to get an appreciation of the diversity of spiders, visit the Catalogue of Texas Spiders. This is an academic site, but will give you some idea of the incredible spider diversity we have in our state. Of the 3400 or so species of spiders in the U.S., Texas claims over 1000 species. And if you didn’t believe me when I said spiders include some of our most beautiful arthropods, check out the amazing imagery of Thomas Strahan whose artistic jumping spider photography was recently featured in the December 2011 issue of National Geographic.