Most people don’t like spiders. They’re seen as creepy, dangerous and maybe even a symbol of malevolence as seen on Halloween (in the US). However, spiders are fascinating animals with a rich biodiversity world-wide and an interesting evolutionary history, much focused on the development of different uses for their silk. Their silk! What an amazing animal product, something we’ve so far failed to reproduce in the lab, something incredibly strong and light weight. Silk worms have been harnessed because many of them can live together and thus a large amount of silk can be made collectively. With spiders it’s not so easy. The predatory nature of the arachnids makes living in large communities impossible under normal circumstances. With a lot of work, it is possible to create fabric from spider silk, as this fabric made in Madagascar from over a million orb weavers attests. It’s far too much work to create large-scale manufacture of spider silk fabrics, but imagine if we could, fabrics stronger than Kevlar, with the feel of silk.
That’s also not all spiders are good for, they help keep insect pests in check allowing plant life to breathe a small sigh of relief as well as anyone who’s ever been hassled by unwanted insects. Some people even consider spiders great pets. My brother recently acquired a pet tarantula and my boss has several.
What I enjoy most about spiders though, is their mystery. I read an article recently talking about a strange spider egg sac with a silk fence built around it discovered in the Peruvian Amazon. It’s completely new and little is known about it. In fact, there are certainly many species new to science awaiting discovery, not only in the Amazon but in the U.S. spiders, like so many invertebrates are largely unknown even though they’re almost always right under our noses. I think the world would be a better place if we take the time to look at those strange creatures lurking in the dark corners of even our houses and do our best to understand them as creatures as deserving of respect, even reverence as anything else.