Eight-legged and Adorable

Posted: October 13, 2018 - 14:58 , by Kiron Mukherjee
Natural History | Comments () | Comment
Jumping Spider. © Natasha Hirt, 2017. Used with permission.

Guest blog written by 2018 Environmental Visual Communication student Mya Van Woudenberg.

Let me paint you a picture of a spectacular critter. Staring up at you is an adorable little animal precious enough that it could fit in your hand. You carefully pick him up, and his tiny feet tickle your palm. As he slowly nestles into your hand, you realize that their fluffy body is soft to the touch. When you lean in to say hello, he peers back at you with shimmering eyes so sparkly that it seems like a cartoon character has come to life. Just like you, he can appreciate an evening staying cozy inside with his human pals. What are you thinking of? Your cuddly puppy? A fuzzy bunny? How about your friendly neighbourhood spider?

To be honest, if most people found out they were holding a spider, they would immediately drop them and run for the hills (myself included). Arachnids are often seen as a terrifying and gross villain within our own homes, but there’s no time like the present to change your mind. Julie Tomé is familiar with this battle—as a Bilingual Science Teacher at the Royal Ontario Museum, Julie is great at helping people warm up to the less popular animals of the world. In the case of spiders, “it’s a combination of too many legs [and] too much hair” that is off-putting to many people. However, she’ll be the first to tell you that spiders are pretty awesome once you give them a chance. You see, once we stop jumping back in revulsion and get up close and personal with these little guys, we can start to learn that there’s nothing to be scared of. In fact, spiders are secretly cute.

Why are spiders actually adorable? First of all, we often don’t get close enough or let’s be honest, want to get close enough, to appreciate spider’s shimmering eyes. No problem, here’s a cute photo we can admire from the safety of our screens! They’re like real-life Disney characters! Spiders have anywhere from eight to twelve eyes, which is ironic because most spiders have terrible vision. While they may not serve much of a purpose, in the case of these sparkling Bambi eyes, you can never have too much of a good thing.

Jumping Spider. © Guido Gautsch, 2012. (CC-BY-SA 2.0)
Jumping Spider. © Guido Gautsch, 2012. (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

It’s not just their eyes that could even make Disney jealous, all spiders are nice and fluffy as well. I mean, look at this jumping spider! He looks like a living plush toy! These furry bodies are more than just stylish though—since they can’t see well, many spiders rely on their hair to be their eyes. In fact, these hairs can help spiders sense the world by feeling vibrations in the air and surroundings. Other specialized hairs on their legs even allow these arachnids to smell! These luscious locks let spiders thrive by helping them navigate the world, attract the ladies, or catch their meals just to name a few. Nothing’s better than fashion with a purpose, right?

While we may be able to get on board with the fluffy bodies and cartoon eyes, how on earth can we get past those eight crawly legs? As Julie points out, anything with more than four legs can be hard for us to appreciate because they’re very different from us. However, these wiley appendages help spiders do some pretty adorable things. For example, those spindly legs help Peacock spiders tear up the dance floor. These dance masters wave their legs in the air like they just don’t care to impress the ladies. Not only do they have the moves, but they also dress to impress—just look at those spectacular colours! It’s for these reasons that Peacock spiders are one of Julie’s personal favourites. What’s great is that each peacock spider species has a different set of dance moves, so the possibilities of cuteness are endless!

Peacock Spider. © Jurgen Otto, 2009. (CC-BY-SA 2.0)
Peacock Spider. © Jurgen Otto, 2009. (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Another adorable spider that is not often in the spotlight is the whip spider. Often, we think of good mothers being mammals, however this mom is sure to melt your heart. You see, once a whip spider has her kids, she’ll use her extra long front “whips” to cuddle with her family. Not only that, but her kids reciprocate by tickling her back. You can’t get much cuter than that!

If the power of dance and family doesn’t float your boat, perhaps the way to your heart is music. Some spiders, such as the orb-web spider, will play their love interest’s web like an instrument. By sending out unique vibrations, he can show her that he is fit for love and is not a tasty snack ready to be eaten. In this musical sense, people could learn a bit from our leggy Romeo and Juliets! From cuddling, to music, to finding love, without eight legs spiders would not be able to be the world-class artists they are today!

Spiders aren’t just a pretty face though. Perhaps most importantly, our pal the spider truly helps out us humans. As Julie pointed out, “spiders are an important member of our ecosystem… if we take spiders out of the food web, we’re in trouble.” For example, do you love mosquitoes? No? Lucky for you, these arachnids make tasty meals out of all those pesky bugs. From flies to mosquitos, spiders help keep our homes and backyards clear of pests. Not only do they help keep insect populations in check, but they provide food for other snazzy animals, such as birds and frogs. As Julie states, spiders are an integral part of nature, as are we, so we need to respect our spider friends even though our instincts may tell us otherwise. After all, our friendly neighbourhood spider is here to help!

Jumping Spider. © Yogendra Joshi, 2016. (CC-BY 2.0)
Jumping Spider. © Yogendra Joshi, 2016. (CC-BY 2.0)

What have we learned? That spiders are the cutest things inside and out, of course! From their fluffy exteriors, funky behaviours, and pest-controlling hobbies, these eight-legged stars deserve a place in our hearts. While we may never grow to fully love spiders, it’s essential to understand them for who they are. Next time you see a spider in your home or, heaven forbid, one crawling on you, take a moment to appreciate the mighty critter in all its adorable glory. Let’s show some love to the itsy bitsy spider!

Spiders are one of the most remarkable animals on the planet! They spin webs, dance, swim, and even grow back lost limbs. Entangle yourself in the world of spiders when you come face-to-face with nearly 400 amazing live and preserved arachnids in Spiders: Fear & Fascination, on display now through January 6th, 2019.