confessions of an arachnophobe reformed

My friend Rem modified this photo I took of my dog, Ninja (a name given her by her previous owners) – having caught a rat, but that’s another story – as part of a discussion on facebook… The effect is pretty horrible and there was talk about how much people loathed insects (and arachnids) in general.

I used to share these feelings – so much so that, for a long time, I was unable to eat prawns because I had begun to see them as ‘insects of the sea’. Then I moved into the country and, gradually, with constant exposure to the critters, I have almost entirely got over my prejudice.

At one point I imagined how I would feel about insects if they were tiny little dogs or cats. Horrors would suddenly be transformed into Disney cuteness. Of course all I was doing was applying mammaliocentric criteria to the poor beasts.

I had already (like so many people) promoted bees to be ‘honorary mammals’ – like flying teddybears. I also made exceptions for butterflies… and ants… it isn’t all that difficult to stretch the ‘honorary franchise’ to wasps and moths and beetles… Before you know it, they all start looking friendly – and you begin to see just how exquisite they are… like jewels, or knights in enamelled armour. What’s an extra pair of legs between friends?

But I am being somewhat dishonest, for I have not quite extended the franchise to spiders. And it’s not just that they’ve taken the extra legs thing just a bit too far… It’s their faces… Most creepy-crawlies have the decency to have ‘faces’ we can get on with – you know: two eyes, a mouth (though perhaps not quite one you could put lipstick on) – but spiders make no concessions to the ‘face’… It’s those clusters of eyes that I find unnerving, and that have had me wondering what they think about what they see with all those eyes… and what they’re thinking about… because, though you can imagine ants are singing ‘hi, ho, hi, ho, it’s off to work we go…’, and bees are just humming something quietly to themselves, spiders are watching and waiting and plotting and thinkingย – and I don’t really like to think about what they may be thinking as they watch me from a corner of my livingroom through their many eyes.

So, in my house, spiders haven’t yet been given the vote – not that I bother them in any way. When I find three of them – three enormous bruisers – having some kind of conference in my bath – I drape some toilet paper over the edge as a ladder – just in case they’re having difficulty getting out.

After all my brave talk, I have to confess that it may be a while before I’m happy to have one crawling around on my hand.

Posted by Ricardo

writer and blogger

17 Replies to “confessions of an arachnophobe reformed”

  1. Well, growing up in the West Coast, having spiders in your bath tub and the house was a common occurence. The ant infestations aren’t good for the house, so even though I don’t have anything against ants, we can’t deal with a colony.

    I generally share the same feeling about spiders, although it isn’t the face that bothers me so much as it is the speed. It’s this thing that can crawl up your leg or across your face when you’re sleeping, but when you chase after it, it can retreat into a nice dark corner before coming back out again. If I could manage to predictably chase it out of the house that would be alright – it’s actually more scary that I can’t. So I must say, I usually end up squashing the poor thing, even though to be honest I actually like the idea of what spiders do.

    On a tangent, spiders are an interesting topic for us because in our family, we have a joke about them setting off “mother instincts”. My mother is a very small woman, and I’m quite sure she’s as uncomfortable with the creepy-crawlies as we are, but it’s quite inspiring (and actually hilarious) when a little woman who’s got terror written all over her face will run all over the house chasing a little thing (terribly, as my mother has bad hand-eye coordination) because she knows they terrify her children. So I suppose the “moral” from the story is that little things can terrify in amazing ways for whatever “strangeness’ we attribute to them, but on the other hand it’s quite interesting what heroics can be done for little children. :p

    Also, while I fully respect an insect’s right to live and their methods of living, I must say when they’re infesting the entire kitchen (i.e indian meal moths), I kind of take it as a life game where they enjoyed a huge supply of food and had the luck to get there, but unfortunately they will come across a human at some point very determined to get rid of them. Or cockroaches – I wouldn’t be able to accept having them around, or trying to pick one up to throw outside for a long while. I suppose it just goes to show that fear might be uncalled for with them, but that can’t be equated with completely welcoming their presence.


    1. all most interesting… and I’m charmed by the image of your mother running around chasing spiders *grin* The cockroach issue, like rats, might be a bit different, since there is a danger of spreading disease… though most insects are, apparently, a lot cleaner than mammals (for example) – I suppose that’s not surprising considering the smooth armour they wander about in… It’s difficult to work out the reasons that people hate insects – fear of disease, being stung, alienness… whatever the reason, I think it’s mostly irrational…


  2. I wouldn’t mind the giant spiders so much if they lived up to the ‘big = slow and lumbering’ logic which we tend to (faultily) apply to animals. Half their scariness for me lies in the fact that once you determine to catch them in a glass, they move with extraordinary speed – and of course, they change direction very smoothly, so their movement is terribly unpredictable….


    1. hmmm… unless you’re talking about REALLY giant spiders, then “big” is surely a relative term – and very much in the eye of the beholder… When it comes to spiders, I think that the most important thing to do – in the interest of inter-species amity – is to get over the feeling that they’re ‘alien’… I’m pretty certain that if you found yourself irrationally thinking something as negative as this about some class of people, you would correct yourself… I don’t know why speciesism should be any more acceptable than racism…


      1. I take your point, in that of course I’m far bigger than they are. But I’m thinking of the variety whose legspan is the size of my hand. *shudders* That’s a disturbing relative measure… I think that in the end, I just don’t want them to crawl on me.

        Speciesism – interesting, but wouldn’t that degree of parity between us and other animals also imply other things about how we relate to them: that we shouldn’t eat them, use them in labs under any circumstances, etc?


        1. my point wasn’t the your size vis a vis the spider, but rather that you are seeing this tiny creature as ‘big’ – enough so that you seem to have some desire to apply “slow and lumbering” to it – as if it were indeed the size of a carthorse *grin*

          it’s interesting this constant: ‘I don’t want it to crawl on me’. I understand because I feel the same. For me the feeling has something to do with disgust and that seems to suggest that what we’re talking about here is ‘purity’ – that the spider is somehow ‘dirty’ – but not actually dirty, I think – probably ‘ritually dirty’ – and if that’s so that does give pause for thought, no?

          I used speciesism as analogous to xenophobia – a fear of the other…


          1. I find that I’ve gotten used to them – enough to do the card & glass trick without squealing – simply through exposure. Because I don’t want to have them in the bedroom, I had to evict them this way. Do it often enough, and it becomes increasingly normal.


            1. I imagine that your spiders must find the behaviour of those sad ‘half-spiders’ with their card and glass tricks a tad erratic… :O)


          2. Allergy issues aside, cats are hit-and-miss when it comes to controlling the rodent population. My first cat was a great hunter and brought in all manner of birds and rodents, which she sometimes released, ALIVE, in the house. One baby mouse was brought back in twice after we evicted it, and we eventually had to keep her in so that it could get away.

            My last cat, though, was a terrible hunter right up until a short time before his death. His best achievement (while walking in the garden on a lead) was to place his paw on a baby sparrow, but he stayed like that because he didn’t know what to do next, so my mum just pulled him away so it could escape. And yet… about ten days before his death, when he was already fading, he caught a rat.

            So I wouldn’t worry that you’re missing out on an efficient rodent-catcher by not having cats… ๐Ÿ˜‰


  3. I’m glad you don’t kill the poor spiders, they keep your house clean from other, sometimes even more nasty, crawlies ^^

    I like beetles and moths too, and also praying mantises. On the other hand I’m terrified of grasshoppers.


    1. I’d rather not linger to long considering what’s going on across the Serengetti of my house… *grin*

      “grasshoppers” eh? I suppose I could imagine the Devil having a grasshopper face…


      1. I also dislike centipedes, specially the Scutigera coleoptrata (house centipede), mostly because one time I woke up with one on my face. Thinking of it still gives me shivers ^^

        Even so, I think it’s good to have a nice backyard were you can lay down for a bit and observe the little dramas going on in even the tiniest piece of ground, with our tiny neighbours as protagonists; it’s actually a luxury these days. People tend to become cold by living in the city apartments, isolated from nature, it must be why we fear some of these creatures so much, we are not used to them, specially inside our houses ๐Ÿ™‚ Which is silly, after all they have much more to fear from us than the other way around.


        1. ok… waking up with a centipede crawling over your face definitely gives you complaining rights *grin* I agree with you also about having a backyard. I do and spend time watching many little dramas (some now so little – as when a pigeon flew into my window and was lying stunned on the ground. I was thinking: maybe I should go out and pick it up – put it somewhere safe – and have subsequently often done this. While I was thinking about this, a stoat appeared from the bushes, took the pigeon by the throat, and dragged it into the bushes. I had only been in the country a short time and I almost freaked *wry grin*)… And, once you get used to seeing them outside – even flies – they don’t freak you out when they come into the house…


          1. It was creepy, I was so upset I went to sleep on the sofa for the rest of the night ^^

            The Scutigera is one creepy looking creature, and people usually kill them on sight, but they are pretty harmless to us, and they are actually useful as they prey on more harmful insects like cockroaches.


            1. I bet it was upsetting. I remember as a child sitting on the edge of my bed just before going to sleep, when a large spider ran from under the bed, around my feet, and then back under… I spent quite a while trying to track it down. It was CLEARLY doing that to freak me out!

              “killing on sight” just shows how hysterical and neurotic we are about insects… I can understand being careful with those that carry diseases (though I’ve read quite a bit that suggests that most insects are far cleaner than mammals), and those who bite (though the hysterics promoted by bees and wasps seems to me counter-productive – I’ve ignored them, and they ignore me… I’ve never been bitten)…

              on a slightly different tack, I was eventually forced to do something about the field mice that come into my house for the winter. Initially, in a typical towny way, I said: oh let them be, they don’t do any harm… But then we could hear them scurrying around in the walls, between the ceiling and the floor above… And they were wandering all over the kitchen. And they gnawed through pipes and caused floods… So, eventually, got in a rat catcher… and he put down poison… We started putting it down ourselves… The result, one of the little critters has crawled into some nook to die and now there is god-awful stench in my bathroom that we can do nothing about!?!


              1. You should’ve got a couple cats to scare the rodents away ๐Ÿ™‚


                1. I’ve got the dog in the picture – though a version with only the standard issue two eyes *grin* – and she’s supposed to be a ratter – but she’s old, just about blind and deaf, and so not much use… My partner, alas, is allergic to cats. Besides that, cats wouldn’t stop at mice and would massacre the local wildlife…


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