by Susan Heil, age 13
Horrible, bloodthirsty, and relentless are the words most often used when discussing spiders. Pondering these frightening arachnids, most people believe that the piercing, harpoon-like bite from the spider will certainly plunge the victim into inevitable doom. Actually, this is a tremendously common phenomenon known as an “overactive imagination.” Of the forty thousand species of spiders that have been discovered, most are quite harmless. Treated correctly, spider bite wounds will heal with minimal scarring, which is a comforting thought to many people. Spiders are a key component to the life cycle and to the environment. Though spiders generate fear, humans should feel relief because they are, in fact, not dangerous. Although spiders such as the wolf spider, black widow, and brown recluse are widely regarded as extremely dangerous creatures, they do not fully deserve such harsh titles and criticisms despite their venomous nature. They are not lethal.
Wolf spiders are one of the most feared arachnids on the planet. However, they are not dangerous. Since it was believed that they hunted in packs, similar to wolves, the wolf spider earned its name. Actually, this ferocious predator hunts independently and is most active at night. Occasionally wolf spiders are observed traveling together in large groups because their homes were destroyed. Scavenging at night, wolf spiders are most commonly found in the leaf litter. When prey, which could be any small insect, catches the spider’s attention, it is a vigorous struggle between the prey and predator. When the prey is subdued, the spider will use its powerful jaws to grind the insect into a pulp and suck out the liquid. They may seem horrible and bloodthirsty, but these spiders are doing what they were designed to do, devouring pesky insects. Wolf spiders are clearly misunderstood creatures.
Black widows are known for their potent venom. As a result they are widely feared. Arranging to be bitten, arachnologist W. J. Baerg was a courageous and brave man who desired to satisfy the curiosity of many scientists. Through much severe pain and agony, the capable professor survived the black widow’s bite. He clearly took a chance. The spider has a powerful venom, which cramps the body because it blocks nerve signals to the muscles. When bitten, the individual may not react immediately, but soon, sudden and severe symptoms will manifest. The death rate from these lethal wounds dropped to below one percent, when the antivenin was introduced in 1930. The amount of toxin injected from the bite determines the effect that it will have on the body. Clearly, black widows possess a strong and overwhelming venom.
The brown recluse is a nonaggressive and fascinating arachnid. Generally the recluse is identified by the distinct violin-shaped marking which is displayed on the thorax. Possessing six eyes instead of eight, the recluse is different from most arachnids. When disturbed, the spider will use its bite to cause a stinging, burning sensation. During the night the spiders will often crawl into clothing and bedding because they seek a dark shelter. This causes problems. Humans are most often bitten when dressing or sleeping. Depending on the victim’s sensitivity to the venom, the bite can be tolerable or dangerous. The brown recluse is a highly feared, non-aggressive, and misunderstood arachnid.
The wolf spider, black widow, and brown recluse are clearly arachnid icons around the world. Minding their own business, spiders are often calm and
even-tempered creatures. Unfortunately, many people are still plagued by the paralyzing affects of arachnophobia, which is based on terrible misconceptions. While it is important to take caution around certain spiders since they can sometimes bite humans, there is no need to think of spiders as malicious murderers, watching and waiting for the kill. Learning about these arachnids is an important task because it helps people terminate their fear and not the object of their fear. This is a major step. Due to the constant downplaying of these vital arachnids, society has become somewhat blind to the amazing talents of the spider.
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