Do you like spiders? Many people don’t! In fact a lot of us suffer from arachnophobia, a fear of spiders. Yet, despite this, of the 47,000 species of spider only 3 can kill humans – the black widow, the brown widow and the Brazilian wandering spider, and these will only ever bite if they are threatened. Spiders are in fact our friends so let’s find out a little more about these oft maligned octopods.
A spider’s body is divided into 2 sections, the head and the abdomen, and on the head are 8 eyes. These are much better than insect eyes at forming images and spiders have quite good eyesight. They also have fangs which they use to inject venom into their prey. Spiders can only eat liquid food and so this venom digests the prey from the inside! The readily digested and liquefied meal is then sucked up by the spider and an empty shell of a body is all that remains of the poor victim.
When it comes to courtship male spiders have to be very cautious. They are much smaller than the females and so might be mistaken for dinner! To get around this they have elaborate rituals to identify their intentions. These usually include ‘plucking’ the female’s web as if it were a harp. She ‘analyses’ the resulting vibrations and (hopefully!) realises that they are coming from a potential mate rather than a potential meal.
All of which brings us to the spider’s web. At the rear of its abdomen a spider has spinnerets which release silk. For its size this silk is incredibly strong but it is what the spider does with it that is more amazing. The webs they can weave are incredible, functional and beautiful. Consisting of spirals of thread positioned on radiating arms, they are how many spiders catch their prey. When you see a web it is hard to imagine that it was built without design, purely on the inborn instinct of a 2cm long animal.
Spiders are a true marvel of nature and if you like them you might want to look at the UK Nature website. They have lots of information about the types of spider resident in the UK – none of which can hurt you! You’ll also be delighted to hear that we have a quiz all about spiders right here. Give it a go and see how well you can do!