Arachnophilia: Celebrating Spiders on Halloween

Illustration from Henry C. McCook's American spiders and their spinningwork, v II, plate I

Illustration from Henry C. McCook’s American spiders and their spinningwork, v II, plate I.

Spiders have been spinning their webs across the planet for hundreds of millions of years.  Without a doubt, we have forged a special relationship with these eight-legged wonders. One can find pictographs of spiders on the walls of the ancient site of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, as well as references to spiders in mythology, creation stories, folklore, art,  jewelry, poetry, literature, songs, medicinal remedies, Hollywood movies (e.g. , Tarantula, 1955 & Arachnophobia, 1990), and nursery rhymes (e.g., There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly and Little Miss Muffet).

I suffer from a case of Arachnophilia (love of spiders). The diversity of colors, shapes, and sizes found in ‘Spiderdom’ is astounding. They range from the minute pinhead sized Patu digua to the goliath tarantula (Theraphisa leblondi) whose legs can span a dinner plate. There is even a spider with horns, the Spined Micrathena! The Biodiversity Heritage Library showcased this spider in its Book of the Week: Halloween Special blog post, along with the illustrated 19th century American Spiders and their Spinningwork.  We do not know the exact number of species of spiders worldwide. Some scientists suggest there are over 42,000 species with many, many more left to be discovered.

Illustration from the Sheet Music of Spider to the Fly (McCurrie & Weber, San Francisco, 1875).

Illustration from the Sheet Music of Spider to the Fly (McCurrie & Weber, San Francisco, 1875).

It is hard to not notice that during Halloween we decorate our homes and yards with craftily constructed webs complete with spider effigies. In nature there are many different types of web weaving spiders- there are the orb, funnel, sheet, and cob weavers. Many spiders use webs to entangle their prey, but have you ever wondered how spiders themselves don’t get stuck?  The short answer is that spiders are able to spin sticky and non-sticky silk. They will typically avoid walking on the sticky silk. In addition, spiders have moveable claws on their feet that grip and release the web’s threads as they walk. To learn more about spiders and their webs, check out the Library’s Everyday Mystery “How do Spiders Avoid Getting Tangled in their Webs”.

If you find this spider post too mundane for your Halloween holiday, you might wish to explore the beasties being highlighted by the Biodiversity Heritage Library , of which the Library of Congress is a member. They have all sorts of ghoulishly fun content on monsters this week. Learn how many of history’s most fearsome beasts are actually based on real animals, and explore over 450 years of monster illustrations on Flickr.

Happy Halloween!

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