Giant Wood Spider spinning golden web in the coffee forest of the Poomaale Estate, Coorg.
Spider – a word that fascinates some but scares many.
We all have that one (or more) friend(s) who is terrified of these eight-legged, web-spinning crawlers. And guess what? Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, is among the top most common phobias worldwide! We have all been exposed to the ‘itsy bitsy spider’ very early on in our lives. We even get a thrill watching the adventures of ‘Spiderman’ even today. So why does the fear persist?
Researchers believe that the instinctive fear of spiders (and some other creatures such as snakes) is an evolutionary phenomenon, probably because of their venomous nature. Just like other creatures on the planet have instincts to protect themselves, humans too have evolved in a similar way – but it is a bit stronger in some cases than others. The venom of almost all spiders is harmless to humans barring a few of them (including the black widow and the brown recluse found in the USA). Knowing and understanding the roles these misunderstood creatures play in improving our lives can perhaps phase out the fear.
Into the Spiderverse!
Spiders belong to the class Arachnida which also include scorpions, mites and ticks. About 45,000 species of spiders are spread worldwide. Their sizes are vastly varying too – from merely 0.01 inches (Samoan moss spider) to a foot (Goliath birdeater). Being highly adaptable, they even make themselves at home in human habitats.
Being the most populous land predators, they are an ecologically important predator species. When it comes to the variety of prey, they have no limits. They aren’t picky and hunt without restrictions. Some predator species, like the Millipede Assassins, specialise in preying on particular creatures. But spiders are generalist predators and enjoy diversity. Barring a few tropical creatures, they eat more insects than any other creatures! Their intricately woven webs can trap almost any insect, propagating the food chain and ultimately restoring the balance of the ecosystem.
How Do Spiders Benefit Gardens and Farms?
Having spiders in your green spaces is nothing short of a blessing! Their presence in your can keep the insect population largely in check. Unlike some insects, they do not fancy plants. They are carnivorous and mostly eat insects and pests, that too a large variety of them! This way they become natural pest control agents for your farms, avoiding the effort of using chemical pesticides and reducing the harm incurred to the environment.
But what do the plants do for the spiders in return?
It’s simple. They let spiders make homes in/around themselves – where they can take shelter, hide from threats and get support for spinning webs to trap the prey. This mutualistic relationship between spiders and plants continues to save crops from getting destroyed and allows the arachnids to thrive.
What Kinds of Plants Attract Spiders?
Spiders may not be picky about their prey, but they sure are picky about the plants they wish to be hosted by!
The smaller spiders prefer plants with dense foliage that allows them to hide with ease. They can be extremely good at hiding, you may not even realise their presence until they’re disturbed. Environmental factors like extreme dryness or rainfalls can harm them. Plant environments with enough moisture and leaves/ leaf litter or fallen twigs can help them protect themselves from the forces of nature. Besides dense foliage, spiders are attracted to tall plants like sunflowers, hollyhocks, foxgloves, etc, as they allow spiders to weave larger and more complex webs to trap insects. Sunflowers, in particular, are known to attract spiders to an extent that some spiders (like the crab spider) have also evolved to camouflage with the petals of the flower.
House plants have become immensely common over the last few years. Almost every house nowadays has indoor plants, but don’t be surprised (or scared) if you find spiders crawling around them. Houses often attract a variety of insects. Naturally, house plants become ideal for spiders to build nests and live. You need not even worry about overcrowding too, as spiders are territorial and like to have their personal space. However, if you wish to restrict spiders to outdoor green spaces, there are a few things you can do. First, you can plant mint, citrus or basil plants as their scents are known to repel spiders. Secondly, you can keep moving the plants a little from time to time – this makes it difficult for spiders to settle and spin webs. Make sure to not change the environment of the plants though! Third, keep the plants and surroundings clutter free and clean – this gives them less opportunity to hide.
How Can You Attract Spiders to Your Ecosystem?
Usually, you do not have to do anything to attract spiders to your gardens/farms. They are proactive in finding opportunities to hunt and hide. But, for any reason, if spiders aren’t entering your ecosystem and you want them to take charge of pest control, you can do that with minimal effort! Loose mulch can become a good network for spiders to enter and commute as it provides shelter and refuge. In case of tall plants, you can let the weeds grow around them to a certain height and trim the rest. Weeds, in a controlled quantity, can be good for your farm ecosystem. The same applies to home gardens, Not everything needs to be prim and proper. Choosing the elements that need trimming/retaining is key to bring spiders into your ecosystem and let nature do its work!
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