Do You Like Spiders and Snakes?

Before you answer this question, you’re probably wondering why I chose to ask about these two particular animals. What do they have in common? A fair question.

Well, first off, they make a nice alliteration for my title. Yes, I know. Pretty thin. But wait, there’s more.

They are also the subject of a song written by Jim Stafford. Jim who? Okay, maybe a vast majority of individual who read this, have never heard of Jim Stafford or the song “Spiders and Snakes.” It could be because it was written almost 40 years ago. But hey, you can get it as a ringtone.

I think I could be losing my audience here. Alright, how about this, these were the two animals I happened to capture with my camera when I went out in my yard the other day. Well, not great but getting better, right?

Oh, I know. Here’s a good one: I included these two specific animals because spiders and snakes instill a primal fear that is imbedded in our DNA. I knew I would come up with something good eventually! Unfortunately this is not exactly true. While it is true that spiders and snakes top the list of

things we fear, current research suggests that these fears are learned, not an inherent part of our genetic memory. We are not born with a terror of these creatures, but we have the ability to pick up these fears very quickly as infants, when we see it in others or have a bad experience for ourself.

There is good reason to fear some spiders and snakes. Many are dangerous to humans, and can harm or kill us. A healthy respect for these animals is a good thing. But when we lump all spiders and snakes into a group of “beasts” that are out to get us, it can easily spiral into an irrational fear (phobia) of all animals within these categories.

A popular quote says “Familiarity breeds contempt.” As much as I respect the works of Mark Twain, I think he got it wrong this time. In fact I would go as far as to say the exact opposite is true: “Familiarity elicits understanding.” This may not hold true with all things, but I think it is a more accurate response to our association to the world around us.

So, I would like to introduce to you a spider and snake I am familiar with. In this case, familiarity does not suggest I am an expert, rather that they are common where I live and I know enough about them to not be excessively fearful.

The European Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus) is an orb weaver, also known as the diadem spider or cross spider. It is common in parts of the United States and western Europe.

Once a victim gets entangled in the spider’s web, it is wrapped in silk before it is eaten. The female looks positively menacing as it waits for its pray in its spiral web. I have seen some with abdomens as large as 15mm in diameter. It is no wonder that this particular spider is feared just because of its appearance. If you have any doubt about the amount of fear these little critters evoke in people, just do a google search for baby spiders and scroll down to read the comments. However, the truth is that the diadem spider is known to be passive. It might be difficult to even get one to bite a person. Their bite is somewhat unpleasant, but completely harmless to humans.

The female lays anywhere between 300 and 900 eggs. The clusters of newly hatched spiders can be found huddled together on the sides buildings in May and June. They are yellow with a large black blotch on their abdomen which is roughly triangle shaped.  Eventually the tiny spiders are dispersed by balloning.

The European garden spider is a beneficial species that feeds on insects, and keeps their populations in check.

Moving on to snakes, the one and only species which I have found in the “wilds” of western Washington is the Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis siratalis). Markings vary widely for this species, but many have longitudinal stripes (frequently yellow) down the middle of its back and along each side with a pattern of splotches between the stripes.

Mating occurs in late spring and they give birth to several dozen live young in late summer.

This snake is one of the most wide ranging snakes in the United States. It lives in a variety of habitats, but is often found near water.

The diet of the garter snake includes frogs, earthworms and salamanders, and is often preyed upon by larger fish, birds of prey and raccoons.

Though docile, the garter snake does occasionally bite humans if provoked. The bite is not dangerous, but the saliva may cause itching or swelling. If handled the snake is more likely to wriggle away than bite. The snake will also defend itself by releasing a foul smelling musk from a scent gland near the tail. As kids we used to catch these snakes, but the smell it left on your hands made you think twice before picking one up. Like most wild animals it is usually best to observe them at a distance that does not put them in distress.

If you come across a garter snake in your path, don’t just assume it is waiting to “get” you. It is more likely just trying to soak up a little sun to regulate its body temperature.

So now that you have met the European Garden Spider and the Common Garter Snake, maybe you can consider the question asked at the beginning of the article. We tend to fear what we don’t understand. Spiders and snakes may seem very strange to us, but they are not the horrible  nightmarish creatures that we sometime make them out to be. They are simply dealing with the challenges of life that are placed before them.

Advertisements
Gallery | This entry was posted in Crawling Things and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Do You Like Spiders and Snakes?

  1. montucky says:

    I happen to like both spiders and snakes in general, but not necessarily all species of them. I’m sure though that they do have useful purposes in the whole scheme of things. I do not like it at all when people arbitrarily kill them just because of their mostly baseless fears.

    Like

  2. Finn Holding says:

    Hello Rick, I photographed a cluster of Araneus diadematus spiderlings on my recycling bin only last week, and I’ve posted on garden spiders a couple of times: ‘http://thenaturephile.com/2011/09/24/garden-spiders/’ and ‘http://thenaturephile.com/2010/10/02/araneus-diadematus/’. I like having them in my garden and I’d be very happy to have snakes too, but alas they rarely crop up in gardens in the UK. However, a couple of years ago a 4 foot long corn snake caused some commotion on the roadside opposite my garden. We assume it was an escapee but I reckon that’s the only time it’s happened in my corner of the world!

    Like

  3. That’s exactly what a lot of nature bologs do-promote understanding and remove fear. In the case of plants though, sometimes I wonder if people shouln’t be just a little more fearful, because there are far too many plant poisonings happening each year-especially among children. That’s why when I show a toxic plant in a post I say DO NOT EAT THIS PLANT. I hope the message is getting through!

    Like

  4. Another great post about two utterly charming creatures. I was laughing my head off at the beginning. You’re hilarious.

    Like

  5. Bruce Hagen says:

    Rick, nice job. I was rather amused by your comments and observations. I saw several aggregations of newly hatched spiders in Sebastopol, CA. a few weeks ago as well. Now their webs are showing up every where. You have to watch carefully where you walk for fear of running directly into one of the large orb webs with a waiting spider. It’s a little unnerving when you come eye-to-eye with a rather large and conspicuous spider. We have a nice assortment of spiders here that I’m sure play an important ecological. They certainly are plentiful. Most spiders are harmless, but a few can deliver a painful or damaging bite . One spider in particular that I’m not too fond of is the black widow that is ubiquitous throughout much of the west and southwest. The females are robust, shiny black with a distinct bright red hour-glass marking on their abdomen. We also have a sizable population of gopher snakes and garter snakes. Thankfully, were we live, rattlesnakes are rare.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s