Why we should love our eight-legged friends

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Spiders are invading our homes, but Bristol Zoo Gardens shows us why we should love them

It’s that time of year again – Halloween decorations adorned with spiders abound and stories of spiders ‘invading’ homes crop up almost daily.

But now experts at Bristol Zoo Gardens want to dispel the myths surrounding the eight-legged arachnids, and explain why people should appreciate these innocent invertebrates.

Autumn is the season where spider phobia is at its peak. Spiders are more likely to be seen indoors at this time of year due to males searching for warmth and shelter as the temperature drops. It is also the breeding season, which means males are more active as they search for a mate.

But rather than ‘invading our homes’ and seeking to scare us, these harmless house-dwellers play an important role in the ecosystem and should be recognised for their amazing abilities, as Mark Bushell, Curator of Invertebrates at Bristol Zoo, explains: “Spiders are in fact amazing,” he said. “They also have a very important role to play in the food chain. They help control flies, mosquitoes, midges and other small insects that we class as pests - the world would be a much bleaker place without them.”

As a child, Mark was scared of spiders himself, but grew to admire and appreciate them after studying them. “I always wanted to work with invertebrates,” he explains, “but in order to become knowledgeable all round I knew I’d have to overcome my fear of spiders. So I started researching them and quickly realised how amazing and fascinating they are.”

Spider phobia is so common that Bristol Zoo has been offering ‘Living with Spiders’ courses for 20 years, to help arachnophobes overcome their fear through a combination of discussion, relaxation, hypnotherapy and learning about spiders.

Simon Garrett, head of learning at the Zoo, said: “We are surrounded by myths and negative associations with spiders, especially at Halloween, and this only serves to reinforce the fears held by many people. Genuine spider phobias can seriously affect how people live their lives.

“We help people manage their fear, and give them strategies to cope and take control of the situation should they encounter a spider in their home. We also help them realise that spiders are fantastic and nothing to be feared.”

He added: “As well as this they are simply beautiful. They have beautiful patterns, colours and abilities, some can even change colour. They spin amazing silk webs that are incredibly strong, yet stretchy enough to absorb the impact of flies hitting them. Spider silk is one of the strongest known natural fibres, and research has shown that you can even make bullet proof material out of spiders’ silk. They really are astonishing.” 

Bristol Zoo’s next  Living with Spiders course is on November 14 and there is a top-up course on December 12. To find out more about Bristol Zoo’s ‘Living with Spiders’ course, visit the website at: www.bristolzoo.org.uk/whats-on/living-with-spiders or phone 0117 974 7369.

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