From Crippling Fear to a Spider Career

March 14, 2024

This #SaveaSpiderDay we’re highlighting how our spider keeper cured her arachnophobia.

Spiders are our friends!

For the first few decades of my life, I suffered with a severe fear of spiders known as arachnophobia. When I was younger, I can remember my family members being scared of them, so I think it developed from that – as with most people.

I just couldn’t stand anything about them; how they looked, how they moved and worst of all, their ability to appear as if from nowhere. Spiders are found on every continent, except for Antarctica, in all manner of habitats – even underwater so avoiding them completely is never going to be an option.

That being said, my passion for all other animals led me to start working at Marwell Wildlife in the Conservation Team as an intern. Fast forward a few years and I moved on to the Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates Team, where we had several different spiders at the time, including a goliath bird eater (Theraphosa stirmi) and black widows (Latrodectus mactans).

Those first few months were absolutely terrifying, but as I spent more time with the spiders and learned more about them, my fear turned into fascination, which then developed into a love of all things arachnid.

So, you may be asking – What’s so special about spiders? Well, they’re fascinating and once you get over that initial fear you may (or may not) have you’ll understand how amazing they are too.

Did you know? Spiders mainly eat invertebrates and thus keep population levels down, meaning fewer crop pests and fewer biting insects. They play a vital role in balancing ecosystems. This means keeping everything in nature in the right proportions so that each part can thrive.

Most spiders prefer to avoid contact with people, any conflict arises because we are encroaching on their habitats and territories.

Fun spider facts:

  • There are around 50,000 species of spider and they vary hugely in appearance and ecology.
  • The hunting strategies of spiders are incredibly diverse, from your classic web to building a tunnel with a trapdoor. There are even species that cast a web over their prey in the manner of a fishing net.
  • Their venom is being researched and used in medical and industrial applications, such as pain and stroke medication.
  • The silk of some spiders has the tensile strength of high-grade alloy steel. The silk of the orb spider (Nephila spp) has long been used to make fishing nets and is now being studied with regards to its use in other areas, such as the manufacture of bullet proof vests.
  • Aside from their uses to us, there are spiders that are breathtakingly beautiful and that’s not just the exotic species. The native ladybird spider (Eresus sandaliatus) is one of the most visually stunning animals on the planet.

22 years later, I’m still at Marwell and I’ve been working in the Lower Invertebrates section for 12 years. The next time you see one of our eight-legged friends, please take a moment to appreciate them and think about what our lives would be like without them.

If you see them in your house, simply leave them alone or pop them outside – remember, spiders are our friends!

Ali Reynolds, Senior Animal Keeper, Animal Care Team