Someone understands! Here’s an article by a man who discovered the joys of spidering. They’re beautiful and exotic and weird! How can anyone settle for mere bird-watching once you’ve seen a few spiders?
My first spider—the one that started all this—was black, with a head like a garden shovel’s blade and eight beady eyes that all but disappeared against the velvet of its upper body. At the end of its abdomen, two fat spinnerets poked out like the notched tail of a fish; on its back, a cream-colored strip stood in contrast to the black. As spiders go, it was unremarkable. And as I watched it scuttle across the carpeted floor of my in-laws’ basement, I had no idea that it was about to send me down the deepest rabbit hole of my life.
It was September 2021, and I was having some trouble adjusting. My wife, our one-year-old son, and I had temporarily relocated from Colorado to her parents’ house in Lincoln, Nebraska, after my wife’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. I occupied my free time as best I could, but within a couple of months I had hiked all of the few local trails. After a decade in the Front Range, where I could explore somewhere different every week, it felt claustrophobic.
In need of a new, Midwest-friendly way to get outside, I decided to try birding. I spent hours watching my in-laws’ bird feeders through binoculars, jotting down sightings of house finches and northern flickers. But when I tried to branch out and cover more ground, I ran into a roadblock: my toddler son, who came along on most of my outdoor adventures and was constitutionally incapable of sitting still. On our first trip to a local wildlife refuge, I raised binocs to my face and immediately heard him beating feet down the trail. After spending 30 minutes trying in vain to corral the giggling imp, I gave up and headed home.
One night after putting him to bed, I was sitting on the couch when I spotted something dark moving across the off-white carpet: that little black spider. Inside my brain, something clicked. There were spiders living inside the house. If I could bird-watch, why couldn’t I spider-watch. too? Ignoring the crawling sensation on my skin, I took out my phone, got down on my hands and knees, and snapped a photo.
Unfortunate side-effect, though: way too many people are arachnophobic, and very few people want to talk about spiders with you.
Sharing my new hobby was turning out to be difficult, however. If you think people tune out when birders start talking, try telling them about the wolfie you saw walking around with several dozen spiderlings clinging to her abdomen, or the fishing spider you watched shish-kebab a moth. My wife tried to be supportive, even though spiders make her hair stand on end. When I asked friends if they wanted to see pictures of my most recent find, their mouths said, Sure!, while their eyes said, Please don’t. For every new spider appreciator I converted, a dozen people told me about their spider bites, asked me if I was afraid of black widows, or just warned me to be careful.
They’re almost never spider bites. But try telling them that? That’s not what they want to hear.
The good thought here is that love of spiders can be infectious — if you can get anyone to really look, they can learn to appreciate them.
If the human fear of spiders is indeed genetic, you wouldn’t have known it watching my son. In the months after my spider-wakening, I took my new obsession from the backyard to the trail, mostly with Rhys in tow. Maybe it was because he could look at them face to face, but spiders fascinated him in a way that birds hadn’t. I remember the hikes we did together mainly in connection with the new species we saw. One time we spotted an enormous banded garden spider hanging upside down in the reeds at Lincoln’s Pioneers Park Nature Center, its body like a wasp-striped football and its legs in a perfect X. Later, at Colorado’s North Table Mountain, a rust-red Apache jumping spider climbed onto a tree root and looked at us, cocking its head as Rhys knelt down and did the same. Sometimes he spotted them before me, pointing at an orb web or a wolf spider blending in against a rock. Once or twice, perhaps possessed by the spirit of John Crompton, he tried to lick them.
You’ll have to let me know if my obsession has positively or negatively affected your opinion of arachnids. I will say it’s probably not a good idea to start licking them.