I’d include a photo of a spider, but I’ve learned how that usually ends

Stupid bird. No one is afraid of you.

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.


  1. says

    I’ve never been afraid of them, per-se, but didn’t pay much attention, either. It was always a live and let live thing with me. As long as they stayed in the basement and caught any insects that got into the house, I let them be. If they ventured into my living quarters, I tried by best to relocate them outside.
    You got me looking at them closer and using my macro lens to photograph them. At one point, I had a small jumper that lived on the back of my monitor. Occasionally, it would venture to the front side while I was working and we’d play chase the mouse cursor.

  2. nomaduk says

    I doubt your obsession has affected my feelings about the critters one way or the other, but it has made me a lot more careful when I click to expand your articles!

    I’m sure my feelings were much more affected by such influences as 1957’s The Incredible Shrinking Man. So much so that I took great care when looking in my father’s dictionary for any word that would be near the beginning of the T section, for fear of coming across the picture of the tarantula that was waiting there.

    If they’re small enough that I don’t notice the details, I’m fine. It’s the big ones that make me … nervous.

  3. divineconspiracy667 says

    I’m not sure if you writing about your new hobby has affected how I feel about spiders. I’d already adopted a “spiders in the house die, spiders outside the house live, except for black widows, they die everywhere I find them” attitude before you switched from obsessing over cephalopods to spiders. That attitude hasn’t changed.
    However, I have snapped a few photos of a handful of interesting local spiders I’ve come across with the intention of sharing them with you. Although I have never shared any of those photos because laziness.

  4. crocswsocks says

    I’m definitely more appreciative of spiders, not to mention less afraid. It’s not hard when I know there’s only two kinds of deadly spiders in the US and they’re both quite recognizable. These days if I get creeped out by one’s close proximity I’ll gently brush it away or put it outside; I may have no animosity but I still can’t abide them crawling on me.

  5. rblackadar says

    It’s definitely increased my appreciation. I’ve always had a fascination for insects, but spiders for some reason were always kind of the poor cousin, not worth getting excited about. A few sparked my interest, to be sure — the cute little jumpers, the big hairy Diomedes and tarantulas, and the amazing orb-weavers… but in the latter case, for example, I can’t remember ever noticing or caring which species made that incredibly fascinating structure I was looking at, what its habits were, etc.

  6. lanir says

    I found insects very interesting as a small child. I would put them in little containers and watch them to see what they did. I didn’t keep them long because most of them I didn’t know what to feed. Spiders were a curiosity as well but I didn’t go for them very often. The webs were part of it for most of them and I couldn’t take the webs.

    I’m not sure what changed exactly but I began to really avoid all bugs and spiders. Wanted nothing to do with them. I had some issues in my life then so maybe I just attached some bad feelings I didn’t know what to do with onto them. Makes as much sense as anything. They were still interesting on a TV screen but I didn’t want any close encounters.

    When the spiders started showing up here I got curious again. I kill ants and crickets without compunction when they show up inside. Spiders I tend to leave alone now. I’ll even rescue them when I find one that seems to be trapped in my tub. The exceptions are the large ones. I’ll probably rescue them from the tub and sometimes I’ll relocate them outside if I find them elsewhere too. But I’m not very nice if I’m surprised by one being really close. The distance I want it from me is an inverse function of its size. :)

  7. lanir says

    Blah. Shouldn’t post when tired I guess. Not inverse function actually. Bigger size = bigger distance.

  8. StevoR says

    You’ll have to let me know if my obsession has positively or negatively affected your opinion of arachnids.

    Positively – although I was already quite unbothered by having spiders around. Long thought of them as “natual mortein” i.e. friends vs the flies here.

    Well, depending on the species. Huntsmen (Sparassidae formerly Heteropodidae family) & most ones being fine but the redbacks (Latrodectus hasseltii) the “kill on sight” exception if nearby because they are actually venomous and have heard those can make you pretty sick if they bite. (See : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redback_spider )

    @ Leo Buzalsky : Post a picture of a red-winged blackbird. Many runners are afraid of those vicious monsters during their mating season!!!

    Reckon the Aussie Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) swooping when its in nesting season is likely even worse! Though haven’t had any issues with them myself in fairness to them – despite my various dogs all loving to chose them.

  9. StevoR says

    ^ chase. Natch.

    Chokko my old kelpie use dto and my new mixed breed dog Roxxi does too.

    Had a Jack Russell Fox terier cross that also used to love chasing them as well – although they would pinch his chook necks from time to time & sure they loved to tease him too!

  10. A. Feesh says

    It is so hard to find people to share spider, mantis/other insect photos with. I basically have my mom and a co-worker. The co-worker has four spider egg sacs in her bathroom and is rather excited about it. I’d say this series of posts on spiders has made me a bit more interested, but I was more interested than average to begin with.

  11. bobbrady says

    Yep, I’m definitely a convert. I was never exactly arachnophobic, but my interest has certainly deepened. My mum always insisted that you should never kill spiders, because they eat the flies so I probably got my fondness there.