Why so many of us are the occasional spider murderer


With their little bulging eyes, spiders fall into this category – for our imperfect monkey brains, they have a decidedly not cute adult appearance, to which we attribute off-putting qualities such as being less kind, trustworthy and warm. . In contrast, the few spider species that have larger eyes are generally considered less frightening.

One example is jumping spiders, which have two main doe eyes, with their extra pairs hidden on the back of their head. They are so likable that researchers in one article described them as “gateway spiders” – useful ambassadors for their less healthy loved ones. They’ve appeared in a number of viral videos before, which put their insanely silly mating dances to songs like the YMCA.

A failing hierarchy

Regardless of why we view spiders as a disposable nuisance, there are plenty of arguments for treating their lives with more respect – and psychological tricks to help us do that.

One is to anthropomorphize spiders as much as possible, to divert the brain’s natural compassion for other members of our species – a method that has been suggested as a way to get the public to become more involved in animal conservation. endangered (which, incidentally, many arachnids are). This can be achieved by depicting spiders with more human physical characteristics, giving them comparable personalities, emotions and genres – “look, she’s so mad!” – and focusing on our similarities rather than our differences.

However, there is also an opposing school of thought: since empathy is so deeply flawed, we should try to completely avoid using it as the basis for our moral decisions.

Instead, we could place a value on spider lives based on rational calculations, such as their function within an ecosystem. So we could try to remember that arachnids kill around 400 to 800 million tons (363 to 726 tons) of prey each year, and thus help control certain populations of insects, including those that cause disease in the man.

Alternatively, we could avoid killing spiders because of their abilities and biology – arming ourselves with facts about the ingenuity of their brains, which are capable of making remarkably complex decisions, despite being in the tens of numbers. thousands of times smaller than that of mammals.

But there is also another way.

“I think people assume that some life forms are worth more than others … but they don’t think about it. They don’t ask these questions,” says Geraldine Wright, professor of entomology at the University. from Oxford. She points out that our contempt for spiders is partly a Western peculiarity, as some cultures and religions – like Buddhism – have held that all living things are precious for millennia.

However, some experts are hoping that we gradually become more tolerant of spiders and insects, especially as people start to think more about biodiversity and environmental conservation. “The other change is the idea that every individual has intrinsic value, and you shouldn’t kill them just for fun,” says Donald Broom, professor emeritus of animal welfare at the University of Cambridge.

As I was writing this article, I noticed that a new Stripy was settling in my backyard – possibly one of my old friend’s descendants. I think I’ll let them do it whether I like it or not.

Zaria Gorvett is a senior reporter for BBC Future and tweets @ZariaGorvett

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