Delicacy or unwanted pest. It depends on where you live. In Cambodia they are an expensive treat eaten at special events and celebrations. In Bullhead City, Arizona and the Colorado River Valley they are an unwanted, and occasionally unnerving, pest kept at bay by the professionals at Baron Services.
Spiders and arachnids are ancient creatures. They belong to a group of animals called arthropods, which have jointed legs and exoskeletons. They are the most diverse and abundant animals on Earth, and they have a long evolutionary history.
The fossil record indicates that date to at least the Cambrian period, about 540 million years ago. Among them were the ancestors of modern spiders and arachnids. The ancient ancestors of spiders had rudimentary eyes, mouth parts, and appendages.
The first true spiders appear in fossils dated to the Carboniferous period, about 359 million years ago. Like modern spiders some species had silk glands and spinnerets. This allowed them to produce silk for various purposes, such as building webs, wrapping prey, making egg sacs, and escaping predators.
Then and now, this is amazing stuff. Spider silk is a remarkable material that is strong, flexible, and lightweight. Spiders can produce different types of silk depending on their needs and preferences.
Modern arachnids first appear in the fiossil record from the Silurian period, about 443 million years ago. They include scorpions, mites, ticks, harvestmen, and pseudoscorpions.
Arachnids have eight legs and two body segments: the cephalothorax (which contains the eyes, mouthparts, and legs) and the abdomen (which contains the reproductive organs, digestive system, and respiratory system). Arachnids also have specialized appendages called pedipalps, which can be used for sensing, feeding, mating, or defense.
Spiders and arachnids have diversified and evolved into thousands of species. They have adapted to a staggering array of diverse habitats and lifestyles.
Some of them are venomous, using their fangs or stingers to inject toxins into their prey or enemies. Other species are social, living in colonies or cooperating with other species.
A few are quite colorful. They use patterns or displays to attract mates or to deter predators. Some of them are cryptic, blending in with their surroundings or mimicking other animals.
Native to South America, Hercules spiders are the largest and strongest spiders in the world. They belong to the genus Theraphosa, which means “big spider” in Greek.
That is rather fitting as they can grow up to 12-inches in leg span, and weigh up to 6-ounces. That’s bigger than a dinner plate and heavier than a hamster!
But size is not the only thing that makes Hercules spiders impressive. They also have powerful fangs that can pierce human skin and inject venom.
Their venom is not deadly, but it can cause intense pain, swelling, and nausea. Some people have allergic reactions to their bites.
Another unique attribute is a hissing sound made by rubbing their legs against their abdomen. This sound can scare off predators or warn other spiders of danger. Scientists beleive that this is also used for communication between mates or rivals.
The Mating Dance
The males have to be very careful when approaching a female, because she might mistake him for prey and attack him. The male signals his intentions by tapping his legs on the ground and making hissing sounds. If the female is receptive, she will allow him to approach and mate with her. After mating, the male has to retreat quickly before the female changes her mind and eats him.
The female lays hundreds of eggs in a silk cocoon and guards it until they hatch. The baby spiders are called spiderlings, and they are very cute and fluffy. They stay with their mother for a few weeks, until they are ready to disperse and find their own homes.
Delicay or Unwanted Pest
Delicacy or unwanted pest. It is a matter of perspective.
In the Kampong Cham Province of Cambodia the vending of fried spiders as a specialty snack is a popular attraction for tourists. Here in Bullhead City, we prefer to keep them at a distance.
Whether you think of them as a delicacy or unwanted pest spiders and arachnids are fascinating creatures that have survived and thrived for millions of years. They play important roles in the ecosystems they inhabit, as predators, prey, pollinators, decomposers, and parasites.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America