Today, Canadian Sarah Read talks about creepy crawlies and their unjust bad rap. From Shelob to Spider-Man, spiders play a significant role in fiction and our homes.
Cellar Spiders: Your Secret Best Friends
Whenever I finish a new story, the first thing my reader friends usually ask is, “Are there spiders in this one?” Because, yeah, usually. I have a bit of a spider reputation. I love them and I think our culture has unjustly vilified them. They often feature as protagonists or positive symbols in my work, as they have in much of mythology throughout the world. My recently released novel, The Bone Weaver’s Orchard features a lot of spiders (and other crawlies) as well as a protagonist who loves them. Like Charley Winslow in my book, I keep a menagerie of spiders, though mine roam freely through my house. My basement is full of Cellar Spiders−thousands of them.
Cellar Spiders, often referred to as Daddy Long Legs, are members of the Pholcidae family. They are often found hanging upside down in their non-sticky webs in cool, damp places like cellars, attics, under sinks, or in any tucked-away corner of your home. Their long, spindly legs give them a definite creep factor, but these small heroes have received a bad rap from generations of misconceptions and urban myths.
Spiders play a major role in creation myths, no doubt inspired by their web-weaving. There are benevolent spider gods and goddesses in Sumerian myths, in the ancient Islamic oral traditions, in African and Native American legends. For some indigenous Australian tribes, a Lord Spider created the entire universe. From the West African Ananse to the Hopi Spider Grandmother, spiders play a key role in our storytelling. Even our language for story is inspired by them−spinning and weaving tales and our webs of deceptions. Despite our modern discomfort with spiders, they still turn up as heroes in our stories. Charlotte’s Web and Spider-Man are as iconic to us as Arachne was to the Greeks. So while the spider seems to feature more often these days as a monster or a figure to induce fear in an audience, that wasn’t always the case. They deserve to reclaim their old reputation as clever, kind, and creative. The spiders lurking around your home and garden are certainly all those things, and most of them aren’t dangerous.
One of the common myths about Cellar Spiders is that they have the most potent venom in the world, but that their mouth parts are too small or weak to bite you. I have good news and bad news about that. The good news is that their venom has been shown to be very mild and definitely not at all harmful to humans. So, ease your mind on that. The bad news is that they definitely can bite you, if they want to. For an additional bit of good news: they don’t want to. It’s very rare to hear of anyone being bitten by a Cellar Spider−they are evasive, not aggressive. If their web is disturbed, they simply drop to the floor and skitter away. The only times they have been shown to bite is if they are cornered, trapped, and grabbed. Since most people don’t go around grabbing spiders with their bare hands, this isn’t a problem that arises often. If a Cellar Spider bites you, you probably deserved it. And, you’ll live.
There are better reasons, however, for leaving Cellar Spiders be. They are the best natural predators for the things you hate even more than you hate Cellar Spiders. They love to snack on centipedes, recluses, black widows−they eat the things you definitely don’t want in your house. They’ll even cut down on the dreaded mosquitoes. They keep their webs tidy and remove their leftovers, so you won’t even see their webs most of the time. That’s better than can be said for any human I’ve ever lived with.
While I’m sure it can be said that most people would prefer to have no spindle-legged critters in their homes, the fact remains that you are going to have them. Your preferences matter not to nature. But if you’re going to have leggy housemates, these are the ones you want. They are ultimately beneficial and not at all dangerous. So the next time you notice your basement ceiling is bristling with long-legged beasties, put down the broom and think for a moment. What is it in your basement that feeds such a population of predators? And would you want such things taking over unchecked? Then give these lithe-limbed ladies a salute and allow them to serve their role as stewards of the dark and dank spaces of the house.
Sarah Read is a dark fiction writer who lives in an old house full of spiders. Her debut novel The Bone Weaver’s Orchard, also full of spiders, has just been released from Trepidatio Publishing. You can keep up with her work at www.inkwellmonster.wordpress.com.