Okay, now I’ve said it. Even though it will pain me to take the lives of a few spiders in the interest of scientific research, I haven’t always been the spiders’ best friend. When I first came to Panama about 15 years ago, I was as much an arachnophobe as they come, and didn’t appreciate spiders for the remarkable little creatures that they are. In those days, I was scared of most arachnids, from the tarantulas that occasionally hung out under my bookshelves and in my bathroom to the tailless whip scorpions that crawled on my walls at night. On many occasions, these eight-legged creatures wouldn’t make it out of my room alive.
To be honest, the tailless whip scorpions reminded me of something I’d seen in a movie one time… although I’d rather not say the name.
The change for me came when I started teaching about arthropods as a science teacher, since I was welcomed with many questions from my students about the differences between spiders and insects. That interest prompted a long series of Internet searches, each one bringing me more and more information about spiders. Of course, plenty of images of cute and colorful jumping spiders definitely helped, along with the following video:
In my first year of teaching science, I also had a visitor to my room–a bold jumping spider (scientific name: Phidippus audax). He (or she) wasn’t hard to catch, and I kept it in a jar for several weeks before it finally escaped. For food, I gave it fruit flies, and for water, I spritzed it with a sprayer. He (or she) was a fascinating little creature, and for the first time I was able to appreciate what incredibly well-adapted natural machines they are.
Why do I call them machines? Because that almost seem robotic in the way they move and perceive their surroundings, even though they are far more advanced than anything human technology could create. Consider how they jump, for example, and how they can modify their trajectory with a dragline:
Or how they can mimic other species:
And for comparison, here is a cutting-edge machine built to resemble an ant:
So it was the jumping spiders that got me into arachnids, along with a couple of tarantulas that I’ve acquired over time. And when I found out that there was a fascinating little spider that eats plants in Central America… well… that’s the reason I’m currently in Panama.