By Christa LeGrande, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria Environmental Division volunteer
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — Now that winter is upon us and the days are getting colder, animals of all kinds, including us humans, seek warmer locales to survive the blustery cold.
One such creature we’re likely to find more often in our homes in wintertime is the spider.
Although some may not be especially keen to having spiders in their homes, no spider species in Bavaria has venom strong enough to harm humans, according to the U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria Environmental Division. This is also the case with the majority of spider species in the world.
What is it, then, that makes spiders so scary to many people?
The fear of spiders is called arachnophobia, which is derived from spiders’ class name Arachnida. For people with this fear, seeing a spider can be a stressful experience.
Humans have evolved with a fear of spiders, as the eight-legged creatures were once thought to be a potential cause of illness, according to recent scientific research published in Evolution and Human Behavior. In the Middle Ages, spiders were the presumed carriers of the Great Plague in Europe, when, in fact, fleas transmitted the merciless plague’s bacteria.
As we learn more about spiders and their biology, their benefits to the ecosystems and humans have become more apparent.
The world has approximately 40,000 species of spiders, according to spider expert Rainer Foelix, author of Biology of Spiders. Also, arachnids are not insects, since they have eight legs — not six — and cannot fly.
They do, however, play a very important role in their interactions with insects.
Spiders are the most numerous insect-eating species in the world and, thus, are critical in regulating insect populations. More importantly, the insect-controlling nature of spiders has a direct impact on the agricultural industry, because spiders are the greatest biological control of crop pests. Scientific studies reveal a great connection between conserving spiders and reducing the risk of famine.
Spiders are also an important food source for other creatures, such as birds, lizards and amphibians, as well as a source of silk, a strong, threadlike structure naturally produced by spiders for web-building, transportation and protection of home and young. Spider silk is incredibly important for birds, for example, as over half of all families of birds depend on silk for building nests to tend to their young.
While spiders are usually not welcome house guests, finding one in your home means the air is clean and livable, says biologist and spider enthusiast Franz Renner.
In Germany, the most common species you’re likely to encounter is the giant house spider (Tegenaria spp.). As its name suggests, this spider is one of the largest in Europe, ranging from 2-3 inches in size. But do not fear: their venom is not harmful to humans, says the British Arachnological Society.
They are often found in sinks or bathtubs searching for water. Their funnel-like webs, where they capture insects to eat, can be found in corners of basements and garages, or in tree or rock crevices. The males are more active in late summer as they search for a mate, but they tend to be quite solitary during other times of the year.
If you do find a spider inside and you are not fond of its presence, find a safe way to take it outside — a Tupperware container is generally reliable — and put it in a bush or some grass. The cold weather will encourage the spider to find another home outside to wait out the winter. As always, if you pick up an insect or spider outside, be sure to safely replace it back where you found it.