Why so many of us are the occasional spider murderer
With their little protruding eyes, spiders fall into this category – for our imperfect monkey brains, they have a decidedly uncut adult appearance, to which we attribute off-putting qualities such as being less kind, trustworthy and warm. In contrast, the few species of spiders that have larger eyes are usually seen as less scary.
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 one article researchers described them as “Gateway spiders“- useful ambassadors for their less healthy loved ones. They have already starred in a number of viral videos, which feature their endearing and silly mating dances. 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 means of get the public to engage more with the conservation of endangered animals (which, moreover, 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 avoid using it as the basis of our moral decisions altogether.
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 400-800 million tons (363-726 tons) of prey each year and in so doing help control certain populations of insects, including those that cause disease in humans.
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 thousands. of times smaller than those 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 coming to my backyard – possibly one of my old friend’s descendants. I think I’ll let them do it whether I like them or not.
Zaria Gorvett is a senior reporter for BBC Future and tweets @ZariaGorvett
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