Your Weekend Creature Comforts: Spider-Mania

Phobias. We all have them, so what’s yours? Coulorophobia? Pteromerhanophobia? Does 90’s Nick at Nite make you feel nostalgically Nyctophobic? Or do you take after Indiana Jones with Ophidiophobia?  Maybe Stephen King gave you cynophobia. Well you might feel some comfort in knowing that some of these phobias are evolutionarily adaptive. Including my phobia…I might seem like a bad-ass next to Indy as I am not afraid to handle, restrain, or even treat snakes for medical ailments (maybe I am part slytherin), but like many humans I have a undeniable arachnophobia. Yes folks, spiders just creep me out, and there is a plethora of real and imaginary 8-legged wonders out there which has inspired me to spotlight them in my Creature Comforts edition this weekend.

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Why do these natural bug-eaters whom I should appreciate for their mosquito ingesting qualities give me and millions of other humans the willies? I personally blame my parents for letting me watch the 1990 movie Arachnophobia at too young of an age, but some research into the phobia might let my folks off the hook. Of course as an adult this movie makes me laugh as well, but I can see why a 10-year old might have been forever scarred into being terrified of spiders from then on. If you haven’t watched this movie it is a classic horror-comedy worth catching. But back to letting my parents off the hook, there have actually been studies showing that many people (and related monkeys and apes) have a genetically engrained fear of spiders (and snakes) that was meant to be evolutionarily adaptive as it protected the individual from inadvertent bites or injuries suffered by the species. So maybe, just maybe, I was born with this fear and my parents aren’t liable (though then you should make the argument that I should be equally afraid of snakes).

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But now I digress. Let me get back to the creature itself. How about we start with some amazing factoids about these 8-legged “wonders”? That’s part of what makes them spiders, as they are always 8-legged arthropods (sort of bugs in laymen’s terms). Here’s a number for you: 43,678. That is how many species of spiders exist worldwide that are known. A unique trait of spiders is that they have silk glands in their abdomen, allowing them to produce their spidey-webs just like our favorite Spiderman. All but one known species are carnivorous. In addition to the venom that some spiders possess (which in fact is rarely harmful in humans) some spiders’ venom is now being investigated for their potential medicinal properties, adding another benefit they offer to the world despite their effect of petrifying me. And while I will now progress to the more recent cultural depictions of these creatures, I will also mention that they have been in myths and human cultural stories for centuries, sometimes as gods or beneficial creatures but more often for their malevolent nature.

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Like the previous Creature Comfort editions I have brought you, spiders too have been depicted in many stories of Greek mythology. But since you can find any number of stories referencing spiders every day, I will focus here on fantasy and science fiction depictions of the monsters. And where to start….there is no way I can cover all of them, so I will try to highlight some of my favorites.

Obviously Spiderman is the reference that comes most quickly to people’s minds, which is interesting because it actually does depict the beasts in a good light. The real spiders that deserve recognition here are genetically modified to have super strength and webs, but an accidental bite to Peter Parker leads to his development of spider like traits himself, being able to use the infamous spidey-web to help with his crime-fighting talents.  Although I am more familiar with Spiderman from the movies, I am sure most of you follow him via comics, and I was interested to find out there are other comic book characters including Spidergirl, Black Spider, and Tarantula. And I am familiar with Venom, one of the few favorite characters of mine during my rare childhood comic reading days.

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Giant spiders are also another common way that people like to depict spiders, and is one of my favorite. First there is Shelob from The Lord of the Rings as well as the whole nest of giant spiders encountered by Bilbo and company in The Hobbit. While the books are a must read, I am sure everyone has already seen the LOTR trilogy and already enjoyed Peter Jackson’s representation of good ole Shelob.

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Another must read, The Harry Potter series, features the “acromantula”, a giant magical spider species living in the Forbidden Forest with one old fogey spider that happened to befriend the naïve Hagrid. Ron Weasley and I also take after each other with our pathological fear of spiders, being something that Ron sees when he encounters the shape shifting “boggart”.

If you haven’t read the latest TV From The Crypts I recommend you check it out here, and thought not a land living spider, the series Sanctuary does depict a related 8-legged giant sea spider named Bertha that is quite an important and interesting character.

Videogames are also a great way for you to encounter these super-sized monstrosities, from Dungeons and Dragons to Transformers, and including Warcraft and various Lego games.

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So now you all get to here my favorite spider-ific character out there. To make sure I covered a little more than the spider-sensations I was familiar with, I made an effort to research cultural depictions of spiders just for you. And what I discovered was absolutely amazing, something that I hope blows away your mind as much as it did mind. Imagine yourself wondering the streets of London, enjoying a cup of tea, maybe some fish and chips, when you turn the corner and see this:

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If it were me I would run screaming and peeing my pants from the scene, but this folks is hopefully a harmless creature (unless the human creators that built it were mistaken and it’s 50-feet and 37 tons fell on you from the side of a building. A hydraulics group in France created this 1.9 million pound monstrosity, and the moving mechanical wonder is often used in various performing arts events. But after it was first created it actually was allowed to wonder freely around the streets of London for a couple days. While it would scare me shitless, this is damn cool. I have to hand it to the creators that this man-made wonder would be a great character in science fiction and it is my new personal favorite spider-appearance, seeming sci-fi enough in and of itself to include here.

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Posted on September 13, 2013, in Creature Comforts, Geekology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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