What if all the spiders disappeared?

Although some may wish it so, a world without spiders would be a miserable place.

When I see spiders I think, "aww, like a puppy!" ... but for many the reaction isn't quite so warm. More like, scream-panic-run. If you fall into the latter camp, take heart, it is not an irrational thing to be terrified of arachnids.

Researchers studying the topic of arachnophobia say that the human visual system may retain ancestral mechanisms uniquely dedicated to the quick noticing of immediate and specific threats, such as spiders and snakes, which persistently recurred throughout evolutionary time: "Spiders may be one of a very few evolutionarily-persistent threats that are inherently specified for visual detection and uniquely 'prepared' to capture attention and awareness irrespective of any foreknowledge, personal importance, or task-relevance."

But regardless if you coo or shriek at the sight of a spider, one thing is for sure: We need them! And at the rate that we are losing various species in general, it would be a good idea to hold on to them. (Metaphorically speaking, of course.) Over-exuberant collecting by hobbyists have pushed some spiders to the edge of extinction; however, habitat fragmentation and loss are the most pressing threat to our eight-legged friends.

By some accounts, the below comic would be unlikely, since without spiders, humanity would be nothing short of doomed!

Spidersxkcd/CC BY 2.0

It's a delicate ecosystem we live in and most of its parts are connected – remove one player and the repercussions can can ripple out to all corners. Consider honeybees and the fact that around one-third of the food we eat comes courtesy, one way or another, through the pollination afforded by them.

Spiders do many good deeds for us squeamish humans, one of their main contributions is their appetite for insects. One spider eats 2,000 other insects a year, insects that would be otherwise eating our food crops.

“If spiders disappeared, we would face famine,” says Norman Platnick, who studies arachnids at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. “Spiders are primary controllers of insects. Without spiders, all of our crops would be consumed by those pests.”

Other considerations are pondered in this video below.

Platnick compares our destruction of the habitat which spiders call home to tinkering with a plane’s engine while in flight. Given all that we have yet to learn about them, it could prove to be even riskier. Bottom line, whether you love 'em or hate 'em, spiders need us to protect them just as much as we need them to take care of us.

Tags: Biodiversity | Ecology | Insects

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