‘Tis the season for haunted houses, ghosts and goblins thick with dusty cobwebs, and fat happy spiders.
While ghouls and goblins are in the realm of fairy tales you can come face to face with a spider any time of year.
“Little Miss Muffett sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey. When along came a spider that sat down beside her, and scared Miss Muffett away.”
Little Miss Muffett was uneasy in the presence of a spider. Turns out she’s not alone.
“Arachnophobia is about a fear that people have particularly of spiders. It’s one of the most common phobias. It actually is not that difficult to treat. But as with most phobias people stay away from the thing they’re afraid of so they never really approach getting the treatment they need,” says Hess.
Dr. James Hess is the Chair of the Behavioral Science Department at Black Hills State University in Spearfish. He says there is some debate about how arachnophobia came about.
“Some evolutionary psychologists tell us that it actually is part of ancient man having a fear, having seen some people get bitten by spiders and then they died so other people are like “Whoa!” and they stay away from it etc. But other people were bitten by alligators and by other kinds of things and they didn’t necessarily develop the same phobic reaction to it. So the truth really is we really don’t know,” says Hess.
Hess adds that studies show that women develop arachnophobia more often than men, but it affects people everywhere.
And there are some people who cannot live with the mere thought of spiders.
Kathy Maguire is a curator at Reptile Gardens in Rapid City and care-taker of the spider exhibit. She says people often call her in a panic.
“They are horrified. They’ve found some giant creature climbing around in their house and they don’t even want to go home again. Quite often it’s people with little children and they just can’t have those things living with them and their children in the house,” says Maguire.
Although most spiders in South Dakota are harmless, we do have a few in the state that live up to the hype.
“We’ve got everything from little jumping spiders that live on the ground. We’ve got the orb weavers, barn spiders, garden spiders, wolf spiders and black widow spiders,” says Maguire.
But, she says, chances are…you won’t see them.
“Black widows in particular are a pretty reclusive spider. We find them under rocks, we find them in sheds and garages and basements. They like your shoes and your winter boots that you leave unattended. So I’d always look before I put my foot into anything that’s been left sitting around outside for a while,” says Maguire.
Although many spiders do not thrive in a cold climate like that of South Dakota, some arrive here inadvertently.
Take for instance the brown recluse.
“The brown recluses are not native to South Dakota but they do show up periodically. They produce pretty nasty bites – probably worse than a black widow’s in a lot of ways. The black widow will bite you and quite often the bite goes unnoticed until you start off with the symptoms. The recluse has a bite that will literally rot the flesh away around the bite spot,” says Maguire
Speaking of spider bites, Mary Caton-Rosser of Spearfish had a run in with one a few years back. She was hauling wood at her home.
“It was a nice home in a nice neighborhood,” says Caton-Rosser.
Spiders know no boundaries and they can get protective over their territory.
“Apparently when I picked up the wood I also picked up their web and their nest and that angered the spider and they bit me,” says Caton-Rosser.
“It was painful – I was very painful. And the next morning I woke up with my arm about three times the size of what it was and the only thing I could find was a tiny red spot on my forearm. Any I mean tiny, like smaller than a pin head. The aftermath was several weeks of grave pain,” says Caton-Rosser.
Given the size of a spider in relation to the size of a human, the anxiety associated with spiders can seem a bit disproportionate.
Caretaker McGuire says spiders have been given a bad rap. In fact, she says our very existence may depend on them.
“Some people believe that humans would die out without spiders in the world - that they are the ones that are really taking care of us as far as keeping the populations of other bugs in check – the ones that are harmful to us. So they are studying them in the medical field – the venoms. Farmers and ranchers, different people would like to have spiders around – they help control some of the pests that might infest their crops. So therefore they can be real beneficial,” says Maguire.
Beneficial…yes. Fascinating…perhaps. Welcome house guest…no.
While spiders can be found any time of year, this season, right around Halloween, is a time you’ll start finding them inside more often.
“Fall is the time to be watching for them because just like us they are looking for somewhere warm to hold up. They don’t like those chilly nights either,” says Maguire.
So as you head out into your shed to dig out the snow blower, or to your closet to dig out your snuggly winter blankets, keep an eye out.
But there isn’t really any need to get scared away.
“My dad eats grasshoppers. La La La La La,” says Little Miss Muffett.