I'm not sure who was more surprised. I had inadvertently disturbed a mother caring for her children. Her panic was palpable as she threw herself over her children in a desperate attempt to protect them. Her instinct was strong. I muttered a hurried apology and gently retreated.
Do you feel sympathy for this mother? Can you empathise with her panic? What if I told you that this mother was a spider who was protecting her eggs? I can imagine that your reaction might be quite different.
Its that time of year again. As the weather cools, creatures are seeking warm shelter in which to rest. Hence a lot more spiders in our houses. Or in my case, caravan. For some, it is also mating season, which can explain the sudden emergence of these creatures, often males looking for a mate. Not all spiders have deliberately entered your home thought. Amazingly, we have 650 different species of spider in the UK. Compare this to only 66 species of mammal. Of these spider species, only a few prefer the artificial central heated atmosphere of our homes today, with the aptly named 'house spiders' being some of them. Unfortunately, not all will be greeted kindly. Not all will be left in peace, or gently returned outside. I worry for my many-legged friends.
I have always had a soft spot for the underdog. Case and point my first pet, Dolly the guinea pig. Obviously guinea pigs are generally very cute so perhaps not a traditional underdog. Dolly, however, was a bit different. With overly large pink veiny ears and scruffy, oddly coloured coat, she stood out amongst the rest of the guinea pigs at the pet shop. For all the wrong reasons. Even at my young age of 6 I could see this. I recognised that she may be misunderstood so I took her home. You will never meet a guinea pig with quite so much character. I loved her with all my heart, big ears and all.
I'm not just fond of unfortunate looking guinea pigs. I defy society's rules and am determined to appreciate those that are outcast. Those that have been classed as pests, vermin and weeds all have a place in my heart. Speciesism is rife in human society where there is a mismatch in how animals are treated depending on what category we have decided to put them in. In what world is it outrageous to eat a puppy yet eating calves is deemed normal, even a luxury? We feel most comfortable when things are in neat boxes. When they are assigned values, so we know how to feel. We can be kind. We cherish, even worship, some that fit out views of aesthetically pleasing. These we take for pets. My heart aches for those unfortunate enough to be left out of this group. Those that are classed as food, competition, sport, threats and those that are just 'ugly'. Of course, we do this with our fellow humans, so what chance do other living beings really have?
There's beauty in everything. Perhaps a close up interaction with a particularly large spider won't float your boat. But what about their webs? Most of the time, these webs are almost invisible to us. That is, of course, the point. They would be no good at catching prey otherwise. However, it just takes a bit of dampness or a touch of frost and what was once a merely suggested outline comes to life. Silver threads are littered with delicate beads of moisture, shining like gems. Works of art. How clever of these spiders. What visionaries. My camera roll is filled of photos of glimmering webs. The first frost of the year has me rushing our, camera in hand. One of my highlights of the year.
Of course, spiders have an important role in the ecosystem as well. As do all wildlife. This is important to consider but I choose to value wildlife just as another living being in itself. Before I even consider what no doubt incredible services it does for humans. This can become challenging in the conservation world. Conservationists naturally want to save them all, but we don't and probably never will have the resources for this. We have to choose. Sometimes, this choice is dictated by what are generally deemed the most valuable. People may not want to donate money to save a rare invertebrate, for instance, but they are much more likely to be generous with their money to save the iconic capercaillie. Conservation plays into this value system. We have too. This can feel morally questionable, but there are unseen benefits with this strategy. Not only will the capercaillie be saved (I hope), but so will many other threatened species that share its home. Of course, I would love people to care for the fungi's sake. But for now, this is a strategy that can really work. I have to hang on to that.
I'm not perfect. Its a constant battle defying my instincts. Stopping these ingrained thoughts from impacting my behaviour. I was nervous around spiders for years. I would never harm them, being brought up on a firm glass and paper strategy for removal, but I viewed them negatively. A little learning and some time and I taught myself that I really had nothing to be afraid of. Now, I can carry a spider without flinching and fondly watch it scurry away to find a new home. I'm not expecting radical changes, where people will cherish their household spiders, perhaps even naming them (yes, I do this). I just hope that reading this will make you pause. Perhaps don't automatically reach for the closest heavy object when encountered with an eight-legged visitor. You have the power of choice. Choose kindness.