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Stella!

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Stella the Rose Hair Tarantula

tarantula

I have a pet rose hair tarantula named Stella. I originally acquired her as a favor for a friend. A fellow entomologist, my friend worked for the Forestry Commission and kept Stella in an aquarium in her office. She asked if I would babysit (or spidersit?) it while she went out on maternity leave. I always had a fascination with spiders and I agreed to keep Stella for her. Unfortunately, my wife and daughter do not share my fascination. I picked up Stella on my way home from work and I figured it would be OK if I kept her at the house for one night and then bring her to my office the next day. I fully expected to receive lots of complaints from my wife and daughter upon bringing her home and I practiced my “But it’s only for one night” speech. However, when I brought Stella inside I didn’t quite get the reaction I had anticipated. While there were some initial remarks of repulsion, this was replaced by awe and wonder as they gazed upon her velvety abdomen and the pink hue of her carapace.

Many people have a deep seated fear of spiders and they tend to make the top-5 list of most common fears. It is estimated that 30% of women and 20% of men have true arachnophobia. The level of fear that a spider can elicit in a person is quite remarkable, and something that I never understood. The reasoning for this fear is not fully understood by experts either. There are several theories but none offer a complete understanding on the foundation of the condition. Some experts feel it is evolutionary or genetic in its origins. The idea is that earlier humans that feared and avoided spiders survived to pass on their genes while those that disregarded spiders were bitten and died. This would make sense if spiders were actually that deadly. While there are a handful of species that have venom toxic enough to hurt humans, very rarely does anyone die from spider bites. In fact, very rarely does anyone even get bitten by a spider. Some people think that spiders want to run up and bite you for no reason, just out of spite I guess, but it just isn’t so. I’m sure that wolves have killed far more people, especially early man, than spiders ever have, so then wouldn’t it make more sense if more people were afraid of wolves? Another theory is that it’s a social, or learned, fear. A young child may see a parent freak out over the sight of a spider and then develop their own fear. I would have thought this would be a more reasonable explanation, except that my daughter has this fear despite all of the education and attempts at preventing it. I believe the biggest contributor to the fear of spiders is all of the misinformation out there. They are not near as dangerous as people believe they are. In fact, spiders are quite beneficial to have around as they consume many insects in our environment that can do us much more harm than the spiders themselves can. Spider venom is actually quite amazing stuff. It is currently being studied to be used as a natural pesticide and to treat a variety of illnesses. Spider silk is equally amazing. It’s stronger than steel, extremely flexible, and has been considered for use in creating bullet proof vests. A species of spider known as Darwin’s bark spider produces silk that is 10 times tougher than Kevlar! Spiders are also an important food source for many people in other countries.

I told my wife and daughter that I would be taking Stella to work with me to keep in my office and my daughter immediately screamed “No! She needs to stay here!” I asked why because I knew she didn’t like spiders and she said as long as she stays in the aquarium she is fine with it. My wife also agreed as long as I reassured her that it couldn’t escape. Besides, it would only be for a couple of weeks.

This was over six years ago and I still have Stella. I guess it is a really long maternity leave, but I don’t mind. Stella is certainly a conversation piece when friends and family visit and I love educating people on spiders and why we shouldn’t fear them. Female rose hair tarantulas can live 15 years or more in captivity so she may be around for a few more years and will probably even outlive our dog.