• Ron Snell

"Do They Have Spiders in Costa Rica?" she asked.

Not exactly stealthy, but it must work.

"Yes," I told her. "But here's the thing:"

Okay, so a lot of people are afraid of spiders. Actually, a lot of people are afraid of anything that has more legs than their cat does, but for the moment I’m focusing on spiders.

If you Google “Why are people afraid of spiders?” you’ll get plenty of answers. Some sound sort of scientific: “Psychology professor Jon May said their angular shaped legs, dark colours and the fact they move unpredictably are all things we are hard-wired to fear. He said studies have shown that people tend to dislike angular shapes and prefer curved ones, have bad associations with dark colours, and prefer creatures we feel we can ‘understand’.”

I have a hard time with some of that explanation because I don’t think we understand cats either, but that’s just me.

Others explanations sound a lot less scientific. “Because they are creepy.” Or “Because they stare at you all night while you are sleeping, planning the best time to jump on you.” Or “Because it’s weird to have a web stuck plastered on your face.”

What scientific and other explanations share in common is the fact that the biggest reason we are afraid of spiders is that we don’t get to know them. That puts them in good company with other things that we are afraid of because we don’t know them either. I used to work at a homeless shelter in Nebraska, and it was amazing to me how quickly people got over their fear of homeless people by getting to know them--learning their names and a bit of their story.

The thing about spiders is that they are endlessly fascinating. Just in Costa Rica, they say there are about 20,000 different kinds, although it‘s a little hard to know how they know this. All I can say is someone spent a lot more time tromping around in the jungle getting cobwebs in their face than you ever will! I can’t say for sure that I’ve seen more than 10 different kinds, and I’ve been here a year tromping, looking in nooks and crannies, and sweeping corners.

Of course there are spiders that will hurt you if you get them cornered, but so might your wife, and you still let her come in the house! The fact is that most of them couldn’t hurt you if they tried, and the few that might are content to eat little insects instead of trying to eat something about a bazillion times bigger than they are. Give them some space and they’ll give you hours of entertainment.

A little spider created her web one night in the upper corner of our doorway. It was a perfectly shaped web with a crocheted doily in the middle about the size of a quarter. She sat patiently in the middle of her doily and we took pictures and named her Aña, which is short for araña (spider in Spanish). She was cute and out of the way and we were happy for her to catch any bugs that might be headed our way.

Imagine our surprise a few mornings later when the little doily was completely gone and replaced with a big carefully crocheted capital “X”. It was as if she had tanked up on coffee, couldn’t sleep, and completely remodeled. Fortunately her husband didn’t have to put up with her manic depressive swings, since he had already been eaten.

That wasn’t the end of it. Over the course of a couple of weeks, she has completely remodeled several times, always at night. A friend says she eats her web, stashes it in one of two glands depending on whether it is the sticky part or not, and recycles it to create a new version. If we could adapt that technology, we could eat old carpet and spin out a whole new living room overnight. Or termites could eat our old garage and make us a new one while we are at the beach. Genetically modified termites might be Habitat for Humanity’s best friends.

Okay, so that’s one kind of spider that we got to know. 19,999 to go. Or maybe just 19,998—we also have gotten to know some golden orb spiders that make golden webs so strong that I’ve heard NASA has been analyzing them. Actually, NASA sent a couple of the spiders to the space station to see how they handle microgravity. Their webs had to have been hilarious. The point is that once you get to know them, once they become fascinating instead of fearsome, you begin to look at them in a whole new light.

Of course there are programs for getting over the fear of spiders. Probably even 8-step programs, with one step for each leg. There’s also an app for your phone to help you overcome your fears—it will send you a beautiful picture of a different spider each day, which probably wasn’t something you had thought to put on your birthday wish list.

The important thing is that if spiders are standing between you and a beautiful life in our Costa Rican paradise, there are steps you can take to get acquainted with them, and it’s worth it. Once you get to know them a bit, you may be shocked to realize that they have become some of your best friends. Every time a bug got stuck in Aña’s web, we gave her a rousing cheer.

But now what will we do if we start getting to know the bugs? I mean, gnats have feelings and life stories too.

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