"Gateway" spiders: Evolving our behavior & getting friendly with organisms on the "nope" spectrum

Highly suggest reading these topics for context and inspiration:
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/the-nope-response-on-social-media/1990
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/hard-to-love-species/3402/8

I’ve shared a few times on this forum that I have an irrational (phobic) fear of spiders. Over the last year or so I’ve been so enthused by and indiscriminate in my use of iNat’s app that not only am I finding tons of spiders and documenting them but I’m doing something totally new…I’m seeking them out and enjoying some of them. This got me thinking, “If I am finding myself confronting life-long fears and cooing sweetly to tiny Salticidae then there’s hope for us all!”

In that vein, I thought I would share the spider that truly and finally won me over and inquire about your experiences: Talavera minuta (Mine!)
The combination of sheer tiny adorable fierceness, the tiny feather duster palps on the male, the tiny everything…it’s too much, even for me, to resist. I think for me (and many others) tiny things are always more dear and easier to not feel threatened by. I’ve collected miniatures and advocated for justice my entire life so I’m especially keen on the oft-overlooked tiny organisms among us. Because of my phobic reactions up until a few years ago, I would have recoiled and avoided even these guys.

Another reason tiny jumpy won me over was that my first observation led me to the taxon page once the wonderful and encouraging @bothrops07 made the ID and I realized there were only 7 previous sightings on iNat and none prior to my own in the state of NY or the northeast of the U.S. This did two things: ignite my competitive impulses and bring me a sense of privilege and responsibility. I really felt like my tendency to notice everything around me which is frequently exhausting around humans, had a real purpose in my nature observations. Not so much about ego here, more that I could really offer something if I just keep my eyes open and keep sharing what I see. To me, that is profound and practical and wonderful and so many other things. This week, I found a potential tiny jumpy lady-friend and I decided to bring this conversation going on in my head over here to you all today. Specifically, right after laughing upon seeing that I am now in the list of the top identifiers for this species because I correctly IDed my second observation and there are still only 7 other observations other than my own.

I’m still afraid and have an as of yet uncontrollable visceral reaction to many spiders and the house centipede. Things others are afraid of I would like to kiss on the nose (don’t worry, I will not) like snakes, mantids, bats, blackbirds, other stuff. Go figure.

Shoutouts to all the iNatters who (possibly unknowingly) were major contributors to my behavioral and emotional shifts with the spideys: @bothrops07, @JeremyHussell, bobbyfingers, @tigerbb, redpandakitty and I’m sure I’ve missed a few…Thank you all!

So without any more rambling topic context, I want to know about your experiences with your “gateway” species encounters, changes in your own behavior because of changes in your perception of organisms or the confrontation of a fear, aversion or phobia, and anything else on this topic that you think might be a good contribution.

Go look for tiny and/or scary things! You might come to love it :)

26 Likes

Congratulations on gradually overcoming your fear!

3 Likes

Congratulations on learning to appreciate jumping spiders! They’re definitely a great ‘gateway’ spider for people, and if you ever find yourself in South Korea you may want to check out the related Talavera ikedai. They’re every bit as small as their North American counterparts but with the addition of stripes!

I love observing jumping spiders and ground spiders - the closer the better - but still feel somewhat intimidated by Nephila clavata, a local species of golden orb-weaver.

4 Likes

Keep going - eventually you will love all spiders. A lot of us spiderhuggers started from a position of phobia. Including me. I count overcoming my fear as one of my greatest life achievements. I can now pick up huntsmen (40mm body) and touch tarantulas.

7 Likes

I just said, “oh no no no no no no no” out loud while reading that and shaking my head. The truth is though, in all seriousness, that gives me great hope. Huntsmen, wolf spiders, tarantulas may be a distance off for me but I think I’ll get there.

Welcome to the forum @joanfaiola, @matt227 and thanks for the encouragement!

snazzy and adorable! In the bird world, among other species, I am partial to wrens, kinglets, creepers and gnatcatchers and I just found myself thinking of jumpers as the “wrens of the spider world,” tiny but loud and seemingly gregarious.

3 Likes

I’ve never been outright phobic of spiders, but the salticids were the first spiders I was able to feel outright comfortable handling and examining.

I work as a naturalist and try to use jumpers as a gateway species when teaching kids about spiders and arachnids, to much success.

4 Likes

I think this is really true! I’ve heard it from so many. I know I was raised to fear them. My dad—the man I looked up to for protection and wisdom and his grand love of nature and wildlife—had a deep-seated fear of spiders. So of course, all of us children were terrified of them.

The first spider that really helped me turn the corner was a Cat-faced Orbweaver (Araneus sp.). It built a beautiful orb web next to my front steps when I was in high school in Salt Lake City, UT. I was always freaked out by the Cheiracanthium spiders that I was sure were biting me in my bedroom, but this one was lovely. I decided to try to interact with it. I found a piece of peanut shell and tossed it into the web. Nothing. So I grabbed a small stick and made the shell wiggle in the web to mimic prey. This caught the spider’s attention! She ran right over, picked up the shell piece, threw it out of the web, and started violently shaking the web (as I felt she looked straight into my eyes)! Instantly, I knew there was SO much more intelligence to spiders than I ever knew. I wanted to know more. I wanted to be her friend. I ran to find her a real fly…which I did…and she ate it. This was the beginning of my journey to discovering a lifelong love for spiders.

10 Likes

I have a heartbreaking regret over the number of spiders I’ve killed over the years because of my irrational fear of them. I don’t have a “warm and fuzzy” story that helped me turn the corner - just how stupid I was to kill something that was not actually harming me, even if it had the potential to. Some spiders can still give me the willies, but I take pictures and post to iNat instead of killing them :) So, yes, phobias can be overcome, or at least attenuated :)

9 Likes

I’ve shared this curiosity and have fed spiders in webs before (although I’m never quite sure how I feel about doing that). I’ve always tested the boundaries of my fears and tried to grow from the experiences. I think we are definitely passed the fears of those who we looked up to, that had influence for me too. I had a friend who was into stuff like personal animal totems and she suggested that my fears were based in something I had in common with spiders and encouraged me to research them. I did. I did gain a respect for them even if what I read may have been oversimplified. The idea that they are pretty decent mothers as far as such organisms go, some build beautiful engineering masterpieces, and their intelligence, reactivity and beauty definitely won me over. Not enough to have me where I am now because of iNat though.

3 Likes

I’m a 30 year old man and screamed in excitement like a little girl when I found my first Talavera minuta. They are very cute.

My gateway to spiders was actually this website. I joined in April of last year for an online BioBlitz. After exploring the site for a while, I decided I really liked it and wanted to contribute in some meaningful way. I previously worked as a herpetologist, so I jumped into IDing reptiles and amphibians. The problem with that being that there are already many very competent identifiers of reptiles and amphibians, so I looked around for something that needed more attention. I wasn’t particularly fond of spiders a year ago, but decided Salticidae would be my specialty.

The more I learned about the animals, the more I loved them. I decided I would do more than just identify them, and started documenting as many of them as I could, to contribute to iNat and to my own knowledge. Now I’m like 28,000 IDs and 1500 observations deep and really feel like I belong in Salticidae, more so than I ever felt with herpetology. Like, I accidentally found what I’m good at on this site.

I was never afraid of spiders, mostly just apathetic towards them. Now, I can’t get enough of them. Learning and looking for them is what a large chunk of my time is composed of now days. I’m super happy to hear that I have played a role in inspiring others!

10 Likes

I actually find I’m better with tarantulas than with small spiders with long skinny legs. Some part of my brain goes “It’s the size of a gerbil and it’s fuzzy. It must be a mammal. We like mammals!” :-b

I’ve gotten some great Saltacidae pictures for iNat; I hope I see one of those little tiny guys someday!

5 Likes

Like many Australians, I grew up with a rabid fear of huntsman spiders and white-tailed spiders. Our huntsman spiders are typically as big as the palm of your hand, move very fast, and are often found indoors behind the sofa, or behind the sun visor inside your car when you least expect it. The common supermarket insecticide sprays merely make them angry. White-tailed spiders, on the other hand, are often falsely characterised as little demons whose bites are able to necrotise your flesh.

I still don’t care for them very much, but I have warmed to other kinds of spiders. Like many people, I really do love the salticids. They’re very charismatic and often very beautiful. The one below was on my bathroom windowsill the other day.

I think, though, that my gateway spider was probably the rufous net-casting spider. We used to see them from time to time where we lived in Sydney. They’re big, pretty, kind of enigmatic, and will let you handle them.

5 Likes

This reminds me of another spider I am still afraid of Pisaurina mira (species name noted) and the way these species hold their front legs is part of what weirds me out.

1 Like

ok, Mira… how do you hold your legs out? :)

@crellow My favourite spider, Hypoblemum griseum… has been to me one of the greatest givers of learning moments… both on spiders in general, and the workings of taxonomy in iNat. I currently have two females living on my windowsill, fruitflies have no chance while they are there! Each lives at one end, and I’d swear they patrol the borders of their territories.

3 Likes

:rofl:I weird plenty of people out but I’m not sure it’s the legs that do it!

I always worry what house visitors will think when they see how “dirty” my windows are. I’ve always found that watching insects and arachnids in the safety of my home while they are on the other side of glass affords me a closeness I couldn’t handle without the barrier. I think that’s something that’s definitely a great gateway activity. Totally, I’ve seen the same “patrols” in my windowsills with different species!

2 Likes

I was imagining that asked of the spider :)

I’m the same about my garden… have been motivated recently into trying to wrangle it back into submission

2 Likes

They’re great little things. We have them all over the house at the moment!

My parents were both ornithologists, so I grew up learning to identify birds and eventually knowing all the common ones in my region. Yet I wasn’t a naturalist or curious about them in any way. If anything, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information available, e.g. learning new things about birds all the time just from listening to conversations at the dinner table.

It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I started taking the initiative to learn about the non-bird species around me. Part of this was due to starting a job at a conservation and science not-for-profit, one with a large wild property which I started walking around every morning before work, and where I also was put in contact with a couple of enthusiastic co-workers. Another part of it was starting on iNaturalist. I’m not sure why I got interested in spiders in particular, other than that a few of my first observations happened to be interesting spiders. Bold Jumping Spider, Palearctic Ant-mimic Spider, Banded Fishing Spider. That last one is also the origin of my profile photo.

The one that really got me hooked though, was this Humped Trashline Orbweaver. Seeing that pushed me over the edge. It was the first time I was motivated enough to go search for primary sources instead of relying on what I already knew (nothing), guides on hand (none), or waiting for others to identify (want to know now!)

Another gateway organism for me was this humble Common Drone Fly which caught my attention due to its honey-bee mimicry, and got me interested in hover flies in general. There are a lot of mimics in that group, bumblebee mimics, hornet mimics, potter wasp mimics, even a few dragonfly mimics! Some of my interest in them has bled over into all the other multitudinous kinds of pollinators.

Anyway, I didn’t have any phobia or fears to overcome (growing up with biologist parents desensitizes you to lots of things by frequently having them shoved in front of your face with a “Look at this! This is so cool!”), only my own focus on other subjects and apathy towards the natural world due to over-exposure. I still have many other interests, but I’m now much more likely to take note of the occasional spurt of curiosity about some common organism and actually do something about it instead of letting it fade away without action. I can’t really pin that on any one thing, other than how rewarding it was the first few times.

3 Likes

Oh gosh. I’ve never been afraid of spiders, but I was in my mid 20’s when I saw my first house centipede, and suddenly I understood what the arachnophobes were talking about. That is one scary beastie. Seriously, there was one on the wall when I got up to use the bathroom last night, and I had nightmares when I went back to bed.

2 Likes

I’m happy to see your Salticidae project growing! (Just don’t forget about our moths. :slightly_smiling_face:)

2 Likes