It’s that time of year again... It seems like everyone is flocking to haunted houses and spooky corn mazes in search of a scare. For many, Halloween often elicits visions of masked figures with chainsaws and flesh-eating zombies, but are these the things we’re really afraid of? If you asked a random group of people what their biggest fears were, I would wager that two of the most common answers you would receive are actually spiders and snakes.
NPS Photo/Andrew Rosales – a jumping spider (Phidippus adumbratus).
Many people around the world have deep, debilitating fears of small, 8-legged arachnids and long slithering reptiles. These phobias have evolved in our species over time to protect us from danger. While it is true that a bite from some species of spiders and snakes could result in a nasty infection, paralysis, or even death, most species will do no such harm. It is always best to keep wildlife at a distance, and if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. So, if most species are harmless to us, why are they so scary? Maybe these animals are just misunderstood.
NPS Photo/McKenna Pace – a Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) guards her eggs.
Both spiders and snakes play an important role in the ecosystem. Most spiders eat small insects, including pests that eat crops and native plants. Spiders keep the population size of these bugs in control. Without spiders, our crops and native plants could be decimated by pests. Similarly, many snakes feed on rats and other rodents and keep those populations under control. Rodents often carry diseases that can be spread to humans, and in large numbers, cause negative impacts on the ecosystem by eating native vegetation.
NPS Photo – the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri) is a venomous snake found at Cabrillo National Monument. Make sure to keep your distance and notify a Ranger if you come across one in the park.
Maybe it’s just me, but skies full of pests and streets teeming with rats is much scarier than the snakes and spiders maintaining those populations. Maybe what we should fear is not so much snakes and spiders, but what the world would be like without them.
Want to face your fears? Join us at the park every Thursday afternoon for our Snake Meet & Greet. Learn about these misunderstood reptiles with one of our awesome volunteers, and get the chance to hold one yourself! We’ll see you there!