When it comes to spiders in Alberta, you have lots to love and little to fear
As long you refrain from taunting them, spiders are pretty easy to live with, says U of A biologist
For Albertans with a deep fear of spiders, you may be living in the wrong place.
There are 580 species of spiders recorded in the province, a number that surprised biologist and University of Alberta professor Heather Proctor.
"That's pretty high," Proctor told CBC's Radio Active on Tuesday. "It's quite a few more species of spiders in Alberta than even I had expected there to be."
There are about 1,500 known spider species in Canada. Edmonton, with the extensive biodiversity of its river valley, is home to about 100 different species, while the typical city backyard hosts up to 20 different kinds.
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Fear of spiders has a name — arachnophobia — but Proctor believes the root of the fear is a general nervousness about scurrying things.
"I expect it is actually a basic instinct of humans to be afraid of small things that move rapidly, which could be a spider, a scorpion, a centipede," she said. "Anything like that, that moves in the periphery of your vision, could potentially be dangerous."
Proctor suggests training yourself not to be afraid, and backs up that advice with plenty of statistics.
Don't fear them. Also, don't taunt them
First and foremost, Proctor said, is the fact that while almost every single spider is venomous to some extent, very few pose a threat to human health or safety.
For example, the western black widow can be found in parts of southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and coastal B.C., but Proctor said she cannot find any records of injuries from that species.
"It's actually a pretty scaredy-cat kind of spider and it's not going to bite you unless you taunt it deliberately," she said.
Second, most of Alberta's spiders are too teeny to see, she said. The money spider, for example, will make its presence known by spinning dozens of webs on your lawn. But at barely two millimetres long, you'll be hard-pressed to see one in the, er, flesh.
Which isn't to say there aren't big, hairy spiders in Alberta. The jewel spider, for example, is an orb-weaving species in which the females can grow to be quite large, with a body as big as a dime and leg diameter about the size of a toonie.
Proctor said these spiders often cause homeowners a fright as they will build webs in doorways or other prominent places.
"But they are harmless," she said.
The U of A biologist is clearly fond of the eight-legged arthropods, using words like lovely and cute and pretty as she talks about them. Her particular favourite is the Phidippus audax, or bold jumping spider, which can be found in Alberta.
These little critters sing and dance during their mating rituals and have terrific eyesight, she said.
"If a spider turns around and looks at you, that's a jumping spider. No other spider is going to cock its little head and say, 'I wonder what that big thing is.' "
In fact, Proctor figures that getting to know a jumping spider might the cure for arachnophobia.
"Jumping spiders are the gateway drug to arachnology," she said. "It's pretty easy to like them."