Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Conquering Arachnophobia

Spiders, members of the arachnid class, can evoke both awe and fear. There is a reason that movies such as Arachnophobia are created – people relate to that fear of spiders. Had the producer tried to pitch Lepidoptera phobia (fear of butterflies and moths), I doubt it would have gone very far. The closest I can think of is Mothra, the low-budget sci-fi movie from 1961featuring a giant moth. 

For the past week, an industrious spider has maintained an elaborate orb web right outside our front door. My son first noticed it one morning as the web seemed to be floating in midair, easily visible with droplets of dew. As expected, he had a mixed reaction to seeing the spider - he did not want to get to close to it, but watched in amazement as it gingerly walked up and down the web. Seeing it outside was certainly preferable to finding one in the bathtub, which has also occurred recently.  Some studies suggest that you are never more than ten feet away from one, so whether you want to see spiders or want to avoid them, they are always nearby! Maybe that reminds you of some of your neighbors. 

 If you want to know more about spiders to demystify them, here are two suggestions. For intermediate students, Sandra Markle’s Sneaky, spinning baby spiders (2008) vividly depicts many aspects of these incredible arthropods. This book has been recognized as an NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book and has earned other awards as well. Segments entitled “Starting life in an egg” and “Mom on guard” describe the life cycle of spiders, supported by large, up-close photos of various species. The end pages include a habitat map for each spider species depicted in the text, a “Be nice to spiders” segment that provides an overview of their importance in the ecosystem, and a combined glossary/index. Markle also includes a brief endnote about her inspiration for writing the book.

For younger students, it’s certainly easy to find books about the butterfly’s life cycle. Perhaps that’s because of its interesting stages and beautiful adult species. While many of us are familiar with Charlotte’s egg sack gallantly protected by Wilbur in E.B. White's Charlotte's web, there are limited options for informational texts about arachnid life cycles. One choice is Up, up, and away by Ginger Wadsworth (2009).  Also recognized by NSTA/CBC as an Outstanding Science Trade Book, this book depicts a spider’s life cycle with simple text appropriate for primary students. The life cycle of a spider is described through the four seasons, beginning with a spider forming an egg sack in the fall. Predatory/prey relationships are incorporated as the spiders encounter lizards, snakes, and birds. The illustrations are more accurate than cartoon depictions, but are not quite technical reproductions. An endnote entitled "The spin on garden spiders" describes the species from the book (Argiope aurantia) in greater detail. 

As a final note, you can participate in a citizen scientist documentation of wildlife in your area, including spiders, through Project Noah. Supported by National Geographic, this site contains photographs of local organisms taken by students and others who are interested in documenting plants and animals in their environment.  Strategies to help teachers incorporate science investigations in schoolyards and backyards can be found under the Education link. 

The more students know about spiders, the more likely they will be to recognize their importance in the ecosystem. As stated so beautifully by Marie Curie: "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less."  

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