It has been estimated that up to 33% of the population is afraid of spiders. Arachnophobia can really affect someone’s everyday life. One of the best ways to ensure that your child doesn’t develop a fear of spiders is to teach them about these beautiful animals when they are young. We shouldn’t be afraid of spiders: they’re fascinating creatures that are a valuable part of the earth’s ecosystem. They weave webs that would make any architect jealous, and live on a protein-rich diet of flying insects, including mosquitoes, which can be extremely harmful to humans – spiders are doing a great job! Spending some time together identifying the different types of spiders can be fun, interesting and educational to your child.
In South Africa, there are more than 2,230 different species of spider, and the majority of them are harmless. The most common spiders to identify are garden spiders or huntsman spiders – you can find these in your own backyard. Cellar spiders are also common in homes (particularly in damp areas like the bathroom) and they don’t move too fast to study. These are the ideal spiders to look at with your child. You can identify the main part of the spider’s body, including the legs and the thorax. You can talk about some of the most fascinating things about spiders – did you know that along with eight legs, they also have eight eyes? Just imagine what your vision would be like if you had eight eyes – you can even draw some pictures together.
Looking at spider webs
Spider webs are fascinating – they are shiny in order to reflect UV light and attract their prey. The intricate designs even mimic vegetation gaps, where insects more commonly fly. Some spider webs can be up to a metre in diameter, and structurally, they’re super-strong. What’s more amazing is that many spiders will weave a brand new web every day. Learning about how spider webs are made, and even drawing your own web, is a fun activity for children that will really engage them. You could also have a go at making your own web with coloured string.
Spiders to avoid
It is important to help children to identify the spiders that they should avoid. In South Africa, these include Black and Brown Button Spiders, the Violin Spider, Sac Spiders, the Six-Eyed Sand Spider, and the Baboon Spider. They are not aggressive spiders, however, and the best advice you can give to young children generally is just to keep away and to let you know if they think they’ve been bitten. It is important to remember that South Africa’s “Big Five” spiders aren’t here to harm humans: they’re just ordinary spiders that eat insects, so spider bites on humans are extremely rare. Learning about their diet and their habitat can help your children to know where to look out for these spiders and stay safe.
Spiders are beautiful and fascinating creatures. Teaching your child how to identify the different species can be a fun activity that will educate them about the amazing natural world that we live in – and it will reduce the chances of them developing a fear later in life.