“Aren’t you afraid it’s going to sting you?” is the first thing I hear every time I mention that I have a pet scorpion. Not “What’s his name?” like I get when I mention my cat, no, there’s an immediate fear response. I don’t fault anyone for it, of course; a fear of many-legged things and carnivorous creatures is just another thing we’re taught growing up. A villain drops a bag of tarantulas on the protagonist, the terrible shark closes in on the beachgoers, etc. It’s not taught in schools, it’s just another part of the media curriculum. I can’t blame anyone for that.
But because I’ll never be cool with the fact that certain people think all “creepy” predators should die, I’m going to defend a couple groups, because, well, someone has to.
Stop me if you’ve liked this one:
Because if you’re sincerely halfway to that point, I’m probably not going to convince you. For the bravest among you, let’s carry on.
What people tend to fear most about eight-legged crawlers is that they might be bitten and die. However, in the past ten years, there have been zero fatalities from the bite of the most infamous spider, the Black Widow. Using precious venom is not a spider’s first move, and they’d rather run away than fight a huge monstrous giant. You know what kills roughly 22 people a year? Cows. Don’t get me wrong, I love cows too, it’s just more likely one will die by the hoof rather than by the bite.
Still grossed out? Would it help if I told you arachnids care about their babies? Though not as common here as little bitty spiders, the tailless whip scorpion, an amblypygi, is entirely harmless to humans. This species in particular is actually known for caressing its young with those weird gangly face-arms (pedipalps!), making it a uniquely caring type of arachnid.
In my personal experience, owning a scorpion hasn’t been heartwarming Hollywood life-lesson material. Vegas the Asian forest scorpion is a skittery little angry child, but he just kind of hangs out, and that’s cool enough. Additionally, his sting is no worse than a bee’s sting. It’s a bit like having a fish, but with all the palpable contempt of a cat and none of the cuddles.
That doesn’t actually sound like a good time, but look, I love him as much as my other pets.
Also, look at those itty bitty eyes. Cute.
The above image says it all. How dare these gilled creatures frequent the waters humans require for frolicking?
Sharks are cast in such a negative light that nobody cares that they’re dying in atrociously huge numbers. Shark fin soup and cartilage pills are what they’re being killed for, but the number killed every year is unsustainable, as shark products can be sold for massive profits. Shark cartilage pills have their benefits, but if it were dolphins being killed for human benefit, you can bet there’d be way more fuss about it.
If you told your average citizen this, they’d probably say something along the lines of “Good.” In the general public’s mind, sharks are sinister death machines that prowl the waters looking exclusively for people. Fun fact: Peter Benchley, author of Jaws, was horrified at the impact his creation had on sharks. In the decades following the film’s success, he campaigned to conserve marine life, with a special focus on sharks. The guy who made sharks the scariest thing ever regrets it. That’s like if Stephen King campaigned to save clowns because people took IT way too far.
Obviously, this is not a go-ahead to pet every creepy baby. It’s important to give predators their space and respect them, not baselessly fear them. Fear breeds hate, and any animal that’s feared and hated isn’t going to get any attention when it’s in trouble, like sharks. And we need these animals. More importantly, these animals have a right to live. They don’t exist for people to think they’re gross and horrible and kill them. They have a place in the world, and they’re not brazenly destroying the environment, unlike some species.
So the next time you see a spider on the wall, think twice before you lose your damn mind. That spider doesn’t even care about you. It’s just hanging out.
Has this made a dent in your fear of sharks and/or spiders? Is there another animal you deeply fear? Maybe you used to fear something and learned to love it? Or maybe you feel exactly how I do. Share your experiences below!
Tabitha Summerhayes is a full-time PR student at Humber college.