Incy Wincy Spider
The autumn silly season is upon us. The shops are full of Hallowe’en costumes and goodies, which, as well as ghosts and skeletons include supposedly scary creatures like bats, toads and spiders. I can remember when the first two were indeed considered to be scary and unwelcome, although today they seem to be generally well liked and worthy of protection.
Spiders are slightly different, in that fear of spiders is a recognised phobia. This time of the year they are particularly numerous and noticeable, especially when morning sunlight catches the dew drops on their silky webs covering bushes and shrubs. Bringing together their noticeable presence, some people’s phobia of them, and scary Hallowe’en traditions, provides perfect conditions for the recent nonsense of closing schools because of ‘infestations’ of spiders.
At least ten schools in London were closed for several days this month because of the presence of noble false-widow spiders. Amongst the supposed vices of this species are a venomous bite, and its foreign origins. It is a fairly sedentary species, lurking in its web in dark corners, waiting for small insects to come its way. Having said it is venomous, its bite is generally no worse than a wasp sting, apparently no allergic reactions have been recorded, and it is quite rare for it to bite a person anyway. (Most spiders are venomous, but the vast majority are incapable of piercing human skin.)
Closing schools is a symptom of both our disconnection with nature and our risk-averse society. In this case a sense of proportion seems to be missing as well. The children, and indeed the staff of the schools, are probably at more risk from road accidents whilst travelling to and from school than they ever will be from some tiny spiders. Worse still, as invertebrate charity Buglife points out, ‘… the spraying of schools with toxic insecticides may be a higher risk ’. They also say that they ‘… note with concern the closure of schools because of the discovery of the spiders. We consider this to be a radical and unnecessary over-reaction to the tiny risk posed .’
So, instead of being the star of a nursery song, Incy Wincy spider is now demonised as both dangerous to health and the cause of a lot of trouble. This is not the way to present the natural world to children. People in education should both know, and handle situations like this, better.