Jack Knox: Spiders busy looking for love, not a human snack

Jack Knox mugshot genericForget your smartphone, grab an old-fashioned encyclopedia.

Remember when they were a must-have? Darron Kloster, the TC’s business editor, has a tale about growing up as a Saskatchewan farm boy: So eager was his dad to expose the children to knowledge that he traded 500 bushels of barley, a colt and a hard-to-break Appaloosa for a new set of World Books. True story.

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Which came to mind yesterday while standing on the coffee table, scanning the shelves for something with spider-squishing heft. Encyclopedia. Atlas. War and Peace.

“Relax,” said the muffled voice from under the couch. “I’m harmless.”

Really? Could have fooled me. The chesterfield was rising and falling like a piston. Other spiders skitter under the furniture in fear. This one just wanted to do bench presses.

“Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven…” said the voice.

“Why do you need to work out like this?” I asked. “You’re already the size of a pit bull.” A slight exaggeration, but…

“Chicks dig it,” he replied, sidling into view and flexing his arms, all eight of them. Or maybe they were legs. One was tattooed, a heart with the name “Charlotte” ribboned around it.

I smirked. “Chicks?” This guy talked like a randy frat boy.

Which is, in essence, what he was. It’s also why Victoria suddenly seems blanketed with great, big spiders. This is the time of year when many newly mature (ha!) male spiders, otherwise solitary creatures who stay in one place, venture forth in search of sex.

“At the end of summer they go into their mating frenzy,” Robb Bennett said. “It’s like downtown on Saturday night.”

Bennett is a research associate at the Royal B.C. Museum, one of a trio of scientists there who have documented almost 1,000 species of spiders in this province so far.

Right now we’re seeing the big breeds: Chunky, black trapdoor spiders, garden spiders (the ones with the beautiful bicycle-wheel webs) and giant house spiders (a European species that has been here for a century or so) that span several inches.

We’ll keep seeing them until the weather turns wet and miserable. Then, like the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances, they’ll die before the first frost.

Don’t fret, they will not hurt you. What you think are spider bites are more likely from a flea, tick or mosquito that made itself fat and happy feeding on your blood while you were asleep. Spiders think that kind of meal is gross.

“They don’t seek people out to bite them,” Bennett said. (That said, his wife got a painful chomp from a house spider the other day. It now floats in a museum specimen bottle. Don’t mess with an entomologist’s family.)

Even black widows, while packing a powerful venom, bite people so rarely that they’re not worth worrying about, Bennett says. Flip over a log above the high tide line on Island View Beach and you’ll see a dozen of them run away to hide, just like kids when the cops come.

Nonetheless, arachnophobia — from the Greek arachne (spider) and phobos (hit it with a stick) — is one of our most common fears.

A video flew around Facebook last week showing a driver supposedly so frightened by a spider that she leapt out of a moving vehicle, which crossed into oncoming traffic and crashed. In truth, it was a stolen car and the driver was stoned. The crash had nothing do with spiders at all. Yet they freak people out so much that we were willing to believe it did.

Remember back in 2002, when they found a 60-acre web covering farmland near McBride in northern B.C.? For real, 60 acres of white silk, just like Trump sleeps in. Gave us the heebie-jeebies. It was front page news. Then the Air Force nuked the farm with a fuel-air bomb, just like in that Outbreak movie. Well, no, but they should have.

“Spiderism,” sniffed my eight-legged roomie.

“Pardon?”

“Hatred caused by irrational fear.”

He had a point. (Actually, I was surprised he wasn’t a target in someone’s election platform.)

“You forget what I do around our house,” he continued. “I’ve caught more flies than the entire Blue Jays outfield.”

Our house? I let it pass.

“And they say the insects spiders eat each year weigh more than the Earth’s entire human population,” he added.

“Where did you read that?”

“On the web.”

Of course. Where else would a spider get its information?

Some still prefer an encyclopedia.

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