“Very few spiders are dangerous,” says Fritz Vollrath, emeritus professor of zoology at the University of Oxford, who has studied spiders and their webs since the early 1970s. A vast majority of the world’s nearly 50,000 known spider species are harmless. Vollrath’s favorite is the golden orb spider, which spins liquid protein into a saffron-hued silk it weaves into intricate, spiraling webs as large as a door. “The females are big and colorful and elegant with long legs and strong webs,” Vollrath says. “The males are teensy.”
Arachnophobia affects less than 4 percent of people, but it is more common. If you’re struggling to appreciate spiders, start outside, preferably in the early morning when dew hangs on the webs. “Walk toward the rising sun so that the web is illuminated from behind,” Vollrath says. Once you have spotted a web, take a moment to study its geometry before moving at your own pace. (Don’t worry, the spider will not leap on you.) “You control your fear,” Vollrath says. The spiders use their complex and strong silk as an extension of their sensory organs. They gather information through vibration about the world and their prey. “If you want to see some real action, throw a fly in,” Vollrath says.
It may be more difficult to see spiders in your home. Vollrath says that if you have many spiders, you should be happy. They eat flies as well as cockroaches. The spider will eventually starve unless you have a lot of reproducing insects in your home. “The kind thing is to usher them out,” says Vollrath, who does so with his bare hands. If you’d prefer not to feel eight legs scurrying in your palm, place a jar on top and slide a piece of paper under the jar’s opening.
You don’t need to be in the countryside to admire spiders. They’re plentiful in cities, too. You can quickly identify the species by looking for an outdoor light fixture. This is where arachnids gather and eat moths attracted to the light. Don’t stereotype spiders based on one interaction. “They’re quite individualistic,” Vollrath says. “Some are relaxed, and some run off and hide.”