No explanation for arachnophobia

Tony Gennaro

Tony Gennaro

By Tony Gennaro

Local columnist

Arachnophobia is an intense fear of spiders, enough fear to send people with this phobia into a full-scale panic. There is no explanation for arachnophobia, at least one that everyone will agree upon. But without question, phobias do exist.
Some individuals state that arachnophobia is instinctive. Like all inherited characteristics, some individuals have arachnophobia, and some do not. The instinctive nature of the phobia is understandable since early humans inhabited rainforest environments where spiders must have lived in dark corners and other sheltered areas.

Therefore, the only way for human survival was to fear all small crawling things. Those humans who did not fear little crawling creatures were likely bitten and died if the crawler was poisonous.
Those who feared them survived and passed on arachnophobia to their offspring. I would assume that at this date, human rainforest inhabitants still display arachnophobia. On the other hand over several generations, some individuals living in urban sites now seem to have lost inherent fear of spiders.

Fortunately through classroom instruction and available literature, individuals have learned to distinguish dangerous spiders from those that are harmless. In the U.S. we have learned to fear two kinds of poisonous spiders-the brown recluse and the black widow. Other species of spiders have poisons for the capture of their prey, but their poison is not deadly to us.

Here is one example where arachnophobia never made its appearance in our current society. My granddaughter never feared spiders, so I felt the responsibility to help teach her which spiders are harmful. All of us have that same responsibility because some children have a tendency to pick up those cute, crawly things. My granddaughter’s response to spiders was, “May I have a spider for a pet?” I said, “Yes.” I can imagine the response of some parents who would have said, “You have to be kidding.” Anyway, as a biologist who is aware of the good and bad guys, I selected a harmless jumping spider as her pet. These are small black spiders with a red or white spot on their back, not on the underside of the abdomen as on the black widow. Jumping spiders are frequently seen in homes, especially on window seals where their prey frequently occur. My granddaughter kept that spider in a container, highly designed for the maximum content of any spider, and fed it all kinds of delicious insects. We both enjoyed watching the jumping spider, who seemed to be quite happy with its environment. Our greatest entertainment was watching the little trapeze artist go through its jumping routines.

We frequently ask our loved one what they enjoyed most when they were young. Many say camping. My granddaughter says, “I enjoyed camping and having a jumping spider as my little friend.”


Desert Biologist Tony Gennaro of Portales writes a monthly column on creatures of the Southwest. Contact him at: