Many of us find spiders frightful: hairy, repulsive creatures which give us the creeps. Those of us who feel this way may be pardoned because some spiders are indeed large and hairy and some science-fiction movies have wrongfully depicted spiders as dangerous monsters. But in fact, all spiders are not hairy and only about 5 of the more than 30,000 species of spiders can be dangerous to man. The most well-known of these is the black widow, but it is only the female that is dangerous. The huge, hairy mygalomorphs, wrongly called tarantulas, are not lethal although they can inflict a painful stab.
Most people also think all creepy crawlies to be insects, but actually spiders are not insects – and neither are millipedes, centipedes and scorpions. All these creatures, including crabs, prawns and lobsters, belong to the same major group (phylum) of animals known as Arthropoda, which means “jointed legs”. Spiders are grouped with scorpions, ticks and mites in the class Arachnids, and differ from insects in having 8 legs (against 6 in insects), 2 body divisions (3 in insects), no wings (most insects have 1 or 2 pairs), no feelers or antennae (present on most insects) and having handling appendages called pedipalps (absent in insects).
Preston Ahimaz was the Director of WWF-India, Tamil Nadu State Office, and now heads the Education Division of the Adyar Poonga project in Chennai. He has considerable experience in conducting nature camps in wilderness area and can be reached at [email protected].