Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Even Entomologists Are Scared of Spiders

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Some entomologists, the scientists that study insects, have a work life that presents a challenge: they’ve devoted their careers to creepy-crawly animals, work with them every day, sometimes get up close and personal with them and are maybe even fond of them, but they’re scared of or disgusted by spiders. 

After asking around among working entomologists, arachnologist Richard Vetter found 41 researchers who are afraid of spiders or at least averse to them, and discovered an apparent paradox. “They don't find anything gross about bugs in general—as long as those bugs have the right number of legs,” he writes in the new paper about his survey. “Despite the assumption that entomologists would extend warm feelings toward spiders because of their habituation to arthropods in general, arachnophobia does occur in some members of our profession. For these people, two more legs makes a big difference.”

Vetter interviewed these entomologists about their negative experiences with spiders and which aspects of spiders they don’t like, then had them complete a “Fear of Spiders Questionnaire,” rate their disgust and fear of spiders and give like/dislike scores to other animals. 

He got a wide range of responses. Some of the interviewees professed only a mild disgust or fear of spiders, but still claimed to react to them differently than to insects. For example, some of them said an insect crawling on their arm is tolerable, but a spider would get brushed away. One forensic entomologist who routinely works with maggots gave spiders a high disgust score on their survey and said that they would “rather pick up a handful of maggots than have to get close enough to a spider to kill it.” On the other hand, some entomologists’ scores and ratings suggest that they’re clinically arachnophobic. 

Like layperson arachnophobes, Vetter found that most of the entomologists developed their feelings toward spiders in childhood, often because of a negative incident. One scientist recounted that her father once teased her with a large spider in a jar and later watched a spider egg sac burst open on her mattress. Another described a childhood nightmare that recurred over four years, wherein she ran into the large web of a human-sized spider and woke up just before being eaten. Despite the distance of time and experience with insects, these fears couldn’t be overcome in adulthood. The researcher who had the eggs in her bed has such a strong fear of spiders that she had considered counseling, but avoided it for fear that she might have to encounter live spiders as part of her therapy. 

Of the things about spiders that the entomologists don’t like, a few stuck out. One was that “they bite,” even among the scientists that work with insects that also bite or sting. One researcher who works with Hymenoptera, the order that includes bees, wasps and ants, said that while he does get stung in his research and finds the stings painful, stinging insects still don’t provoke the same negative response that spiders do. 

Another thing the entomologists don’t like about spiders is the way they move. Sixty percent of the researchers said that the fact that spiders run fast and show up unexpectedly contributed to their feelings about them. One researcher (the eggs-in-the-bed lady again) had the opposite problem, and said it was the slower, more deliberate movements of spiders like tarantulas that bothered her. 

More than half of the entomologists also said that spiders’ many legs contributed to their fear and disgust. “Although this is also a common response from the general public, who are more accustomed to bipeds and quadrupeds,” Vetter notes, “it is curious that entomologists, who work with hexapods, would find the additional pair of legs in spiders to be a significant negative feature, instead of just assimilating spiders into the same broad arthropod morphological scheme.” Six legs are just fine. Eight? No thanks.

When the entomologists rated their like or dislike of 30 other animals, insects took four of the top five "like" spots, with butterflies getting the top score and dolphins breaking the insect monopoly. Spiders were, no surprise, ranked highly unlikeable, coming in second to last. The only animal the entomologists liked less was the tick. 

Vetter points out that other research has found that many arachnophobes anthropomorphize spiders, thinking of them as vengeful or malicious. The impression he got from his interviews, though, was that the entomologists didn’t do this and realized their fears or dislikes of spiders were paradoxical, but couldn’t overcome them. One of the scientists Vetter interviewed specialized in, of all things, spiders, and said that even though he worked with them professionally, he could not help but be creeped out by them. 

John Phillips, Getty Images
Pop Culture
How The Crown Saved the Corgis
John Phillips, Getty Images
John Phillips, Getty Images

Corgis may be both Queen Elizabeth II and the internet’s favorite dog breed, but their longtime association with the former has actually proven detrimental to their popularity in England. So much so that, in 2009, the stout little furballs were added to the UK Kennel Club’s list of native breeds that were “at risk of extinction.” Now, The Telegraph reports, their numbers are rising—thanks in part to the popularity of Netflix’s The Crown.

According to The Telegraph, the Queen’s love of the corgi is partly what caused its dip in popularity, as they “have long been regarded as a breed for the elderly and the genteel upper middle class.” But The Crown’s revisiting of the royal family in the early days of Elizabeth II’s reign (and the years leading up to it) have shown the Queen in a new, and much more stylish, light—and her beloved breed has reaped the rewards. In just the past two months, since The Crown’s second season dropped on Netflix in December, the Kennel Club has seen enough interest in the breed to take them off the endangered list entirely.

The Crown has certainly been important in the resurgence of the corgi breed,” Kennel Club public relations manager David Robson said. “It has increased interest in the breed. Following the transmission of the second series, searches for the breed puppies on our website went up by 22 percent.”

The dogs have proven to be a hit with viewers, as well as their costars. Claire Foy and Matt Smith, who portrayed Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in the show’s first two seasons, admitted that when they’re filming with the series' dogs, it’s the corgis who steal the show.

“When we’re with the corgis, then all the shots are about the corgis and you have to fit your acting around what the corgis are doing,” Foy explained in an interview with Off Set. “Which is absolutely … fine. And is the way it should be quite frankly.”

But even before Netflix unleashed its pricey royal drama on the world, the Queen’s dogs were finding their way back into the spotlight. In 2011, shortly after Prince William married Kate Middleton, BBC reported that the Cardigan Welsh corgi (a sort of cousin to the Pembroke Welsh corgi that the Queen prefers, though the Kennel Club lumps them into one category) saw a registration increase of 134 percent, which the group chalked up to the “royal wedding effect.”

Interest in the breed surged again in 2015, when the Queen—who has owned 30 of the dogs during her life, beginning with her childhood pooch Dookie—announced that she would no longer breed the pups, as she did not want to leave any young dogs behind in the event of her death. Adding to their pop culture cachet: During their first official interview after announcing their engagement, Prince Harry admitted that part of the reason he knew wife-to-be Meghan Markle was “the one” was because “the corgis took to [her] straight away.”

[h/t: The Telegraph]

Watch a Cheetah Hunt Its Prey—From the Cheetah's Point of View

Even if you're a huge fan of wildlife documentaries, you've never seen a cheetah hunt quite like this. For PBS's latest Nature miniseries, Animals With Cameras, animal behaviorists strapped custom-made cameras on meerkats, seals, cheetahs, and more to capture never-before-seen footage.

"There's absolutely no way we could see this any other way," wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan says in the clip below, which follows a hunting cheetah as she and her siblings try to take down an eland, a type of antelope native to east and southern Africa.

A holster used to attach a camera to a cheetah's head
Isabel Rogers

The custom-made camera was strapped to the top of the cheetah's head, allowing it to record footage from the animal's point of view. The cameras were designed by Chris Watts of British Technical Films, a UK-based company that specializes in developing custom camera kits to capture wildlife and nature footage.

The cheetah-mounted cameras had to be extra-light, since the fast-moving predators were extremely sensitive to the device's weight. (As you, too, might be if you had a camera on your head while sprinting.) The straps that secured the camera had to allow enough airflow to keep the cat's head cool and be flexible enough that the animal could get the device off if it became too bothersome. And since running across the savannah at 70 mph can get a bit bumpy, the camera had to have stabilizing sensors to make the footage smooth, so it wouldn't make viewers queasy.

The result is a pretty spectacular scene following a cheetah from the moment it picks up the scent of its prey to the end of its hunt. Watch the full video below. We won't spoil how it ends.

The final episode of Animals With Cameras airs on February 14 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.


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