October 7, 2005


"The Only Good Animal Is A Dead Animal." I don’t know any people who would say this. However, I know many people who still believe it when it comes to certain species of animals such as spiders, snakes, mosquitoes, flies, worms and leeches. So then which is it? Do we believe some animals are best dead and some are best alive? How do we make that distinction and on what grounds?

I think part of the issue comes to worth and human meaning. If creatures are meant to serve us and all living things on this earth have a common end in us, then the situation becomes simple: any animal that harms us is better off dead. At least, at first glance this makes sense. Upon closer inspection though we begin to understand a larger truth: those same animals that hurt us also help us. Like the spiders for example, they bite us, scare us and sometimes cause us great pain and anxiety such as in the cases of brown recluses or black widows. However, we know that “spiders are far more beneficial than they are dangerous. The benefits we realize from spiders preying on insects, mites, and other spiders far outweigh the low potential health hazard to humans.”(1) Also, other benefits spiders bring to humans include:
  • Eating disease carrying insects
  • Provide humans with venom that is being used in neurological research and may prevent permanent brain damage in stroke victims
  • Produce silk used in many optical devices including laboratory instruments. (2)
So then how do we justify killing spiders, on a whim and almost always without any attempt at even defining their species? I think we do it fearfully and even more telling, I think we do it ignorantly. Isn’t that really the heart of the issue? We don’t know what we are killing, we just know we are afraid. Often even worse, we don’t know why we are afraid and we make up reasons for being afraid that are clearly refuted by the facts:
  • Spiders bite only for protection; humans are too large for a food source and spiders are not out to get us.
  • Black Widows and Brown Recluses (the two most common poisonous species) both bite on accident with most cases of human conflict occuring when humans aren’t aware of the spider in hiding; such as in wood pile or in some dark place into which a person might reach.(3)
  • Most spiders can be captured in a jar or bag and removed from a house, room or even classroom without incident. (I did this just last Thursday with a Brown Recluse)
The fact is, we have to make the effort. Spiders are just one example of many creatures on earth which pass through our lives often without even being noticed. We have a responsibility to the life around us; to care about it, to care for it, and to care enough to tell others when they are in the wrong. I believe it is right for us to remove spiders from our habitat if we would prefer them not be in it with us, but removal does not mean killing. I think we can get a jar and a piece of paper, scoop the spider into it, walk it outside or into the forest and let it go there. It’s not a big investment of energy and is certainly worth the benefits. We may be the only animal that can scream and yell “let me live” but I guarantee that we are not the only animal that has that desire. Maybe we just have to listen a little harder.