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According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), phobias are one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S. Roughly about 9% of people in the country have specific phobias but it's possible that in reality, this number is even higher because mental disorders are often under-reported in the States due to the stigma surrounding them.
Arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders and other arachnids, is one of the most prevalent phobias. Just the mere sight of a spider can trigger a fear response, and in some cases, even an image of an arachnid or the thought of a spider can lead to feelings of overwhelming fear and panic.
But spiders can creep out regular folks too. Especially when they are caught by surprise.
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There's a number of explanations for why phobias develop, including evolutionary and behavioral theories. One of the most common ones for this and similar animal phobias is that such creatures once posed a considerable threat to our ancestors — they lacked the medical know-how and technological tools to address injuries from animals and insects so as a result, evolution contributed to a predisposition to fear these creatures.
But even though there are an estimated 35,000 different species of spiders, only around a dozen pose danger to humans. However, they bring many benefits, too.
"Spiders play an essential part in maintaining ecological balance on earth," Tea, a spider enthusiast and advocate who runs an online project called scienTEAfic, told Bored Panda. "They form a vital link in the global food chain by preying on other invertebrates and small vertebrates, and also providing food for the animals that prey on them as well."
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To put it into context, without spiders, "we would experience insurmountable problems with agricultural failure and disease, to give two high impact examples. Not only this, but spider venom and silk proteins are extremely valuable in medical and technological research and advancement, which is pretty cool!"
In fact, spider silk is the first thing that comes to mind when Tea thinks of these creatures. "The fact that spiders are capable of producing a material so strong and so flexible, and using it in so many ways continues to blow my mind every day!"
"Some spin huge round orb webs that they sit and wait for prey to become ensnared in, some craft nets that they will hold with their feet & grab their prey in," the naturalist explained.
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"Some spiders have excellent eyesight, but others are almost blind. Even species with such poor eyesight are able to hunt extremely effectively by using silk to amplify the vibrations of passing prey and enable them to pinpoint exactly where to strike! Some use their silk as little more than a safety line whilst they're out hunting, and some will use their silk to bind together debris from around their hideaway and make a seamlessly camouflaged trapdoor that they lie in wait beneath, ready to spring out at unsuspecting prey as it passes by!"
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Personally, Tea believes that arachnophobia is understandable and in many cases unavoidable. But the needless killing of spiders, or indeed anything, is not.
"I understand knee jerk reactions, but I think a lot of spider killing is unnecessary, harmful to the environment and so easily avoided with just a little bit of thought. I think by far the most powerful weapon against fear is knowledge, and it is my belief taking the time to learn and understand more about spiders will go a long way in helping a person no longer be afraid of them."
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According to Tea, spiders are much maligned in pop culture and the media, and that contributes to the fact that people develop fear and mistrust of them. However, if you give spiders the benefit of the doubt, you realize that they really are quite delightful, charismatic, and fascinating little creatures.
"I would like to add that for anyone who is afraid of spiders, there is a large community of spider enthusiasts on most social media platforms who would be only too happy to help them find resources to dispel myths and educate them on what spiders are really all about. Lots of cute pictures showing them in a completely different way to that which most people are used to seeing them, too!"