A hidden world revealed
Digital cameras with ever-increasing power and quality - in the hands of amateurs, profesionals, children and adults - are producing a wealth amazing and delightful images of Australia's small creatures.
We marvel at intricate structures we never dreamed possible. The surfaces shine like jewels. We capture momentus events in our macro lenses, from birth through growth, adulthood, mating and death. The frighting power of armaments and weaponry these tiny creatures possess is astounding. We see creatures hiding in plain sight and others advertising themselves with bold and beautiful colours.
Having entereted this world, it is a small step from wonder to curiosity. The urge to know is compelling. What is that beetle's name, what does it feed on, what feeds on it? For many groups of Australian invertebrate excellent field guides have appeared in recent years. Dragonflies, Stick and Leaf Insects, Moths, Butterflies, Beetles, Katydids and many others have been presented in lavishly illustrated volumes covering more species in colour than ever before.
This guide to the spiders of Australia fills a much needed gap in the current library of naturalists, scientists, gardeners, farmers, students and the general public.
Everyone has a story about spiders and most people have an opinion about them. More and more the opinions are becoming favourable, as we learn nearly all spiders are harmless, and most are beneficial.
From arachnophobia to arachnophilia
Fear of spiders is learned. It is not innate. It is one of those fears waiting to be 'switched on' - or not - in early childhood. We learn it from adults around us who make the 'disgust' face when they see a spider, especially when they see child picking one up and just about to see if it tastes nice. In other cultures, like parts of Indonesia, where eating spiders is routine, this fear is not switched on. It is rather like the thought of eating grubs. To many people it may seem disgusting, but to people for whom the witchetty grub is a delicious and nutritious part of their diet they appear extremely appealing and tasty.
Even though fear of spiders, or arachnophobia, is an acquired fear, it is still very real. Some arachnophobes have lived severely limited and tortured lives because of their phobia. The good news is arachnophobia can be unlearned. With careful desensitisation and a positive outlook the fear can be overcome, or even reversed. One of our greatest spider experts, Dr Robert Raven of the Queensland Museum, began with a fear of spiders. Spiders: Learning To Love Them by Lynne Kelly was published by Allen & Unwin in February 2009, telling the story of how Lynne overcame her very vivid night terrors by studying real life spiders in her garden. It took six months of close observations of the spiders around her house before the fear went completely. After the fear, came the fascination. Lynne still studies spiders and has got to know many of the world's leading arachnologists.
The spin on spiders
Spiders are the most successful terrestrial predators on Earth. They occupy virtually every possible habitat niche. The British arachnologist W.S. Bristowe established that an English meadow in late summer could support a population of around five million spiders per hectare. The weight of insects consumed by English spiders each year easily exceeds the weight of the entire human population of England. They are everywhere. They occupy a vital place in the food web, and without them we would be literally drowning in insects.
One of the most exciting and frustrating things about spiders how many of them are yet to be described by science.