Not So Scary Animals: Arachnophobia

At ZooLab, our Rangers meet people of all ages with phobias of one or more of our creatures. Over the next few months, Jessica will examine some of the most common animal fears that we encounter to debunk the myths and help you see our extraordinary creatures in a whole new light.

How does fear relate to phobias?

Phobias are an intense reaction to fear, but what is fear and why do we experience it? Fear is one of our basic human emotions - it is programmed into our brain as a survival mechanism to help us sense and avoid danger; it works on instinct.

Have you heard of the brains ‘flight or fight’ response? In order to deal with perceived threats, the brain encourages us to run or fight environmental threats - it is a primal trait passed on by our ancient ancestors. Fear keeps us safe - for the most part. However, our fear receptors can trigger when a threat is nonexistent or greatly exaggerated and from here an irrational phobia is born.

This month's phobia: Arachnophobia

Arachnophobia is the irrational fear of spiders and/or other arachnids. If you suffer from this, you are not alone - arachnophobia is thought to be the most common animal phobia in the UK!

However, we can safely say that these creatures are fascinating and living in the UK you have very little to fear.

So what is it about arachnids?

Is it a learned response? Adults that have a fear of spiders most often develop arachnophobia as young children - their parents or friends feared them and this reaction became a conditioned response. Often when we are on visits, we find that the younger participants are the keenest to meet our tarantulas as they don’t yet know that this is something to be ‘feared’.

Did you know? Despite having eight eyes, the majority of spiders have terrible eyesight!

Is it a primitive protection mechanism? Could we be born with this fear? An interesting study from the Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany suggests that this phobia may have an evolutionary origin. They believe that over time our ancestors adapted to have an in built survival instinct against our eight-legged friends and that this still exists in us today. Fantastic for life in countries where spiders are highly venomous but for modern life in the UK? Not so much.

Did you know? Spiders are fluffy! They ‘listen’ (sense the environment) with their hair.

Is it because they are intruders? Spiders are uninvited guests in our homes; they are secretive and can be found all over the house, often in basements and in the bath. However, spiders are useful creatures to have in the home as they feed on common indoor pests including flies and clothes moths.