editor's note

Photograph by Gordon Schmidt

On a windy March day, the biology department’s Jennifer O’Donnell wore a Spider red T-shirt and blue jeans as she placed translucent containers with eight live spiders on a long table in Tyler Haynes Commons.

On the far left was Tarrant, the greenbottle blue tarantula that makes appearances at basketball games. On the right was Tiny, a gorgeous white-striped bird eater about 4 inches long. Between them were more cases and vials that held smaller specimens from places like Honduras and Brazil, some the size of your fingernail. They were there to help the University with its second National Spider Day celebration.

Many of the students passing by during class changes paused for a closer look, but more than a few took a wide berth with shoulder-shaking shudders best translated as “Ew.” A ninth spider nearby attracted, in contrast, universal affection. WebstUR, the 6-foot-something costumed spirit spider in a basketball jersey, got nothing but high-fives, hugs, and selfie requests. In typical Richmond style, our choice of mascot sets us apart in higher education.

By my back-of-the-envelope calculations, a little more than 40 percent of the NCAA’s 351 Division I schools cheer for some version of a bird, cat, or canine. Throw in dudes with weapons (Cavaliers, Musketeers, Buccaneers, and such), and it’s 55 percent.

Other mascots might appear more distinctive at first glance, but they’re nearly always pieces of a larger collection. Pilots, Miners, and Lumberjacks — all in the same tables of Department of Labor reports. Hurricanes, Red Storms, Rainbows, and Waves — the stuff of meteorologists’ morning chatter. That three of the nation’s four Rams ended up in the Atlantic 10 has to be someone’s idea of a private joke.

There’s only one Spider. The creatures themselves are intelligent, patient, and hardworking. Some look coldly mechanical; others, like Tarrant on this page, have an almost teddy bear quality. Their webs have sparked human imagination across cultures for millennia.

I’m proud this mascot’s all ours.