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Photograph by Gordon Schmidt

“Whenever someone meets me and says, ‘Oh, I hate spiders,’ I feel like I could change their mind a little bit,” said Jennifer O’Donnell (above), biology laboratories manager.

She spends a lot of time with spiders as part of her job and has developed a deep affection for them. Here are six reasons that she says everyone else should, too:

1. THEY’RE EXPRESSIVE.
Spiders don’t possess a central nervous system capable of giving rise to personalities, but they do have distinctive behaviors. O’Donnell sees this exemplified when the tarantulas in her office are hungry and are ready to hunt for food.

“They have a different stance,” she said. “I’ll look over and say, ‘It’s time to feed the tarantulas,’ because I can tell by their posture.”

2. THEY’RE MISUNDERSTOOD.
The venom of certain species of spiders can be fatal to humans, but contrary to popular belief, tarantulas aren’t in that group.

“Nobody’s ever died of a tarantula bite anywhere,” she said. “People always want to think they’re this scary, venomous creature.”

3. THEY HAVE SUPERPOWERS.
The venom produced by New World tarantulas (Tarrant’s species) feels like a bee sting, according to O’Donnell. That said, they have another defense mechanism that can inflict a lot of discomfort — hives, itching, inflammation, and redness — without even making direct contact with their targets.

“They have this secondary defense characteristic of these urticating hairs on the back of their abdomen,” she said. “They can release these hairs into the air as a defense mechanism, and that works at a distance from their predators.”

4. SOME ARE NEAT FREAKS.
Black widows are messy when it comes to their domestic habits, leaving detritus everywhere after eating. Tarantulas, on the other hand, like to keep their quarters as close to immaculate as possible.

“They eat their meal, and usually there’s a little bit left over — it might be some of the cricket’s exoskeleton — and they ball it into the tiniest, most compact ball,” O’Donnell said. “It’s called a food bolus, and they try to tuck it into one of the far corners of their cage.”

5. THEY’RE GREAT FOR PEST CONTROL.
When it comes to insects, Spiders are on our side, according to O’Donnell.

“I get it if you don’t want [a spider] sharing a bed with you or something, but if we didn’t have any spiders in the world, the balance of insects to people would be unsustainable,” she said.

6. THEY’RE SURVIVORS.
Most male spiders have shorter lifespans than females — particularly in species where males sacrifice themselves as part of the mating process. This has an interesting and valuable outcome for the species: genetic diversity.

“It ensures that every time [a] female pairs with a male, [he’s] going to be a new male, which means we have a different combination of genes,” she said.