Currently, more than 46,000 spider species stretch their eight legs in habitats across the world, in every country and continent except Antarctica. And those are only the ones scientists have been able to find and name so far—many more are likely still out there, lurking under leaves and rocks and, for Halloween’s sake, perhaps under a bed or two.
Although some people find these creatures terrifying—a spooky symbol of haunted houses and Halloween frights—we owe a lot to our arachnid friends. Not only have they been around for about 350 million years (trumping our puny 200,000-year modern human existence), spiders make it possible for us to eat and live a more comfortable life.
“If spiders disappeared, we would face famine,” Norman Platnick, a spider expert at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, told the Washington Post in 2014. “Spiders are primary controllers of insects. Without spiders, all of our crops would be consumed by those pests.”
For that matter, so would we. Because spiders munch on insects, they save us from bites.
“Without spiders’ existence and abundance on the plant, life on earth would probably be a less hospitable place for people because the biting flies and mosquitoes of the world would be so populous,” Cat Urban, manager of the invertebrate live animal programs at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, told Smithsonian.com.
The Los Angeles Natural History Museum has a new take on the butterfly pavilion, instead operating a spider pavilion, where guests can walk through an open-air space to get nice and cozy with, and hopefully challenge, their arachnophobia. Right now, the spider pavilion has some of the largest orb weavers in the world, several native species to the region, tarantulas, jumping spiders and wolf spiders. “The purpose of the pavilion is to bring people closer to understanding just how interesting spiders are and their importance in the landscape,” Urban said. She also noted that spiders have made great advances in silk production, something scientists are studying and learning to mimic to create better, stronger and lighter products for human use.
If you find the orb weavers impressive (or spine-tingling), you can find even bigger arachnids around the world. Here are a few places to see the biggest:
Giant Huntsman – Heteropoda maxima (Laos)
This type of spider was discovered in Laos in 2001, hiding in a cave. Measuring by leg span, it’s the biggest in the world—the creepy crawlers can reach up to a foot wide. They’re crazy fast, can climb up smooth surfaces and walk sideways. Fortunately for arachnophobes, all huntsman spider species are as scared of us as we might be of them. They’ll run away fast once you see them, and they don’t like to bite (though they won’t kill you if they do, just cause some local swelling). The giant huntsman lives in caves in Laos and has only been seen on rare occassion. Other species of huntsman spiders, that average only about five inches in leg span, are common in Australia and Asia.