Spiders. They're terrible, they're everywhere, and one is probably crawling on you right now. With all the wondrous things that science has achieved, isn't it time to do something about this eight-legged menace?
History is filled examples of massive science projects that bore miraculous results. The eradication of smallpox. The race to the Moon. The sequencing of the human genome. Perhaps our next great project should be establishing a colony on the Moon, or maybe it should be reclaiming extinct species via cloning. Or maybe it should be finding out why giant spiders keep crawling all over everyone.
If there's one thing that that story about a sea snail hatching in a boy's knee showed us, it's that certain parts of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark might be true. We got a spider problem, people. It's time to do something about it.
It's impossible to proceed successfully with any course of action, without the proper intelligence — so what we need to do first is gather information on spiders. And spider bites.
Everyone has, on occasion, found weird bites on their body. I know you have. But how many times a month? And where? It's only when we know how many random bites each person, by geographic region, gets per year that we'll be able to establish if they're normal, or if this person is some kind of freaky spider magnet.
But we can't just look at people. It's the spiders that are causing the problem here. How many spiders are in different rooms of the house? If there are times when we wake to find bites, or spiders nearby, how many times do they crawl all over our sleeping bodies without us knowing? If there are times when we feel a "leaf" drop onto our heads and pick it off only to find that it's a spider, how many times do they use us like spider-ponies without our knowledge? If we occasionally catch them dropping down just between our eyes and the computer screen, how often do they lower themselves down over us, so they can poop on our heads, and then go back up to the ceiling? How often, during the average human lifespan, do spider feet make contact with human genitals?
Look, these are the kinds of things we need to face if we're going to solve the problem. We can't just keep wondering. Alone. In the dark. Every night. With our backs against the wall and a flashlight aimed at the bookcase that a spider we failed to capture crawled under.
Expert Science and Citizen Science
We've shown that citizen science can make, or help make, some stunning advancements in nearly any body of knowledge. In this particular fight, we don't just need straight scientists, but engineers, designers, and tech people and brave field experimenters. We need to create a massive information database on both spiders and the effects of their bites. We need this so, for example, when I discover something either bit me on the calf through my jeans or - please god no - crawled under a cuff, and gave me a bite that swelled up to the size of a friggin' orange, I can tell what it was.
(Actual size of the bite on my leg. How do I still even have a leg?)
We also need so when you see something crawling along your desk, you can check - and quickly - if it's one of those kinds of spiders that hides in a small corner where you can't get at it, only to crawl out the moment you turn your back, or if it's one of those superfast bastards that will run right at you.
Then we need an arsenal. I have a disaster kit full of desiccated band-aids and water bottles shedding plastic fragments and gorp, and I've never had occasion to use it. But, despite the many occasions I have needed it, do I have a spider-fighting kit with precision-engineered tools recommended by public health experts? No. That needs to change.
We need a spider vacuum that'll pick up, easily, any spider that's out in the open so we don't have to rely on covering the spider with a cup, sliding paper underneath, and making that precarious walk to the door. For spiders that won't come quietly, we need a spider-poker, that'll get them when they go into the little holes at the corners of rooms. We need some kind of clear version of those beer tankards with the hinged lid to get the spiders when they dangle down from the ceiling. And we need some kind of expanding, non-staining, caulk that we can squirt into cracks of furniture when they wedge themselves in somewhere the rest of our precision tools can't reach. We need all these tools to be made, tested, and mass produced. I ask you, which of you will stand forward and be heroes?
The Future Without Spiders
Is this enough? No. Not while the spiders still crawl on the Earth - possibly into our nostrils while we sleep. Just like Mars was the next step after the Moon, just like guinea worm eradication followed smallpox eradication, natural spider eradication has to follow personal spider security. Obviously this involves a lot of work, and care, but can we shrink from the task? Dare we shrink from the task?
Spiders provide a number of functions that are essential to the environment and human health. After one incident of flooding in India, the fact that spiders nearly mummified the trees kept the mosquito populations from rising too high and put a lid on the spread of malaria.
So the problem with spiders is not that they're not useful. The problem is that they're spiders. And spiders need to go - that's axiomatic. Scientists need to step up and genetically engineer something that will perform spider tasks, but not be a spider. This isn't impossible. In fact, we've already done it. We've made genetically engineered goats that, when milked, excrete the proteins that are part of spider's silk. What else might we tweak to fulfill spider functions?
I would suggest ladybugs. Think about it. When a ladybug lands on you, you take a picture with your phone so you can put it up on Instagram, or whatever the kids are using these days. When a spider lands on you, you beat the hell out of yourself trying to get it off you. Ladybugs already eat aphids, so making them eat mosquitoes would take just a bit of a tweak. Sure, spiders can get bigger than ladybugs, but size shouldn't be a problem. Think of the amazing world of giant ladybugs.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not for total eradication. Spider should be wiped out in the wild, but each spider species should be preserved in a zoo. In careful isolation. On Antarctica. Or possibly the Moon. Actually, the Moon thing might be a good idea. People might balk at giving money to NASA now, but if we tell them that, by donating to the organization, they can rid the world of spiders, the money would pour in. Two big hideous bird-eating spiders, one stone. You're welcome.
Orange Image: Petr Kratochvil
Ladybug Image: OliBac