Hobbies are fundamental aspects of ourselves. They help define who we are as individuals; they are the things we choose to immerse ourselves in with what little free time we have. This column aims to explore the vast range of unique and interesting hobbies and pastimes hidden within the Lawrence community, and to grant insight into what makes each Lawrentian unique.
Spiders have forever been icons of fear. With eight legs, as many eyes and two protruding fangs, the image of spiders is commonly associated with the uncanny and macabre. Arachnophobia is one of the most common specific phobias among all cultures and age groups. Recently, residents of Kohler Hall may have found themselves victims of lingering Halloween spirit, as dozens of small, rubber arachnids lurk in dark corners and crevices, waiting for the perfect scare. Is this fear justified? Or are spiders simply misunderstood? Senior Peter Lagershausen gave some insight into the creepy-crawlies over a discussion about his hobby: tarantula keeping.
“Whether or not the fear is reasonable varies,” Lagershausen said. “Some tarantulas are comically unreasonable to be afraid of. There are some docile species where you could poke them right in the mouth and get at most a flinch out of them. Others, however, are like greased lightning and bite quite readily.”
However, despite being a tarantula keeper since eighth grade, Lagershausen has never been bitten. Even if he had, the effects of the spiders’ venom are commonly overstated. “Venom is one area where spiders are commonly demonized,” he said. “The bites from even the most venomous spiders in the world are almost never lethal for healthy adults.” He clarified that casualties on record are typically people with compromised immune systems, allergies to the venom, are children or are elderly people.
Tarantulas in particular are not especially venomous. “The least venomous and thankfully most common bites would be akin to a bee-sting,” Lagershausen said. “However, there are certain genera — some of which I own — where bite reports range from localized pain and swelling to long-lasting and excruciating muscle spasms.” He laughed, saying, “There are definitely some spiders in my collection that I would not like to be bitten by. They are not feisty specimens, though, and I have never had a problem with them.”
“I have always been attracted to misunderstood things,” Lagershausen said, explaining his fascination with spiders. “It is not conscious, just an aspect of who I am. I have always thought super alien lifeforms were cool, and spiders are so different from anything we consider sentient.” He continued, “It was almost a fate thing. I went through a stint where I wanted to keep exotic pets — at first, reptiles. However, the commitments became daunting; reptiles require special lighting and attentive cleaning among other things. With tarantulas, I get to keep something exotic without as much responsibility.”
Lagershausen pulled out his laptop and showed pictures of an incredible variety of tarantulas. Splashed with vibrant turquoise and striped with intense purples and oranges, it was surprising to find these spiders coming straight from nature and not an artist’s studio. “You have got arboreals, terrestrials, New Worlds, Old Worlds, burrowers, web-spinners…all these different categories,” Lagershausen said. “They have got all these different color varieties. Some are electric purple or blue with striking patterns.” He continued, “Their webbing is nuanced. Some will completely cover their entire enclosure with webbing, while others spin web minimally and instead take advantage of their environments.” He also added, “It is really a collecting-based hobby. Pet owners do not buy a whole assortment of dog breeds, you know? It is much more about that with tarantulas.”
Among the vibrant colors and unique habits, there is a visceral aspect to owning tarantulas that keeps Lagershausen invested. “It is a little dark to admit, but I have always been fascinated by predation. It is what little boys are conditioned to like — beasts killing each other. In any phase of interest I had, be it dinosaurs or bugs, I was always drawn to the predators.” He continued, “I have mellowed out in this regard and found fascination in the full spectrum of living things, but it has really stuck with tarantulas because the only engaging thing about them is feeding them; otherwise, they just sit there. When you’re feeding them and they pounce on a cricket or dubia roach, there’s a little dopamine rush as it scores its meal.”
Lagershausen admitted the he does not expect anyone to love tarantulas. “I don’t care if you have an aversion or fear that you cannot shake. All I want is for people to acknowledge that spiders are vital parts of ecosystems and far more innocuous than they are made out to be.” He continued, “Even if you do not like spiders, they clean up pests you probably do not like much more. I am not looking to turn anybody away from their visceral reaction, just towards the science behind them.”
With lifespans ranging from three to 30 years, tarantulas, if left to their intense commitment to public service, are here to stay. While many of us will not overcome our natural hesitation to the furry creatures, know that they are on our side and not nearly as evil as you might think.