Sunday, December 04, 2005

An Off-the-cuff Serial Autobiography (Arachniphobia - 2004)


Our school is an official "Environmental education" school and we pride ourselves on our use of our outdoor classroom gardens, our participation in the sturgeon release program, our bog garden, our milkweed, passion flower, and other butterfly food plots, our tiny American chesnut recovery grove , our outdoor classroom, and our nature trail. When we find an interesting bug of any sort, we tend to capture and display them. We were proud to parade several black widow spiders from class to class in bug barns -- though the pest control company made an extra visit to dispatch their brethren. We ocasionally have rodent visitors from the woods and fields take refuge in our building. One little terrified mouse was chased from room to room for several days before the janitor's sticky trap caught him. Nature guru, Ms. Lindsey, carefully peeled his feet from the glue and released him into the woods!

So when my sister Carol included the phrase "...spiders and other insects..." on her blog I couldn't resist a little arthropod lesson. I enjoyed correcting and teasing her for that common mistake of classifying all "bugs" as "insects". As it turned out I had misread her words, she did not mean to imply that spiders are insects.

Spiders and other arachnids are not insects, of course. They have eight legs, claw-like mouth parts, two body sections, and no antennae. Insects have six legs, three body parts, jaw-like mouth parts, and antennae.

As a matter of fact, the term "true bugs" is correctly applied to insects, but only to the order of insects known as Hemiptera - "half-wing" insects like wheel bugs, milkweed bugs, water boatmen, stink bugs and such.

Carol's story of spiders at school reminded me of the Great Spider Uproar at our school last year.

As we ate lunch in the teachers' little lunchroom one day, a big wolf spider crawled under our table. Ms. Lindsey and I noticed it, remarked at its size and beauty, as we sipped our tea and munched our sandwiches.

"Oh, look at that spider!" exclaimed my co-worker.
"Wow!" articulated yours truly, "What a beaut! I'll get a cup to catch him in and we can examine him in science class this afternoon."

At the next table sat my lovely little student teacher. "Did you say "Spider?!"

"Yes," I replied enthusiastically, "As soon as I catch him I'll let you see."

She leapt upon the table.

Having grown-up as the big brother of three younger sisters (and two older ones) I naturally perceived an opportunity to tease a girl, the favorite occupation of my youth. By now holding the spider in my hands, I held it aloft to display it.

The student teacher screamed as if mortally injured. She leapt from the table in the opposite direction and ran down the adjacent hallway in terror. Realizing (Duh!) that I was dealing with more than ordinary squeamishness, I quickly deposited the spider out-of-doors.

When I returned, I found my wonderful arachniphobic student teacher in wretched tears and myself in unbearable embarrassment. I had had no idea! Her history includes a car wrecked at the sight of a spider, and an hour crouched atop a table in terror till her father returned home to squoosh and remove a spider! A true arachniphobe!


  1. "I enjoyed correcting and teasing her for that common mistake..."
    I'll bet you did. It wasn't a mistake. You read it incorrectly.

  2. I confess: I should have reread it! I WAS shocked that my brilliant sister could be ignorant of those differences! I should have known better. But I'm glad to have been spurred to write about my arachniphobic student teacher. It was fun remembering and writing about that embarrassing moment.