In April, a group of 15 people gathered near Gudalur in Tamil Nadu to study spiders. I didn’t understand why. If they had gone on to find birds or butterflies, that I can get behind. Hat-wearing nature lovers often go on walks looking at birds and butterflies with huge binoculars around their neck. This bunch was on a mission to find spiders. Why on earth?
Like 10% of the population, spiders weird me TF out. If I spot a spider on a wall or ceiling at night, you can be sure I won’t be able to sleep. What if it creeps inside my quilt? What if it enters inside my ear? And heavens forbid what if it crawls on my skin? (Even the thought gives me creeps all over.)
I also have no idea why Peter Parker—that slimy web slinging creature—would be an iconic superhero. And I am not the only one saying that Parker is gross.
You’d think the bunch of Indians going on this spiderescapade would be scientists, maybe here to drug arachnids, but no. Apart from a few “experts” the rest were doctors, students, engineers, businessmen, etc. What they bonded over during a three day workshop held at Ecospace Madhuvana Estate between April 20 - April 22 was their love and fascination for spiders.
Reams of paper has been used in writing and understanding why we are afraid of spiders. There are even meetup groups for getting over arachnophobia. People elsewhere in the world are using virtual reality to get over their fear of these crawlies.
But guess what, I was in for a surprise when I did a quick Google search. Googling “getting over the fear of spiders” throws up some 16 millions results while googling “love of spiders” throws up some 57 million results. There are obviously some spidey-lovers out there. There is even a book titled: The Book of the Spider: From Arachnophobia to the Love of Spiders .
It was strange hearing one of the group members that went to Gudalur describe them to me over the phone as “beautiful creatures” and a rad species. I could imagine a spider on my neck.
I spoke to Ashish Borundia, 33, of Jungling, one of the organisers of the workshop “Observing the private world of spiders and insects”. He said he’d conducted similar trips to study snakes and frogs as well. Of course he did. Borundia is a freelance researcher in South India. “I was always into wildlife.” He says the response to this event was “good.” By which around 20 people applied.
I asked some of the people who went on this excursion just what exactly about spiders floats their boat.
Sherjin Joel, 30, Business consultant
Joel only has to work four days a week. “Everyone is interested in tigers and leopards. But what fascinates me is the lesser fauna,” he tells me. He takes children on weekly walks to parks and national reserves. He took a colleagues’ kid to a walk and from there it ballooned. He now takes upto seven children with him on his walks or eco-ventures as he calls them.
Joel’s love for lesser fauna grew when he met the wildlife author Surya Ramachandran six years ago. Initially, he “wasn’t comfortable with spiders. They used to disgust me”. Later he started warming up to them. “I was completely unaware of the complexity of spiders, the way they hunt, the way they make their beautiful web. They really put larger fauna to shame.”
When he heard about spider workshop he “didn’t have to think twice.” “The thing about spiders is that there are so many varieties. We found 25 varieties during one walk. They are a really rad species, be it catching their prey, or their camouflage. It’s phenomenal.”
Ruthvik SP, 17, Student.
A recent class XII graduate, Ruthvik has taken admission in Christ College in Bangalore.
He told me over phone that he volunteered at a zoo for a year when he was a kid. “I was a volunteer at Mahendra Chaudhary Zoological Park in Chandigarh in Punjab for a year. The biologist there taught me the basics of animal behaviour.”
He is also part of a group called YETI—Young Ecologists Talk and Interact. It was through this group that he learnt of the spider workshop in Tamil Nadu. “I am also interested in snakes,” he tells me. “I grew up watching Nat Geo documentaries and those people [herpetologists] were my role models.”
The thing about spiders is that “there are so many varieties of them. I had no idea they even existed.”
Deo Raymond, 32, Composer
Raymond has not used a cell phone in over a month. “I really feel liberated. I just wanted to try.” He works on jingles and creating music. “I started visiting forest places around my hometown, Coimbatore during my college days. The reason I’m into birding are the Hill Mynahs. The cheering calls of those birds still linger in my mind,” he says fondly.
He doesn’t cite a specific reason for his interest in spiders but that he didn’t know there were different kinds from “hunting spiders” and “web-building spiders”.
Sharan V, 24, Engineer
“I was into birds for a decade until I decided to learn [about] butterflies three years back. When I heard about this workshop, I wanted to join and know more about the spiders.”
With enthusiasm he tells me, “ We saw so many varieties, jumping spiders, net casting spiders, fish eating spiders, two tailed spiders, Tarantula and guess what?, I always wanted to see ant- mimicking spiders and I saw THREE of them. Was so happy.” I looked up ant-mimicking spiders. My horror has a new dimension.
“I photo-document spiders whenever I come across during nature walks but wasn't that interested in going deep, hence i attended this workshop to know more of their lifestyle and behavior.”
Deepak Deshpande, 51, Doctor
Deshpande loves macro photography. He got his camera eight years ago, he tells me, to explore photography. “I wanted to interact with the experts,” he says. “Until now I used to study on my own, insects, birds, wildlife.” He photographs spiders and maintains notes—“hundreds of notes”—on various species of spiders. “If I ever come across a spider that I have not seen before, I immediately put the photo up on Facebook and people chime in,” he tells me. The only creature he fears, he tells me, is “the two-legged one.”
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