People can be categorized in many different ways; those that love sun versus those that love snow, people who prefer biking over driving, eating cookies with or without milk. Now, after working at the Audubon Community Nature Center and other outdoor environments, another categorization of people become abundantly clear; individuals who are cool with creepy crawlies versus individuals who have their insides swirl on the spot. Some look at a spider and see an eight-legged monstrosity focused on ruining their perfect day. Some, however, see the spider as a fellow living being, an arachnid that is cruising around, looking for a place to build a web and hopefully not being crushed.
At the Audubon Community Nature Center, we strive to encourage being comfortable with what many individuals see as squirmy or slimy critters. I’ll admit, it took me quite some time to be able to just gently scoop up a new friend who just happens to be sporting six or more legs. Yet constant positive reinforcement in a calm and comfortable setting is what eventually led me to the point where I can now let a creature (one that gives many others the willies) stroll up and down my arm as onlookers observe the creature, curiosity in their eyes behind a feeling veil of panic.
Many of these inquisitive onlookers are the young ones who come to the Audubon for day camp or nature walks. It is always satisfying when I break down a child’s recent fear of these “creepy crawlies”. For kids who have been habituated to be afraid of spiders, they quickly panic when a daddy-long-legs is pointed out to them. Now the opportunity has arrived! As a naturalist I can invite the young ones to challenge their beliefs and come in for a closer inspection of this clearly-not-that-spooky being. When observed in a safe setting with an adult who is clearly reacting with awe and curiosity, the child will usually take on that energy as well. The child begins to see daddy-long-legs as the harmless (and sort of dopey) arachnid that is learning that arm hair is very difficult to navigate.
Millipedes, spiders, sow bugs, centipedes, and all the critters with more than six legs; these wondrous inhabitants of the natural world do not deserve the harmful image that has been painted of them. Some bite, some sting, but this is where knowledge of the creatures should be inspired – encouraging the end of squashing a critter because it has been made to seem disgusting to you. If a child knows that a millipede cannot harm you, then the courage to hold one might bubble to the surface. Informing a student that the ant just perceives them as another object to climb over will help the student understand there is no vicious intent in the ant – it’s just looking for food and you happened to sit on the path.
As a naturalist (and someone who cares for the well-being of these cutie critters) I implore that we all take time as older, and presumably wiser, human beings to stop and appreciate the misunderstood inhabitants scuttering around us. Doing so will show the next generation how pleasant it is to marvel at the complexity of the insects and assorted crawlers rather than shy away in fear or disgust. One way we can all do that together now is to stop calling them creepy crawlies. Right there in the name we are instigating an uneasy feeling. A kid will instinctively protect themselves from something with the word “creepy” in it, yet they will probably be less influenced by hearing someone say “look, a potato bug!”
Working together, let us see if we can make it so there is only one type of person when it comes to those cutie critters living in the cracks and crevices of life; the type of person that says “cool” rather than “eww!” So, next time a spider lands on your head? Take a deep breath, show him off to the others around you, let people know you survived the altercation, and help the fella get back home.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.
Shane Murphy is a summer intern at Audubon Community Nature Center.