I like to catch and show spiders to people, because I think they’re interesting, and I have some vague hopes that interest is catching, and might even calm down unfounded fears. So…
One evening, many years ago, I was at a political meeting in someone’s house, when a largish spider 8-legged it into the middle of the carpet, realised it was surrounded, and froze. There was an outbreak of leaping onto chairs and screaming — some of the women did much the same.
I moved smoothly to intercept the spider and I gathered and held it in my cupped hands. I started describing it: “Spider, obviously… some sort of House Spider… probably Tegenaria gigantea…”
By this time, people had calmed down, most had got down from the chairs, and some were edging closer. “Probably two years old,” I went on, “…and male.” Now several of the members were very curious as to know how I could sex a spider, and the boldest were trying to see for themselves. I gave a little explanation (most people look at the wrong end of the spider), during which I could feel something odd… I peered again between my hands, and could see the spider had a pinch of the pad of my thumb in its jaws…
“Oh, it’s trying to bite me,” I announced. This provoked vigorous back-pedalling, and another round of screams and chair-mounting, with dismayed cries of “Oh no, I didn’t know they could bite!”
Despite some clutching at logical straws (“FFS, if you didn’t think they could bite, why were you frightened?!” — through gritted teeth), the obvious result of my performance was to take some people who were happily nervous about spiders, and give them scientific proof that they should actually be bloody terrified.
PS NB the spider failed to get through my skin, and I doubt my skin is unusually tough.
(Inspired by Mark Blackmore’s recent encounter.)