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Do Spiders Feel Sad When I Destroy Their Webs?

Spiders might actually experience emotions, but they aren’t too sentimental

There’s something about thresholds that make spiders think, “Yeah, this is a great fucking spot for a home.” Two pillars conveniently spaced for people to pass through? That’s primo spider real estate. Unfortunately, this means we humans inadvertently destroy spiderwebs all the time. Sure, it’s unpleasant for us to get all coated in web, but imagine how it must feel for the spider! You just stomped right through their cozy abode! I imagine it must be devastating.

This is one of the many problems that keep my brain revving like a dirt bike at night. Spiders are our friends: There are more than 50,000 varieties, but only a small handful are known to be harmful to humans when provoked. The vast majority mind their own business and eat up other nasty bugs. But do they feel the burden of unrequited love? 

“It’s unlikely that spiders, with their tiny brains, would have an emotional response analogous to the sadness that we’d feel when something we’ve built has been destroyed,” says Jerome S. Rovner, arachnid expert and co-author of Spider Communication: Mechanisms and Ecological Significance

Scientists are still unsure if arachnids and insects experience emotion at all, though a 2016 study found that bumblebees may experience a “positive emotion-like state.” Other research suggests that even fruit flies can experience fear. Still, these “emotions” are likely correlated with hunger and self-preservation. If a spider’s web is destroyed multiple times, for example, it may simply relocate its web.

“Their response has to do mostly with their failure to catch an adequate number of prey per day due to the loss of the web,” says Rovner. “Indeed, even without any web destruction, spiders relocate their webs if they aren’t catching enough prey per day at a particular site. So their feeling — if they had one — would be one of hunger. However, they don’t have to have any such feeling to show a relocation response — no more than a bee has to have a feeling of anger when it stings you in defense of its hive.”

What a freaking relief! 

Spiders, in fact, often rebuild their webs daily, regardless of whether I carelessly stroll right through them. According to The Handy Answer Book for Kids (And Parents), a book that I ought to own for myself and myself alone, the average spider only takes about an hour to build their web, and it’s not really even like it’s their house: The primary purpose for most webs is to catch prey. After about a day, however, the web loses some of its stickiness. For that reason, spiders routinely rebuild their webs for better bug-catching ability. 

Further, spiders apparently enjoy a clean space. “Due to the sticky nature of these locations they attract debris, dust and particles,” spider-centric site says of webs. “[Spiders] don’t enjoy living in such an area, though, so they will do what they can to make that environment cleaner.” 

Spiders are also used to their shit getting wrecked — we’re not the only larger creatures they have to deal with. Rovner cites birds as common enemies of webs. Even humidity and sunlight can spell trouble for a web. Despite being so easy to destroy, though, the silk that spiders produce to build their webs is allegedly five times stronger than steel

If spiders do indeed have emotions, I hope they feel pride in that fact.