Arachnophilia: UW-Green Bay’s ‘spider man’ shares love of creeping critters

You might call it the first rule of dating — for spiders, that is.

“If you’re a boy spider and you want to attract a girl spider, you first have to make sure she knows that you’re not food,” said UW-Green Bay Prof. Mike Draney. “And so basically, they do that by courtship. They have all different kinds of courtship behaviors.”

That’s UW-Green Bay’s resident ‘spider man,’ Natural and Applied Sciences professor Mike Draney. Long fascinated by the much-maligned and often misunderstood eight-legged creatures, Draney has made a career out of studying them. July 20-24, he’ll welcome some 100 like-minded colleagues to UW-Green Bay for a meeting of the American Arachnological Society.

“They really are amazing animals,” Draney said. “It’s a very successful lineage of animals, (the) second-largest group of animals in the whole world, in terms of numbers of species. They use venom to capture their prey, and of course that’s the reason why I think people are really fascinated with them.”

Fascinated — and sometimes afraid. About 10 percent of the population is arachnophobic, Draney says, despite the fact that — in Wisconsin at least — spiders should be nothing to fear.

“Arachnologists spend a lot of time trying to sort of stick up for spiders, because spiders have a really bad reputation just in our culture in general,” Draney said. “And certainly, partly, it’s just that we don’t want people to be afraid of them. We don’t want people to just kill them when they see them.”

That’s because a thriving spider population benefits people and science alike.

“They have roles in the ecosystem,” Draney said. “Spiders are really important food for a lot of other animals, for example; and they also control insects, as you know, so that a lot of agriculture systems really benefit from spiders.”

The arachnologists’ meeting will include a public ‘casual night,’ featuring spider photos and videos, at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 22 in UW-Green Bay’s MAC Hall. It’s a chance get information on — and maybe just change your mind about — the eight-legged creatures.

“It might be a good thing, even if you are a little bit arachnophobic, to come and meet people who are, you know, arachnophilic,” Draney said. “And you might have a different perspective on spiders after meeting a hundred people that spend their lives studying them.”