Spider Claus is coming to town: climate change and giant spiders

It’s Christmas morning, and if you’re like many people, Santa left you all sorts of lovely presents under the tree. Toys for the kids, slippers for dad and a “back massager” for mom (true story). But if you’re a Jew like me, instead of a Santa bringing you a sack of gifts hand-wrapped in his arctic sweatshop, Hanukkah Harry already brought you eight crazy nights of tchotchkes straight from his trendy loft in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, it was probably just socks, just like last year, and the year before that. What, are you too fancy for socks?

This has been a sore subject for most of my life—let’s be honest, socks suck. But I came around recently, not because of the gifts themselves, but what could potentially travel with the gifts. That’s right, animals love to hitch rides in packages.

Now I know you’re thinking of polar bears, because it’s Christmas and for some reason the two things are connected – ahem Coca-Cola. But honestly, is a polar bear going to sneak into Santa’s sleigh without one of the reindeer noticing?

I’m talking about the little critters, the ones who like to hop rides in our stuff—bed bugs that slip between library books, black widows chilling in our grapes and cruise-loving rats.

Animals like to travel, and if a critter is going to sneak into my house through a gift left by a mythical semi-religious figure, I’d rather it be some invasive hipster critter via Hanukkah Harry’s Brooklyn loft than one of the animals that Santa has stored up in the arctic. Sorry Santa, you can skip my house this year.

Yes, it’s the arctic spider I’m worried about, because first of all, gross, and second of all, they are going to grow larger with climate change (1). Honestly, larger spiders are just not something the world needs. Sorry.

So is it just temperature that is driving these larger spiders? Sort of—it’s actually the timing of the snowmelt. This makes sense — they are spiders after all, not polar bears, what are they going to do in the snow, ski? So if the snow melts early then there is a longer growing season for these spiders to get fatter. Moreover, it turns out that the females respond more to the early snow melt than the males – so now we are talking large angry lady spiders that’re jumping out of Santa’s packages, wondering where their next meal is. Did I mention that researchers think that larger females will make more eggs? So you know, MORE large ugly spiders in the future.

Does this mean that Santa’s workshop will be overrun? Will big fat lady spiders start eating the elves? No! Fortunately these spiders are carnivores and cannibals, and have been known to eat their young. So you know, more eggs, more lunch for the lady spiders–population control. Or something.

So when you open up that extra-large package from Santa this year, just remember what could be hiding inside. Or maybe have you bratty nephew open the box for you. He likes surprises, doesn’t he?

Merry Christmas.

Further reading:
(1) Climate change and sexual size dimorphism in an Arctic spider

Minda Berbeco has a PhD in Biology from Tufts University and is the Policy & Programs Director at the National Center for Science Education. She wants to wish all her christian readers a very Merry Christmas and share the joy by letting you know that there really is a Spider Claus. Isn’t the internet great?

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