Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “Allowables,” starts, “I killed a spider/Not a murderous brown recluse/Nor even a black widow/And if the truth were told this/was only a small/Sort of papery spider/Who should have run…” Sitting on my bed, my eyes traveled to the end of the page and the words started to blur.
As my eyes drifted off the page and up the side of my radiator I noticed a brown house spider, about two millimeters wide. It was simply living on its web, but that infuriated me. What right did it have to be in my room, my space? I picked up an old shoe and smashed it. I washed my hands, climbed back into bed, and turned to the next page. Giovanni continued: “…I don’t think/I’m allowed/To kill something/Because I am/Frightened.”
I was taken aback. It was a simple spider, why did it matter? Then, it hit me. Why am I, as a human, more important than a spider? Why do I feel as though I can decide whether or not to end a life? We shouldn’t kill spiders due to their benefits of preying on smaller household creatures, but also because exterminating an animal simply because we view it as insignificant promotes belief in human superiority.
To begin with, killing common house spiders undermines the benefits that they bring to homes. As spiders are natural predators, they capture pests within houses, preying on indoor insects such as “cockroaches, mosquitos, earwigs, and sometimes, some smaller moth breeds,” according to an article by Kierston Hickman for “The Family Handyman.” Additionally, the most common spider species that we encounter in our homes are “cellular spiders (also known as daddy-long-legs), cobweb spiders, and brown recluses.” These common household spider species all capture their prey with webs. When these spiders decide to create their webs, it indicates that there is an abundance of prey in a certain area. Killing spiders therefore destroys the preventative solution to festation of other bugs in the surrounding environment. You are indirectly leaving more bugs in your home by killing the harmless spider on your radiator than by leaving it alone.
Additionally, humans are no more alive than the spiders we kill. An organism is an individual life-form, which includes plants, animals, and single-celled creatures. Though many of us know we are organisms just as spiders are, we still believe that humans are the most significant beings on the earth. As a result, we also feel as though we have the right to decide whether these non-human animals live or die because we view them as inferior and unnecessary additions to our lives. We believe that the consequences of our decisions against non-human animals, no matter how harmful, are trivial, as long as it benefits us. Analogous to the narrator in Giovanni’s poem, many humans decide to kill animals out of fear and are undisturbed by the consequences their actions have on the animals themselves. It is important to be reminded that though we may be physically larger, we are not any more alive than the spiders we find on our radiators, so we should treat them with the same respect we show to our fellow humans; we all inhabit Earth together.
Next time you decide to kill a spider, think about the self-centered view of humanity that you are perpetuating. This concept, anthropocentrism, or a view of humans as more significant than other animals, gives us the false sense that we can decide which lives we can and cannot take, simply because we perceive other lives to be small and insignificant relative to our own. But we are simply different from spiders, not superior. Just as we humans have evolved to our own specific environments, other creatures have, too. Every organism, from the birds we hear in the mornings, to the trees we see in front of Sam Phil every day, has a part to play in their ecosystem. So do spiders. We need to stop viewing non-human animal ecosystems as “others.” They are not yet another part of the earth that we, as humans, can exploit and manipulate, nor are they a resource that exists simply for our benefit. When you see another spider on your radiator, put the spider outside of your room. It will find somewhere else to go, and at least it will have a chance to survive.