Professor Alice Roberts faces her fears
Anthropologist Professor Alice Roberts talks about overcoming her arachnophobia to study - and spend the night with - a cottage full of spiders!
We shouldn't try to completely shut out the rest of the natural world from our homesProfessor Alice Roberts
Why did you want to get involved with Spider House? Aren’t you afraid of spiders?
I'm interested in biology generally and this was a great opportunity to learn more about a particular group of animals, so I was keen to face up to my fears!
How did you find the experience of being in the Spider House?
It was completely fascinating to be able to look in detail at different aspects of spider anatomy, physiology and behaviour. I'm much more used to mammal biology, so for me this really was like getting to know some alien creatures. It's intriguing how spiders have evolved very different ways of solving the same problems facing vertebrates; a supporting skeleton on the outside instead of on the inside; book-like lungs instead of a branching respiratory tree like ours - and that lung is in their abdomen; and spider sex - very weird!
What was your favourite part of the experience?
I think it was playing ‘spider midwife’. In the nursery, spider breeder Graham Smith and I helped a new batch of house spiderlings emerge into the world!
What was the most interesting behaviour you saw at the house?
The way they have sex! We filmed it in amazing detail for the programme.
How do you feel about spiders now? Has the experience changed your perspective?
I'm genuinely intrigued and admire them, but I'm afraid to say I'm still a bit scared of really large house spiders! And I'm not that fond of false widows either. My favourite species is definitely the garden spider – the orb-weaver. It’s such a consummate architect.
Why do you think so many people are afraid or uncomfortable around spiders?
They live in dark corners, the large ones do scuttle in an unsettling way, and some can give a nasty nip. But I think we're also conditioned to be overly afraid of these animals by horror films and scare stories. They do a good job and we shouldn't try to completely shut out the rest of the natural world from our homes. That's just being mean.