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Spiders of Alaska: Facebook group helps folks identify spiders and overcome fears

Published: Sep. 20, 2020 at 1:00 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, is one of the most common fears among people. You often hear them described as creepy crawlies, but one local man says once you get to know them—especially the ones here in Alaska, you may find that they’re not so creepy after all.

“I love spiders now. I will fall asleep thinking about spiders. I’ll have dreams about spiders,” said Keith Burgess. However, it wasn’t always that way. Burgess overcame his fear of spiders by educating himself, and now he’s on a mission to educate others. Burgess started the Facebook group, Spiders of Alaska, where he and other spider enthusiasts, along with experts, help people identify any eight legged house guests and ease some fears.

“I recently had a case where a person was told that they have brown recluse in their crawl space, so I made a decision to go in there and investigate. I went over to this house and I went down in their crawl space to take a look at what they had down there and it turns out it was just these guys,” Burgess said as he held a barn funnel weaver. “They’re Tegenaria domestica. They are actually very harmless and they are all over Alaska.”

Harmless, Burgess says, just like the rest of more than 600 species of spiders that live in Alaska. Burgess says many common spiders found in Alaska range from the tiny Steatoda borealis, which is your common cobweb spider, to large orb-weavers like Nordmann’s orb-weaver or the Fierce orb-weaver.

“All spiders are venomous, but the potency of the venom of Alaska spiders is almost nil,” said Burgess. “There’s no brown recluse in Alaska. We do get errant black widows. We do not have populations of them. They can come in a bag of grapes, or palettes shipped from the Lower 48, but the likelihood of a spider from down in the Lower 48 actually surviving in Alaska is very improbable.”

Burgess says the benefits of having spiders around outweigh the negatives. For example, they eat mosquitoes and help keep the flying insect population down. He also says many people sometimes mistake certain wounds for spider bites.

“A wound on your body does not mean it was a brown recluse. Staph A, MRSA, there’s bacterial infections galore. We have a plethora of species of biting flies in Alaska that do bite you that people believe it’s a spider that bit them but it was actually a fly. I say, ‘harmless as a spider,’ it’s not harmless as a fly. Flies are very dangerous.”

So next time you spot one around your home, Burgess encourages you to learn more, instead of picking up the fly swatter. "The prolonged fear of Alaskan spiders is just kept on by misinformation and I’m just trying to break that, Burgess said. “There is no spider in Alaska that you should be scared of. There’s nothing. Just because it’s big, doesn’t mean it’s harmful. They are gentle giants.”

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