Pocket Guide to Spiders Lures Israeli Readers

Researchers are also using information on spiders to argue against developing the land outside Modi'in.

Israel's arachnology association is coming out with a pocket guide on spiders to help Israelis spot bountiful local variants like black tarantulas.

The association, which was set up by researchers including Dr. Efrat Gavish-Regev of Tel Aviv University, is launching the guide at its annual conference at Ramat Hanadiv on Thursday.

“The guide is aimed at helping people get acquainted with common spiders. Many kinds of arachnids have been discovered in Israel, but some aren't that common. We believe that many more kinds will be discovered in the future,” says Gavish-Regev.

“Arachnids have a negative and scary image, but they don’t deserve it. It's true that some are poisonous and can bite, but in most cases they bite only when they're threatened and usually give a warning before using their venom.”

Arachnids include spiders, scorpions and solifugae, which are more commonly known as camel spiders, wind scorpions or sun spiders. They're not poisonous.

“At first people laughed at us and said that only a few people would come. But our numbers have grown every year, and nearly a hundred people will attend the conference,” says Gavish-Regev. “We think spiders are fascinating creatures through which the public, especially children, can learn about the natural world."

The pocket guide, edited by Noam Kirshenbaum and illustrated by Tuvia Kurtz, is being published in consultation with Gavish-Regev and Dr. Dany Simon of Tel Aviv University's zoology department.

Gavish-Regev notes that she was once bitten by a wolf spider, but it was her fault. “I held it in my hand for too long,” she says.

She notes that arachnids play an important ecological role by keeping down the population of insects that damage crops.

At the conference, Gavish-Regev will present a paper she edited with Iris Bernstein and Prof. Tamar Dayan of Tel Aviv University on alternatives to developing the land outside Modi’in. The study tracked spiders as well as wildlife such as deer.

“Spiders are proof that we need to keep track of what goes on in open areas over the long term so we can understand the importance of such areas,” says Bernstein, who adds that dozens of varieties of arthropods live in the Modi’in hills.

In the year 2010, a new species of spider - and not a small one - was discovered in the desert dunes of the Arava. The spider, which can have a leg-span of up to 14 centimeters, was given the name Cerbalus aravensis.

Yael Olek