A Lesson for Miss Muffet in Mutualism

By Valerie Fieldwebster


If you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive. – American Quaker saying


Mutualism describes the type of interaction, between organisms, where each party benefits from the existence of the other. A Cedar Waxwing eating the fruit on my Serviceberry tree is benefiting from the tree. The tree is benefiting from the Cedar Waxwing when it flies away and passes undigested seeds with its droppings.


Interactions within our ecosystem are wherever you look. These interactions are the strands that hold our web of life together. In our world every plant, animal and insect and their interactions is essential and no one is more important than the other.


Unfortunately on the day that Miss Muffet met the spider, she did not understand this concept, and so she lost her curds and whey. Sadly, I have seen more fatal outcomes played out for the spider on our world stage.


The spider is a fascinating player in this web. No less and no more than any other player but perhaps under-appreciated.


Spider venom has been used in ancient and modern medicines. It has been used to cure male impotence and it has been discovered that the venom of a Chilean Rose Tarantula has the potential to regulate the electrical signalling of the heart and prevent erratic heartbeats.


The orb spider’s dragline silk, if made as thick as your thumb, could support a fully-loaded jet. And in a bizarre way scientists have been able to genetically alter goats to produce spider silk in their milk.


To the annoyance of many, spiders can be found all over our earth. Of the nearly 40,000 different spider species Canada is home to approximately 1,400. Only 1 of those species can serious harm a person and, statistically, more people are killed by flying champagne corks than spiders!


Our largest and most common spiders are the Fisher and Wolf spiders, and these spiders are not poisonous to people.


My very favourite spider lives in my spice and nut cupboard. A few years ago, I discovered some small brown moths in my cupboards. I cleaned them out, but then I found their larva in my walnuts. I threw out my walnuts, but not much later the moths reappeared and I began to find more larva in different foods.


It became a race between me cleaning my cupboards, throwing away food and moth reproduction. The moths were winning until she appeared! Out of nowhere my sweet little brown spider came to live in my cupboard and she feasted on those little brown moths.


She still lives in my cupboard, protecting me from any unwanted visitors, and I provide her with a safe and warm place to live. Between me and my little brown spider, it is a relationship full of mutualism.


Past articles are available in this blog under the Watershed Notes Articles category or under Past Articles in the Resources section.