25 January 2012

TDIV Q&A: I am wondering how other vegetarians and vegans feel about bugs -- specifically spiders

Q. I am wondering how other vegetarians and vegans feel about bugs -- specifically spiders. I am trying to find equality in all animals and living things, but am having a hard time with bugs and spiders. I am wondering how others respond to them?

A. It may help to think about the ways our lives depend on insects. Most people are aware of the role pollinators (such as bees, wasps, fruit or bottle flies, and butterflies) play in producing the food we eat, but what about other insects? Soil-dwelling bugs (such as ants, beetles, and even some roaches) aerate the soil with their burrows. Nesting and scavenging insects break down waste material and add valuable compost to soil. Basically, healthy insect life is essential to healthy plant life, and healthy plant life is essential to healthy human life.

Insects that aren’t involved in the cycle of plant life still play an important role for humans. Spiders, for example, may save your life. How? Spiders are a primary predator of mosquitoes; mosquitoes are the major transmission vehicle for several potentially fatal diseases, including malaria, West Nile virus, and dengue fever.

It may also help to learn more about the species that trouble you. Spiders, in particular, are amazing creatures and incredibly diverse. The diving bell spider creates a bubble of air to allow it to travel underwater. The raft spider can actually walk on water! Though spiders have long been thought of as predators, scientists recently found that the Bagheera kiplingi spider is vegetarian. Whip spiders caress and pet their family members. While some spiders may have a frightening appearance, others are quite beautiful. The golden silk orb-weaver (also called a banana spider) has beautiful coloration ranging from yellow to gold, overlayed with intricate patterns in white.

Dispelling the myths is important too. While all true spiders are venomous, of the approximately 40,000 named species, only twelve have venom that’s dangerous to humans. Nowhere are all twelve resident in the same place. For example, only the brown recluse, black widow, and hobo spider are found in the U.S. Generally, the spiders that are potentially dangerous to humans remain outdoors.

While most common household insects are harmless to humans, there are a few that can be troublesome. For example, red imported fire ants are a problem throughout much of the southern United States. Their bite is painful for most, and serious allergic reactions are not uncommon. Bees and wasps, while vital pollinators, can also cause serious allergic reactions in some. Cockroaches, in addition to carrying germs that can lead to disease (mostly stomach viruses) have also been shown to be harmful to people with allergies and asthma. And even for those insects, such as spiders, that are unlikely to cause harm to humans, most people don’t like sharing their homes with them.

What if unwanted insects are making a home in your house? Most respondents to this question on TDIV’s Facebook page agreed that a catch-and-release method is preferable when possible. Simply place a cup or jar over the insect, then slide a sheet of paper or thin cardboard underneath the cup. Then release the insect outdoors. You could also consider buying a bug vacuum, which sucks the bug into a tube, allowing you to safely release it.

But there is much you can do to prevent insects from entering your home. Keep windows screened. Weatherstrip doors so there are no openings between the bottom of the door and the doorsill. Close gaps around water pipes under sinks, and seal cracks and openings in the house. Pay particular attention to sealing outside storage areas and covering piles of firewood. See PETA’s helpful hints for dealing with ants, wasps and bees, and roaches (click the navigation on the right).

Some respondents did choose to kill insects that invaded their home. Is this out of line with a vegan lifestyle? Consider that insects lack the neurological systems necessary to experience pain. If veganism is defined as a lifestyle which seeks to eliminate the exploitation and suffering of living creatures, and killing an insect causes no suffering and is not done for exploitative purposes, one could certainly make the argument that it is not an un-vegan act. It is a matter of personal conscience, and no one should judge another for the choice they make.

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Kasey Minnis | Facebook | @veggiemightee | Blog
Fort Lauderdale, FL That rare and elusive species known as the native Floridian, Kasey is passionate about protecting other endangered creatures. She lives by the principle “compassion and crochet for all,” and enjoys teaching others – including her husband of 20 years and two beautiful children – the benefits of cruelty-free eating by feeding them tasty vegan treats from her kitchen. Contact Kasey at kasey@thisdishisveg.com.

Photo credit: Kasey