Do Spiders Have Feelings? The Complete Guide


Everyone wants to bond as best they can with their pet. But when the pet in question is a spider, is it possible to connect emotionally? Do spiders actually have feelings?

Spiders do not have the same understanding of feelings as humans, largely because they do not have the same social structures as us. However, spiders are not completely immune to feelings or emotions. There is research that spiders bond with their offspring, and can grow to like their owners.

The truth is that spiders feel a lot more than most people are aware. So, if you would like to learn more about all of this, then read on as we explore not only how spiders have feelings, but what they have feelings about. Be warned, this is going to lead to you learning that feelings in connection with a spider will be very one-sided.

Black tarantula spider

Differentiating Between Feelings

One thing that we must do first is to differentiate between feelings. If you are wondering if your spider has a range of emotions, like we do, then the answer is that it’s highly unlikely. However, at least science does leave the door open for it to be a possibility, even though the research doesn’t appear to indicate that this is the case.

In this instance, we need to split emotional intelligence from other forms of having feelings. The emotional intelligence of a spider is relatively low. It seems as if they don’t pay much attention to that sort of thing, and they are quite cold in that sense.

You see, the problem we have is that we automatically think about only one aspect of feelings, and we do so from our own perspective. However, the spider doesn’t see the world in the same way as we do, and that’s where the difference really comes in when talking about ‘feelings’.

Do They Have Simple Feelings?

As we shall see through the remainder of this post, spiders do have a complex side to them. However, we will also show how this is linked to evolution and the survival instinct. When something is natural instinct, then it’s tough to see how feelings or emotions can fall into that bracket.

The one thing we can say is that, on an emotional level, spiders are very basic to the point where it’s almost non-existent. They are very similar to so many other creatures in that the sole reason for them living is to meet various needs. They want to eat, sleep, and mate before they die.

Do They Have Complex Feelings?

While other areas are still up for debate, scientists do believe that spiders are incapable of having complex feelings. They certainly do not have feelings in the same way as we do, or other complex animals. They do not experience the range of emotions that we do as humans, so if they cannot experience them, then it would seem impossible for them to have feelings as we understand them.

To better explain, let’s break down the feelings or emotions that a spider may have.

Evolution Plays a Role

First, we need to state that evolution plays a significant role when discussing the intelligence of a spider. These creatures have evolved over millions of years, and in doing so they have fine-tuned their ability to not only survive in the world, but to successfully hunt.

They are capable of thinking out some complex things, but this is different to the type of intelligence that’s required to have feelings or emotions. Instead, we are talking about intelligence that comes through biological practice. Evolution and the fight for survival has taught them certain things that have now become natural instinct.

Natural instinct and knowing where to place your web to catch food is a whole other world to having emotions.

Think about how a spider reacts to certain events.

If someone tries to squish a spider by hitting it with something, then the spider will run away. They know it’s not safe to be there and are scared. The problem is that they don’t then continue to react in the same way as we do when we are scared.

Instead, they see that spot as being dangerous, and they will change their behavior, as well as their movements, accordingly. They seek to avoid going into those spots where they almost ran into trouble.

While that’s clever and shows how they have honed their survival skills, it doesn’t equate to them having feelings.

Their Social Structure Plays a Part

Another area to examine is the social structure of a spider and their world. They don’t have the same level of connectedness that humans do, and it’s believed that this has played a role in the inability to have any real sense of emotions or feelings.

A lot of our emotions and feelings come from what’s around us, and that means people and society as a whole. Spiders have a much smaller view of the world, and they have less needs than us. They only care about other spiders if they are trying to come into their space, or when they want to mate. Apart from that, they are on their own, and they like it like that.

A spider isn’t a social insect. They are very much into everything for their own survival, and they don’t have much care for others. As that’s the case, then why would anybody expect them to then have feelings? Even if they did, they would be skewed towards their own survival.

Getting Scientific For a Second

If we can get a bit more scientific for a second, because we need to talk about neurons.

It does seem that their neurons will react to events and stimuli, like our own neurons do. So, this would then mean that spiders do experience feelings, in some kind of biological way.

It also looks like spiders will react to certain situations in an appropriate manner. For example, they will react in a fearful or anxious way when something scary happens.

This is because we know the nervous system of insects is more similar to our own than we first thought. That may indicate that a similar response may occur when it’s stimulated.

So, basically we have something scary happen, and your spider at least reacts as if it is scared. It runs away, hides, or sometimes it may even freeze in absolute terror. No matter the actual reaction, it shows some kind of emotion even if it’s not in the exact same sense as we experience.

This is all thanks to that innate understanding that exists in all living things of trying to avoid injury or death. Your spider has this ability, but it’s just like we have the same understanding that certain actions will hurt, so we don’t do them in order to avoid injury.

Basic Emotions Your Spider May Have

Scientists do believe that spiders may have some basic emotions, but they are only related to their fundamental needs. In short, they may feel happy or satisfied after they have had a good meal, but that’s about as far as it goes.

The problem here is that this positive response is still directly related to one of their main survival needs being met. It doesn’t stretch beyond that.

Also, it’s believed that a spider can experience stress of some kind, but even then it may not be along the same lines as we do.

Stress is still linked in with that survival instinct, so it makes perfect sense that a spider would also suffer from this when danger is around. It’s a natural response that’s designed to help us survive, so that’s why your spider will react in a certain way if they are spooked.

Apart from those few emotions, or feelings, there’s not much else that a spider can experience.

Your Spider Can Grow to Like You

But while it may all sound as if spiders are lacking in the area of emotional responses, that doesn’t have to mean they are completely cold. Instead, a spider can actually grow to like you as their owner, and that’s going to be almost as close as you will get to them showing some kind of feelings.

However, be warned that this idea of ‘feelings’ does come with a few conditions attached.

A spider can grow to like you because it has created an association between you and them getting something that they want. This is primarily food or the perfect living conditions. If you continue to provide them with these things, then your spider will see this as a positive and will repeat certain behaviors indicating they are content.

A pet tarantula may get to the point where they are very comfortable with the idea of you entering their lair. They stop seeing you as something negative. The problem is they link you being there with something else that is positive for them, so you are almost a by-product of this entire thing.

Basically, you could have food on the end of a stick, and your spider would develop some sort of emotional response or grow to like that stick.

Tarantula amongst leaves

Bonding With Their Young

Moving away from focusing on feelings and emotions in the sense we understand for just a moment in order to look at how spiders bond with their young.

A huge number of species of spider show clear bonding with their young. They display a protective nature and will clearly care for their young. However, even with this, you need to be careful. At times, what you think is some type of mothering instinct is actually the lead up to cannibalism, but that’s not always the case.

The Question of Pain

Looking at emotions of being happy or sad is one thing, but a lot of spider owners want to know if their pet is capable of experiencing pain.

The difficulty we have with the pain question is that ‘pain’ is an emotional response. That does then mean we need to think about whether or not spiders experience emotions. As they don’t, then we can say that they do not feel pain. [Source]

This is all tough to answer. You could easily get quite philosophical about what constitutes pain and what it all means. In the case of spiders, while they do not appear to understand pain, they do understand when something is wrong.

For example, if they lose a leg, they will realize something isn’t quite right. We believe that they experience a sense of irritation, and that something has changed. However, that’s different to our concept of pain and what it means for us.

The Problem is Lack of Research

One difficulty that we have when discussing the issue of spiders having feelings is a lack of research. Actually, we tend to be pushed into looking at other studies on different insects that may give some indication as to what we would expect to see in spiders.

Here’s one example.

Back in 2011, a study appeared in Scientific American that focused on bees. [Source] In the study, they revealed that bees produce less of the pleasure chemicals if something upsets them. Basically, they experience a form of depression.

Now, while it’s not directly linked to spiders, it’s reasonable to assume that spiders may very well go through the same type of process if something bad happens to them.

Other studies have also indicated that insects do react to external stimuli along the same lines as we do. Once again though, we struggle to give a definitive answer thanks to the lack of research.

We also have another problem. In some animals, we have scanned their brains to try to work out what’s going on at different times. This can provide us with an indication as to whether or not certain animals have the capacity to think along various lines.

We cannot do that with spiders. Well, nobody has managed to do an MRI on a spider up until now, so we have to make an educated guess at this moment in time.

Watch Out That It’s Not You With The Feelings

This is an interesting point that we need to make, as it may partly explain the reason why some people do believe that their spider has feelings.

There is a thing in psychology whereby we can transfer our emotions onto animals. We see things in them that are simply not there.

You may look at your pet spider and believe that they are sad, but that needn’t be the case. The same goes for believing your spider is happy, bored, angry, or any other emotion you care to mention.

The problem is that, for some reason, we want to see those things in our pets. We attribute certain feelings or emotions to them when the truth is that your spider is sitting there wondering when they will be able to get their next meal. They cannot think those numbers of steps ahead and are certainly incapable of the complex thought processes that occur when dealing with emotions.

What all of this means is that people can mislead themselves and end up believing that their pet tarantula is sending out some kind of feelings or emotions, and that the bond between pet and owner is getting stronger. The truth, which is quite sad, is that your spider is simply sitting there looking at the provider of food and shelter, rather than wondering if you actually do love them.

By doing this, some argue we are trying to effectively humanize the spider to make it easier to then relate to them. Clearly, this is wrong, as it attributes certain things to them that really do not exist. So, please stop thinking your spider looks sad, or bored, or anything else, as that’s not going to be the case.

So, To Sum Everything

To sum everything up, while your pet spider can have feelings, it’s not in the same way as emotions or how we experience them. They may like you, but it’s for their own benefit, and because they want something from you.

However, that’s the agreed consensus at this moment. Perhaps our understanding of emotions and feelings in spiders will evolve if more research is carried out. If so, we may eventually discover that there’s a whole world of emotions out there in the spider kingdom that we were previously unaware of.

Spiders are merely trying to survive. Even those as a pet are not thinking beyond this survival instinct. Just because we are providing them with everything they need doesn’t change their lack of being able to express or understand feelings or emotions.

Sadly, any bonding that exists between you and your pet spider is going to prove to be a one-way thing. Yes, they appreciate what you do for them by bringing them food to their lair, but that’s as far as it goes. Even interacting with them will be very superficial to your spider, even though it may mean the world to you.

But then, spiders are still cool pets to own, so don’t think badly about them just because they don’t have the same concept of feelings as we do.

Barry Gray

Barry is a freelance writer from Scotland. He has written about pets for over a decade, and his work has been turned into a range of ebooks, courses, and material for diplomas. Barry is passionate about all animals, but particularly dogs, fish, rabbits, birds and spiders. You can find out more about Barry at https://mercurypets.com/our-writers/

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