My friends complain that their Facebook is full of endless baby pictures. I nod, pretending to agree. My Facebook is also filled with babies. But they are not quite the same. Mine are spider babies. And there are thousands of them.
Bug Facebook is a loose confederation of Facebook groups devoted to various types of bugs. The first group I found was Jumping Spiders (Salticidae). I’d always been into bugs — you know, in a casual, weirdo way. But I’d just taken a photo of a pretty great jumping spider and wanted to share it with people who cared. So I went to Facebook’s search bar and typed in “jumping spiders.”
The thing about Bug Facebook is that once you find one group, you’re likely to find others. Facebook recommends them eagerly. I soon found myself clicking the “join” button for Insects and Spiders of Illinois, Moths of the Eastern United States, Winging It! (spider and insect meme group), Spider and Insect Enthusiast, and Useless, Unsuccessful, and Unpopular Bees.
I used to read a lot of news on Facebook, but since the “fake news” fiasco, Facebook has removed most news pages from my timeline. Now, by some quirk of the algorithm, almost all of my timeline is Bug Facebook. I’ll log on and see pictures of “BB8,” an adorable (okay, to me) orange-and-white jumping spider with eyes like a Beanie Baby. Or Garrus, a dapper praying mantis perched merrily on his owner’s shoulder. I’ll see a fellow user post a photo with the caption, “Please tell my daughter to behave.” Her “daughter” is a very large black tarantula named Frieda, and in the picture she looks alarmingly close to pushing the lid off her own terrarium.
Most people do not think spiders are cute. They do not want them in their house, let alone their Facebook feed. We bug lovers are a tiny crowd, percentage-wise, but the internet has allowed us to connect with each other. If there is a bug, there is probably a Facebook group for it. If there isn’t, and you create a new group for it, you’ll soon find it filled with other bug lovers.
The jumping spider group I first joined was created by Canadian Abe Belhassen, who started it in 2011 to connect with other enthusiasts. He discovered his first jumping spider years ago as a teenager: a black-and-white creature with a red abdomen, glittering on the wall of his junior high school like a “rare and precious jewel.” He took it home in a jar and still fondly recalls how it “snatched a fly twice its size out of the air as it flew by, from the lip of the jar where it was perched.” Today, the jumping spider group has more than 13,000 members, including some of the world’s foremost experts on the critters.
When I asked people in the jumping spider group why they ended up there, a lot of them said they find jumping spiders cute. (They do have rather large eyes, and they’re fuzzy.) Many described spotting them in nature documentaries and becoming obsessed, especially with the “peacock spiders,” which have become an internet phenomenon because of their colorful mating dances. Some are macro photographers and find jumping spiders compelling subjects. Others are scientists who study spiders professionally.
Then there are the people who wander in who don’t love bugs. These are naive people who spotted a spider on their kitchen floor and worried it was poisonous. One of the most feared spiders is the brown recluse, but it’s commonly misidentified since there are thousands of species of brown spiders. Usually these newcomers post frantic captions like “IS IT POISONOUS” alongside a picture of a perfectly innocent grass spider.
The people of Bug Facebook have turned this into a bit of a joke. There is now a group called Is this a brown recluse, where people post absurd things and everyone has to reply that it is a brown recluse. The top posts there right now are a gecko, a plastic roach, and a pipe-cleaner spider. Occasionally someone who isn’t in on the joke will wander in, and hilarity will ensue.